"restore to a good or normal physical condition" after weakness or exhaustion, 1530s, from Latin recreatus, past participle of recreare "to refresh, restore, make anew" (see recreation (n.)). Earlier it meant "refresh or cheer" (late 15c.); the intransitive sense of "refresh oneself" is by 1520s; that of "take recreation" is by 1580s.
Entries linking to recreate
late 14c., recreacioun, "refreshment or curing of a person, refreshment by eating," from Old French recreacion (13c.), from Latin recreationem (nominative recreatio) "recovery from illness," noun of action from past participle stem of recreare "to refresh, restore, make anew, revive, invigorate," from re- "again" (see re-) + creare "create" (from PIE root *ker- (2) "to grow"). Meaning "refresh oneself by some amusement" is first recorded c. 1400.
A verb recreate "to refresh by physical influence after exertion" is attested from 15c. and was used by Lyly, Pope, Steele, and Harriet Martineau, but it did not take, probably to avoid confusion to the eye with the recreate (re-create) that means "create anew." Hence also recreation (re-creation) "a new creation, regeneration" (early 15c.); "act of creating anew" (1520s).
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 28, 2021