Posted by: Jack Henry | August 12, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Infants and Infantry

Today, I have another pair of words for you from Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid. Our comparison today is between the words infant and infantry. Enjoy!

An infant—defined figuratively as “a babe in arms”—doesn’t walk, whereas a member of the infantry is a foot soldier. Thus, at first glance, it seems that infant and infantry have nothing in common. But, etymologically and semantically, they are closely linked. A quotation by Frederick the Great gives a clue about the relationship. He wrote, “If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one would remain in the ranks.” Frederick’s words suggest that the link between infant and infantry may have to do with cognitive development.

Infant, in fact, comes from a Latin compound infantem, which has the same meaning as our “infant.” The first syllable in- means “not,” as in inept, ineffective, and insincere. But the second syllable has nothing to do with walking. Rather, fantem comes from the Latin verb fari, “to speak.” Thus, an infant is a child who doesn’t speak.

And infantrymen? Historically, they were the least experienced and most uneducated soldiers. Like children, they were to be seen but not heard. They were to follow orders, not dispute them. As Lord Tennyson wrote:

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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