c. 1400, of flowers, food, etc., "having or diffusing a fresh and sweet scent," from Old French redolent "emitting an odor" and directly from Latin redolentem (nominative redolens), present participle of redolere "emit a scent, diffuse odor," from red-, here perhaps an intensive prefix (see re-), + olere "give off a smell" (see odor). The meaning "odorous or smelling" of (or with) something is by 1700; figurative use of this is by 1828. Related: Redolently.
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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]
c. 1300, "sweet smell, scent, fragrance," from Anglo-French odour, from Old French odor "smell, perfume, fragrance" (12c., Modern French odeur) and directly from Latin odor "a smell, a scent" (pleasant or disagreeable), from PIE root *hed- "to smell" (source also of Latin olere "emit a smell, to smell of," with Sabine -l- for -d-; Greek ozein "to smell," odmē "odor, scent;" Armenian hotim "I smell;" Lithuanian uodžiu, uosti "to smell, sniff;" Old Czech jadati "to investigate, explore").
Neutral sense of "smell as an inherent property of matter; scent or fragrance whether pleasant or not" is from late 14c. "[W]hen used without a qualifying adjunct, the word usually denotes an agreeable smell" [Century Dictionary, 1895]. Good or bad odor, in reference to repute or esteem, is from 1835. Odor of sanctity (1756) is from French odeur de sainteté (17c.) "sweet or balsamic scent said to be exhaled by the bodies of eminent saints at death or upon disinterment." In Middle English odor also had a figurative sense of "spiritual fragrance of Christ's sacrifice."
updated on July 18, 2021
air redolent with the fumes of beer and whiskey
the hall was redolent of floor wax
a campaign redolent of machine politics