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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.


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 &

Thank you, MootGuy ...I won't give up..i won't give up!!
DTessaro at &

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 &

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 &

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

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.

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