mid-14c., "a return to health after illness, injury, misfortune, etc.," from Anglo-French recoverie (c. 1300), Old French recovree "remedy, cure, recovery," from past-participle stem of recovrer (see recover).
The meaning "a gaining possession (of property) by legal action" is from early 15c. The general (non-legal) sense of "act or power of regaining or retaking" (something lost or taken away) is by 1530s. That of "act of righting oneself after a blunder, mishap, etc." is from 1520s. The meaning "restoration from a bad to a good condition" is from 1580s.
Entries linking to recovery
c. 1300, recoveren, "to regain consciousness," also "regain health or strength after sickness, injury, etc.," from Anglo-French rekeverer (13c.), Old French recovrer "come back, return; regain health; procure, get again" (11c.), from Medieval Latin recuperare "to recover" (source of Spanish recobrar, Italian ricoverare; see recuperation).
The sense of "get (anything) back, get or regain possession or control of," literally or figuratively, after it has been lost, is attested from mid-14c. In law, "obtain by judgment or legal proceedings," late 14c. The transitive sense of "restore from sickness, restore (another) to health" is from c. 1600; that of "rescue, save from danger" is from 1610s. Related: Recovered; recovering. To recover arms (1680s) is to bring the piece from the position of "aim" to that of "ready."
word-forming element meaning "back, back from, back to the original place;" also "again, anew, once more," also conveying the notion of "undoing" or "backward," etc. (see sense evolution below), c. 1200, from Old French re- and directly from Latin re- an inseparable prefix meaning "again; back; anew, against."
Watkins (2000) describes this as a "Latin combining form conceivably from Indo-European *wret-, metathetical variant of *wert- "to turn." De Vaan says the "only acceptable etymology" for it is a 2004 explanation which reconstructs a root in PIE *ure "back."
In earliest Latin the prefix became red- before vowels and h-, a form preserved in redact, redeem, redolent, redundant, redintegrate, and, in disguise, render (v.). In some English words from French and Italian re- appears as ra- and the following consonant is often doubled (see rally (v.1)).
The many meanings in the notion of "back" give re- its broad sense-range: "a turning back; opposition; restoration to a former state; "transition to an opposite state." From the extended senses in "again," re- becomes "repetition of an action," and in this sense it is extremely common as a formative element in English, applicable to any verb. OED writes that it is "impossible to attempt a complete record of all the forms resulting from its use," and adds that "The number of these is practically infinite ...."
Often merely intensive, and in many of the older borrowings from French and Latin the precise sense of re- is forgotten, lost in secondary senses, or weakened beyond recognition, so that it has no apparent semantic content (receive, recommend, recover, reduce, recreate, refer, religion, remain, request, require). There seem to have been more such words in Middle English than after, e.g. recomfort (v.) "to comfort, console; encourage;" recourse (n.) "a process, way, course." Recover in Middle English also could mean "obtain, win" (happiness, a kingdom, etc.) with no notion of getting something back, also "gain the upper hand, overcome; arrive at;" also consider the legal sense of recovery as "obtain (property) by judgment or legal proceedings."
And, due to sound changes and accent shifts, re- sometimes entirely loses its identity as a prefix (rebel, relic, remnant, restive, rest (n.2) "remainder," rally (v.1) "bring together"). In a few words it is reduced to r-, as in ransom (a doublet of redemption), rampart, etc.
Prefixed to a word beginning with e, re- is separated by a hyphen, as re-establish, re-estate, re-edify, etc. ; or else the second e has a dieresis over it: as, reëstablish, reëmbark, etc. The hyphen is also sometimes used to bring out emphatically the sense of repetition or iteration : as, sung and re-sung. The dieresis is not used over other vowels than e when re is prefixed : thus, reinforce, reunite, reabolish. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
updated on May 27, 2021
the recovery of the forest after the fire was surprisingly rapid