Entries linking to subcontinent
In Latin assimilated to following -c-, -f-, -g-, -p-, and often -r- and -m-. In Old French the prefix appears in the full Latin form only "in learned adoptions of old Latin compounds" [OED], and in popular use it was represented by sous-, sou-; as in French souvenir from Latin subvenire, souscrire (Old French souzescrire) from subscribere, etc.
The original meaning is now obscured in many words from Latin (suggest, suspect, subject, etc.). The prefix is active in Modern English, sometimes meaning "subordinate" (as in subcontractor); "inferior" (17c., as in subhuman); "smaller" (18c.); "a part or division of" (c. 1800, as in subcontinent).
1550s, "continuous tract of land," from continent land (mid-15c.), translating Medieval Latin terra continens "continuous land," from Latin continens "continuous," present participle of continere "to hold together, enclose," from assimilated form of com "with, together" (see con-) + tenere "to hold" (from PIE root *ten- "to stretch").
As "one of the large land masses of the globe" from 1610s. As "the mainland of Europe" (from the point of view of Britain), from c. 1600.
updated on December 19, 2013