Predicament

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Oswinw011

Senior Member
Chinese
When I encountered this word, I looked up etymonline.com and tried to memorize it by dissecting it into several roots and making sense of them. Having done so, I found the biggest problem: all goes well until the website says "The meaning "unpleasant, dangerous, or trying situation" is a particular negative use of the general sense of "a state of being, condition, situation" (1580s)."

I can't see how it jumps from "a state of being" to "a particular negative use", which sounds strained and uncanny to me as the missing puzzle that can complete the whole picture is nowhere to be found. Nor do I understand this giant leap of logic, despite some efforts by the members in a forum that helps to solve English problems.

Can anyone enlighten me? Thanks.
Reference: Etymology: predicament
 
  • Catagrapha

    Member
    Malagasy
    Semantic evolution often seems illogical or inexplicable, for instance:
    humor, originally liquid, fluid, moisture
    talent, originally a unit of weight or sum of money
    prestige, originally deception or illusion
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The word was probably used mostly in a context containing a dire situation, and acquired gradually a negative connotation.
    A shift from a neutral to positive or negative meaning is quite common. There are even numerous examples of words switching from positive to negative, and vice versa.

    Here are some examples:
    FUN
    Fun was first a verb meaning "to cheat or hoax." It came from fon, an old word for "fool." It still retains some of that sense in “make fun of,” but now also means "a merry good time."
    FOND
    Fond also goes back to fon, and it once meant "foolish and weak-minded." It came to then mean over-affectionate in a negative, cloying way. Now it’s positive, but at root, being fond of something is basically being a fool for it.
    TERRIFIC
    The root of terrific is terror, and it first meant terror-inducing. It then became an exaggerated intensifier (“terrifically good!” = so good it’s terrifying) and then a positive term all on its own.
    TREMENDOUS
    Like terrific, tremendous has its roots in fear. Something tremendous was so terrible it caused trembling or shaking. It also became an intensifier (“tremendously good!”) before it went all the way positive.
    GRIN
    To grin was to bare the teeth in a threatening display of anger or pain. It then became the term for a forced, fake smile, before settling into an expression of happiness.
    SMART
    Smart was first used in Old English to describe things that cause pain. Weapons, nails, and darts were smart. Shakespeare’s Henry VI has the phrase “as smart as lizards’ stings.” It took on connotations of sharpness, quickness, intensity, and, through smart, pain-causing words or wit came to stand for quick intelligence and fashionableness.
    SAD
    Sad started with the meaning of "satisfied or sated," also sometimes "steadfast" or "firm." It then went from meaning "serious," to "grave," to "sorrowful."
     
    Last edited:

    ioanell

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Hi,
    Here's my contribution to this thread: 'Predicament', as explained in etymological dictionaries, derived from Latin 'praedicamentum', which was used to render Aristotle’s ‘κατηγορία’ (category of predications). But this meaning of the word ‘κατηγορία’ in Greek is just the second one, as Aristotle used it. The basic meaning of the Greek word ‘κατηγορία’ is the meaning of “accusation against sb”. An accusation is something which logically may lead a person under an accusation to find themselves in a difficult, unpleasant, or embarrassing situation. So, since Greek-Latin dictionaries translate Greek ‘κατηγορία’ as Latin ‘accusatio’, I ‘m wondering whether this original meaning of the word κατηγορία, and its Latin corresponding “accusatio” as well, influenced the word “praedicamentum” in a way that over the time the derived ‘predicament’ acquired the meaning of “difficult, unpleasant, or embarrassing situation”. Just an idea for a possible explanation.
     
    The first step is to remember the often unspoken major premise of etymology, which is "Every word has its own etymology". We can't always apply rules or logic to find a word's origin or understand its development.

    For what it is worth, my approximately 70 years' experience of British English tells me that "predicament" is almost invariably negative in its use. It might be given emphasisers such as "dreadful" or unenviable", but the only times I've seen it made positive, with a word such as "delightful", is when it is used ironically.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I can't see how it jumps from "a state of being" to "a particular negative use", which sounds strained and uncanny to me as the missing puzzle that can complete the whole picture is nowhere to be found. Nor do I understand this giant leap of logic, despite some efforts by the members in a forum that helps to solve English problems.
    This type of semantic change is far from "strained", nor is it "a giant leap".
    In Hungarian, the word for situation is "helyzet". Now we often use the phrase "helyzet van", which literally means "there's a situation", but the actual meaning is "there's a problem (to solve)".
    I'm sure that similar examples can also be found in other languages.
     
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