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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.
1520s, "to recount, tell," from French relater "refer, report" (14c.) and directly from Latin relatus, used as past participle of referre "bring back, bear back" (see refer), from re- "back, again" + lātus "borne, carried" (see oblate (n.)).
The meaning "stand in some relation; have reference or respect" is from 1640s; transitive sense of "bring (something) into relation with (something else)" is from 1690s. Meaning "to establish a relation between" is from 1771. Sense of "to feel connected or sympathetic to" is attested from 1950, originally in psychology jargon. Related: Related; relating.
updated on February 28, 2014