As much as I know the prefix dis mostly means - no, stop, and the opposite.

In such words like: dislike - stop liking, disrespect - no respect, disconnect - the opposite for connect.

But in such words like: discover, discuss, disguise, display what does "dis" mean? Or maybe it isn't a prefix in these words?

  • 3
    "dis" is not always a prefix. If it was, "discuss" would mean "not swear", "display" would mean "work". and "disgust" would mean "no wind". :-) – fixer1234 May 10 '17 at 7:03
  • 1
    I can answer for discover: it also means opposite in the sense of uncovering an idea that was previously covered in the figurative sense. – Brandon Duffany May 10 '17 at 7:05

While I am inclined to agree with fixer1234's comment, having done a bit of research on all the words you mention it seems that all of them lead back to origins with dis/des prefixes. It's just some of these words have taken a few detours in definition which don't make that connection as clear as some of the words you mentioned earlier.

For discover, the word originates from the Late latin discooperire, which breaks down into dis (opposite of) and cooperire (to cover up), as Trent mentions in his comment above.

For discuss, the word originates from the Latin discutere, which breaks down into dis (apart) and quatere (to shake). It seems that the definition shifted from smashing apart to scatter or disperse, then to investigate or examine and finally to debate.

For disguise, the word originates from the Old French desguiser, which breaks down into des (away, off) and guise (style, appearance - a word we still use today).

For display, the word originates from the Latin displicare, which breaks down into dis (apart) and plicare (to fold). This definition was used with regards to sails and flags (the idea of unfurling them/revealing them) and has gradually morphed to what it is today.

  • 2
    I would just like to add that searching for "[word] etymology" in your preferred search engine is a really good way to start delving into the origins of words, and how they've morphed and changed over time to mean what they do now. – Cantalouping May 10 '17 at 7:56
  • An even better way is to consult the Oxford English Dictionary, though it isn't free online. Now and then you can find on eBay the miniaturized compact edition of the dictionary, for which you will need a magnifying glass, unless you have eagle eyes. public.oed.com/page-tags/etymology – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 10 '17 at 10:23

Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary

The miniaturized "compact edition" of the dictionary, with magnifying glass.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.