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According to the OED, Samuel Johnson mistranslated its Latin ancestor to mean "mutually destructive" when in fact it means "very deadly or destructive" - but Johnson's version has become the current meaning; what word is it?




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Answer: internecine

The word internecine (1663) derives from the Latin internecinus, very deadly or destructive, which in turn derives from internecare, kill or destroy.

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I'm confused. Isn't the original Latin meaning the same as the English current usage - killing within a given group? With "inter-" meaning between as in intercom, interdict, interface, etc. and the meaning of "-necine" being to kill or destroy. How was the original Latin meaning "very deadly or destructive"? Am I assigning the wrong meaning to "inter"? In-fighting would appear to suggest the use of "intra," but isn't there a better word for "very"? The Latin meaning seems like it should have been ultranecinus, summanecinus, extranecinus...

[Mootguy: You are making the same mistake as Johnson. He believed that the inter meant "mutual," when, according to the OED, it is actually being used as an intensive meaning "very." ]
ebmty at & yahoo.com
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Thank you, MootGuy ...I won't give up..i won't give up!!
DTessaro at & aol.com
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Boy, I guess I'm not your intended audience ... but I do forward these to my more literary relatives and friends .... apparently, I'm the puppy that tags along ... however... I do like knowing more at the end of your questions than I knew before!
dtessaro at & #aol.com
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Another common (mis)usage of internecine is to describe conflict within an organisation, in-fighting, a kind of organisational civil war. I think the word is perceived as containing echoes of "internal"; in fact I would say the internecine is nowadys almost exclusively applied to members of the same group attacking each other
patrickcarey at & %bitcat.net
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I recall learning the word internecine when studying Latin in my freshman year of high school (circa 1955) . It meant deadly conflict within a group of persons related by blood, conflict between members of a tribe.
phsheets at &#E comcast.net
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Thanks for setting me straight -- I always thought the derivation was from the Latin inter plus nex, necis = family, tribe. On reading your question I assumed that had been Johnson's assumption, but the OED only goes so far as to state that he read "inter" in the sense of "internal." I can't imagine, however, that I could have posited the derivation from "nex" independently and wonder whether any more qualified authority has made the same mistake.
dassori# choate.com
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