Friday, September 14, 2012

Renegade Words

Words.  They are just so unruly.  You expect them to behave in a nice orderly fashion.  But in English, or especially in moving from one language to another, they slouch and morph and take on the appearance of some of their shifty friends.  You just imagine Mnemosyne-Greek Goddess of memory and inventress of language-shaking her head in frustration.  

Take for instance the word renegade.

Officially it comes from the Medieval Latin word renegate, which means to deny.  Specifically it was to deny one's faith, leading to the Spanish word renegado, a term used for a Christian who converted to Islam. 

But there is a similar word, runagate to consider.  It is said to be an alliteration of renagate mixing along the way with the concept of being a runaway.  In Old English a road, or a gate crossing a road, were both referred to with the term gate.  And running a gate would imply some form of trespass.

There is a poem by Robert Haydon called Runagate, Runagate that remembers the era of runaway slaves and the Underground Railroad. 

I also wonder if there is not some accidental connection with the abbreviated and rather modern term renege, which means to go back on a deal.  I suppose it comes both from renegate and from a condensing down of the term re-negotiate, with its overtones of extortion.  Negotiate, by the way, comes to us not from mere Medieval Latin, but from the Old Days of the Roman Republic.  In toga times a negotiatore was a businessman, usually someone who would loan money or trade in commodities.  The business dealings that then and now arise from such activities are of course negotiations.

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