Ten “ten”s

This is probably very trivial, but I have to make a confession: I love words derived from the Latin verb tenere (“to hold”).

So, in the spirit of showing some common origins, here are ten “ten” words in English who owe their unique usages to this Latin verb:

  1. Although this word generally invokes images of large men with high vocal ranges, tenor (lit. “a holding on”, the nominative case of tenorem) also denotes substance or content (that which holds), especially of a claim or argument. The choral usage arose because the tenor part generally had the sustained melody (canto fermo).
  2. One of the controversial “ten”s is tenure due to its prevalence in the debate over whether or not educators should hold a position in perpetuity, though its earlier meaning denoted a holding of real estate rather than a status or occupation.
  3. The next word could be called, in modern terms, “stick-to-it-iveness,” and that would be a fair representation of tenacity, which is roughly the art of holding fast.
  4. Like tenure, the word tenement is also a holdover (pun intended) from real estate usage, originally being “holdings” of permanence like land or buildings, which eventually evolved into the word for a specific type of building with multiple dwellings.
  5. If you live in a #4, you might just be a tenant, which means that you are (at least at the moment) holding a space in the building for your own residence.
  6. Hopefully you have never confused this usage with #5 (and shame on you if so!) since we all have things that we hold to be true, also known as tenets (lit. “he/she/it holds”).
  7. With any luck, any #6s you hold are tenable, meaning that they can be held (usually under some standard).
  8. A fun piece of trivia – Sampras and Agassi have the Latin antecedent verb to thank for the name of our modern sport tennis, which bears quite a bit of similarity to the 2nd person present form tenis (“you hold”). It actually came from the medieval French tenetz, meaning “Have it!” or “Receive it!”, the call upon serving (which, at the time of the sport’s origination, was done with the hand rather than a racquet).
  9. Now a military reference – the rank lieutenant owes its origin to the French lieu tenant, lit. “placeholder.” The idea here is that one with the rank of lieutenant would hold command (since he is next in line) in lieu of the captain in his absence. (Here is an instance where the British probably changed the pronunciation to lef-tenant just to spite the French.)
  10. One more, and then I will hold you away no longer – that is, I will not detain you any further.

There are of course many others that one might obtain with the right amount of tenacity, but at the moment, this is all I can sustain. So now I must abstain from my task, and hopefully you can see now how pervasive this word is.

Until next time, as they say, keep holding on.


2 Responses to Ten “ten”s

  1. Kristina says:

    I enjoyed this list quite a bit. Nice work.

  2. Vitas says:

    Very interesting words! I’ll try to use them too 🙂

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