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When I was at college, my English teachers used to say that the word attendance was derived from at ten dance. In schools the children used to dance at Ten AM in the British Rule and slowly it took the form attendance.

Is there any base for this tale that the word attendance really derived from at ten dance?


This story is prevalent in India.The English teachers who taught me this way were good scholars. I do not know How they believed and spread the story. I suspected the tale but it is very widespread. Some myths have spread into India very mysteriously which have to be debunked on sites like this; this question is intended to dispel widespread misinformation.

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    And what did these teachers tell you about attend, attendant, and attendee? The fact that these other words exist should be a clue that the silly etymology your teachers suggested is not correct. It does sound like a good way to remember the meaning of the word attendance. It reminds me of this book: goodreads.com/book/show/6029361-the-weighty-word-book – Juhasz Oct 14 at 18:45
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    Could the teachers have been joking? I mean there's a similar case where the word "assume" is decrypted as "making an ASS out of U and ME", and a lot of people repeat this as a cautionary tale without pointing out the obvious fact that this is nonsense. Same here: the teachers may have assumed that the absurdity of such an explanation is too obvious. – IMil Oct 15 at 2:51
  • If there really was a school dance each morning at 10am, I think the more natural way to name it would be "the dance at ten" rather than "the at ten dance". – joeytwiddle Oct 15 at 3:40
  • @joeytwiddle: It seems highly unlikely, given the British mentality during that era, that schools would actually have children dance, at any time. Maybe a question for the history site? – jamesqf Oct 15 at 4:10
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    The question in the title is different than the question in the body text. This often confuses people who read answers that starts with an explicit yes/no, and has already done it here too. – JiK Oct 15 at 8:10
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That is pure nonsense.

"Attendance" is a derivation from the root of the modern English word "attend," which goes back to Old French "atendre," which in turn goes back to Latin "attendere," meaning "to pay attention to."

Like modern German and English, Latin made verbs by combining prepositions and root verbs. So "attendere" was formed by combining the preposition "ad" (meaning "to" or "toward") and the verb "tendere" (meaning "to stretch"). So if you are paying attention, it is natural to stretch toward whoever is speaking.

The verb "tendere" is thought to derive from the root "ten" (meaning to "stretch") in Proto-Indo-European, the partially reconstructed parent language of most languages in Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India as well as the Americas.

Source: https://www.etymonline.com/word/attend

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    As a footnote, the dominant languages in the Americas are Spanish, English, Portuguese, and French, all of which are Indo-European languages. – Jeff Morrow Oct 14 at 21:42
  • As another footnote, none of the American languages is Indo-European, to my best knowledge. (When I hear "languages in the Americas" – without "spoken" – I think of Mayan or Mohawk.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 9:43
  • Neither Mayan nor Mohawk is a dominant language in the Americas, nor have they been for several centuries. If we were trying to give examples of Indo-European languages that covered the full historical range of geographical dispersion, I'd have included Turkey (e.g. Hittite and Luwian) and China (e.g. Tocharian). – Jeff Morrow Oct 15 at 16:09
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Yes, there is a basis for this tale. It's a spelling mnemonic - a little trick to help us remember how to spell attendance.

There are other spelling mnemonics for various tricky English words. My favourite is Rhythm helps your two hips move, for a word that I've always found difficult.

I figure attendance could be a tricky word for people learning English - does it have one T or two? One D or two? Does it end with -ance, -ence, -ince, -anse, -ense or -inse? It wouldn't be too unreasonable to spell it atenddinse would it?

But if you remember at ten dance, you'll never get it wrong.

Unfortunately, from this spelling mnemonic sprung a fictional etymology. As others pointed out, this is not the correct etymology of the word attendance. But sometimes, a good story takes on a life of its own. Just ask Mr Gorsky!

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No. "Attendance" comes from the Latin verb attendō, which means "I pay attention". There are actually three Latin roots in "attendance":

  • ad-, meaning "toward" (cognate with English "at")
  • -tend-, meaning "stretch"
  • -antia, which makes an abstract noun out of another word, such as a verb

The idea of "stretching toward" started in reference to aiming a bow and arrow at a target.

The same roots appear in many other English words. If you "attend to" the roots, you can often get an understanding of how English works, including, especially, how English spelling works. Here are some other English words that contain -tend-.

  • extend, whose Latin roots mean "stretch out". As usual, English has Anglo-Saxon and Latin synonyms that carry almost but not quite the same meanings. The synonym from Latin carries more precise meanings, as required in science and administration and other more formal activities. Maybe now it is clear why we speak of extending an invitation to someone as well as extending a vacation.

  • tension, which is the opposite of flexion in medical terminology for the actions of muscles: tension is "stretching" and flexion is "bending". A tension headache results from "stretched" muscles around the head (or at least that's one theory).

  • intend also derives from pointing a finger or aiming a weapon, but this idea is lost in modern English.

  • Your belly is distended if it's stretched out more than normal.

  • …and many others.

Any good dictionary will include an etymology with every word. It's usually worth looking at the etymology to understand the relationships among different words and, sometimes, metaphors that still live in English words. Another excellent resource is etymonline.

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No, it's not "at-ten-dance".

Before about World War II, new English words were almost always adapted from other languages (partifularly French, Greek and Latin) and from adding prefixes and suffixes to existing words. It's only later that people started making new words from abbreviations (such as acronyms*) or gluing together existing words. So, if anybody proposes to you that a word was made in one of these modern ways, ask yourself if the word is really that modern. "Attendance" is clearly a pretty old word – surely pre-20th-century – so it would have been made by one of the old methods: adding the suffix "-ance" to "attend".


* A common false acronym etymology is "posh", which is not derived from "port out, starboard home", supposedly the preferred side of the ship to have one's cabin when sailing between Britain and India. The actual etymology of the word is unclear, but it's probably from the Romani language.

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