The Grammarphobia Blog

Tricky relationships

Q: If I can extricate myself from a relationship I don’t want, why can’t I intricate myself into one I do want?

A: The verb “extricate,” which has been around since the early 17th century, means to get someone or something, including oneself, out of a difficult situation. It comes from the Latin verb extricare (to disentangle).

I don’t think you’re really looking for a word that’s the opposite of “extricate.” You might want to free yourself from a messy relationship, but you wouldn’t want to get yourself into another fine mess.

Finding a good relationship is complicated enough. I’d go for simple language to describe it. So good luck in your efforts to “find” or “begin” or “start” or “get into” a relationship you want.

As for “intricate,” it comes from the Latin verb intricare (to entangle). Most modern dictionaries describe it as an adjective meaning complicated or elaborate. But the Oxford English Dictionary includes several published references for “intricate” as a verb meaning to entangle—yes, the opposite of “extricate.”

Both “extricate” and “intricate” have roots in the Latin word tricae (perplexities). In one case, you’re freeing someone or something from a perplexing situation; in the other, you’re enmeshing someone or something in such a situation.

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