Word of the Week Respair

Respair (n.), English all the way down. Also rare and usually considered obsolete. This word was not my idea. Rather, credit goes to a tweet that went flying by on my timeline a few days ago. I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.

A fun thing about language is that it can be fairly modular. Which is something authors and poets have exploited since time immemorial. And so it is with respair. Despair is a word that comes to us from the French through the Latin. It’s origin is in the word esperer: to hope. The de- prefix was added to indicate a situation where one was without hope. Somehow, in English, hope took a different route to get here, but we kept despair.

However, a historian in the 1400s needed a way to talk about a return to hope after a period of despair: a coming out of the darkness. And he looked at the word, chopped off the de- and added a re-. The re- prefix has always had a sense of going back (thus returning, receding, etc.), and so with it he created respair. The return of hope.

As far as I can tell, the word never really caught on. But I like it. Nice to have a word at hand for when things do finally get better. Because we can hope they will.

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