Entries linking to unbelief
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.
prefix of reversal, deprivation, or removal (as in unhand, undo, unbutton), Old English on-, un-, from Proto-Germanic *andi- (source also of Old Saxon ant-, Old Norse and-, Dutch ont-, Old High German ant-, German ent-, Gothic and- "against"), from PIE *anti "facing opposite, near, in front of, before, against" (from PIE root *ant- "front, forehead," with derivatives meaning "in front of, before").
More or less confused with un- (1) through similarity in the notions of "negation" and "reversal;" an adjective such as unlocked might represent "not locked" (un- (1)) or the past tense of unlock (un- (2)).
late 12c., bileave, "confidence reposed in a person or thing; faith in a religion," replacing Old English geleafa "belief, faith," from West Germanic *ga-laubon "to hold dear, esteem, trust" (source also of Old Saxon gilobo, Middle Dutch gelove, Old High German giloubo, German Glaube), from *galaub- "dear, esteemed," from intensive prefix *ga- + PIE root *leubh- "to care, desire, love." The prefix in English was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c.
The be-, which is not a natural prefix of nouns, was prefixed on the analogy of the vb. (where it is naturally an intensive) .... [OED]
The meaning "conviction of the truth of a proposition or alleged fact without knowledge" is by 1530s; it is also "sometimes used to include the absolute conviction or certainty which accompanies knowledge" [Century Dictionary]. From c. 1200 as "a creed, essential doctrines of a religion or church, things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine;" the general sense of "that which is believed" is by 1714. Related: Beliefs.
Belief meant "trust in God," while faith meant "loyalty to a person based on promise or duty" (a sense preserved in keep one's faith, in good (or bad) faith, and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of Latin fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to "mental acceptance of something as true," from the religious use in the sense of "things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine."
updated on February 25, 2014