The Grammarphobia Blog

Hidden in plain sight

Q: I was surprised that you didn’t mention “abscond” in your blog post about “nascond.” It was what I thought of as soon as I read the post, since both words have the same back half and similar meanings.

A: Thanks for pointing this out.

“Abscond,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, entered English in 1586 and originally meant to hide, conceal, or obscure. It has its roots in the classical Latin verb abscondere, meaning “to hide, conceal, to bury, immerse, to engulf, to keep secret.”

The Latin condere means to put together or to stow, and the preposition ab (which becomes abs before words starting with c) in this case means off, away, or from.

In the 1600s, the OED says, the English “abscond” acquired new meanings: “to hide oneself; to flee into hiding, or to an inaccessible place; to leave hurriedly and secretly, typically to elude a creditor, escape from custody, or avoid arrest.”

As for “nascond,” which was discussed in a May 10 blog item, the closest relative I can find is the Italian nascondere (to hide, conceal). The Italian word is derived from the Latin inabscondere, which in turn comes from abscondere (see the etymology above).

In the case of inabscondere, I assume that the prefix in isn’t a negative but rather serves as an intensifier or to convey the sense of inside or within. (Not all in prefixes in Latin are negative (inspirare, “to blow in,” inferre, “to bring in,” and many others).

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.