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Latin verb is the monster behind many words

| Friday, March 18, 2016, 8:57 p.m.

When a monster approaches, people are likely to yell, “Watch out!” And it's this notion of a warning that gave us the word “monster.”

In Latin, the verb “monere” meant “to warn,” so its noun form, “monstrum,” meant “an evil omen.” “Monstrum” eventually became “monstre” in Middle English and “monster” in modern English.

“Monster” originally meant “an animal or plant that differed greatly in form or structure from others of its species.” Later, its meaning shifted to a mythical creature of nonhuman form, and expanded to include a cruel and wicked human, or any object of large or unwieldy proportions, as in a “monster truck.”

“Monster” is just one of many Latin words that have sprouted from the Latin root “monere.”

Sometimes, it's fairly easy to spot the connection to a warning: “admonition” (a warning or expression of disapproval) and “premonition” (a forewarning). But for other words, the connection to “monere” is less obvious.

• Muster: As I said, the noun form of “monere” was “monstrum” (an evil omen). But this noun, picking up on the idea that an omen shows you something, soon developed a verb form of its own — “monstrare,” meaning “to show.”

“Monstrare” gives us “demonstrate” and “remonstrate” (to show through argument, pleading or objection), as well as “muster,” meaning to convene, gather, or call forth something to show strength, as in mustering troops, supporters or courage.

• Monitor: “Monitor,” which originally meant “someone who warns,” gradually expanded its meaning to “anything that watches, keeps tracks of, or checks.”

• Monument: A statue or structure commemorating an event or person doesn't seem to be related to a warning, but a secondary meaning of “monere” was “remind,” which, when you think about it, often involves warning someone about something — “Don't forget your seatbelt!” This “remind” sense of “monere” survives in “monument.”

• Summon: Here's another word that reflects the “remind” sense of “monere.” “Summon” comes from the Latin verb “summonere,” a combo of “sub” (secretly) and “monere” (to remind) that meant “to remind privately, hint.” Somehow, as “summonere” entered French and later English (as “summon”), it acquired a related, but quite different meaning — “to call forth, elicit.”

Warning: The Language General has determined that “monere” is lurking behind many English words.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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