Perplexing Ruminations

Perplex came into use in the 14th century as an adjective, evolved from the Latin ‘per’, as in through, and ‘plexus’, meaning entangled, but there was no original verb form in Latin – just the compound adjective, derived from ‘per’ plus the past participle of the verb form ‘plectare’ to ensnare, braid, tangle.  While one could not perplectare in Latin, the adjectival form ‘perplex” existed, gradually shifting, in the 15th century, to ‘perplexed’, a past participle form of the same adjective.  The English verb was the last to evolve, from the made-up Latin compound verb form ‘perplectare’.  It is an unusual trajectory to grow from an adjective into a verb. And none of it had anything to do with plectrum, from the Greek ‘plektron’, a thing to strike with, becoming a thing to pluck or strum with. Nor ‘apoplexy’, which is what thinking about the origins of perplexed seems to provoke in me. 


About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Italophile
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