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June 12, 2020  |  Friday words #224  |  6737 hit(s)

I picked up a fun word from Twitter recently: infit. The meaning is clear once you understand the context, which is … contemporary.

When you dress for an occasion, you put on what? An outfit. Let's take a look at that word for a moment. An outfit is what you wear when you are equipped for something; the -fit part pertains to being fitted. The out- part does not in this case have a sense of "external" (outland, outbreak) or "exceed" (outdo, outlive). Instead, it seems to mean something like "completion": an outfit is a complete set of clothes or equipment.

But folks have come up with this nominal opposite to outfit, namely infit. What's an infit? It's what you wear indoors, and specifically, what you wear while hanging around inside under quarantine:

The clever part to me is in reanalyzing the out- part of outfit to mean "outdoors" so that the in- part of infit can mean "indoors." I'm easily amused that way, I guess.

I should acknowledge that infit is also used with other meanings:

  • There's an InFit app where the -fit part refers to "fitness," so a lot of the #infit hashtags on Twitter show people doing active-y things. There's a related #InFitness hashtag (often #InFitness&InLife)
  • According to a dubious entry in the dubious Urban Dictionary, infit is an outfit that's "in," meaning "stylish." We'd need more than that contributor's word for it though.
  • On Twitter, infit is also a surprisingly common typo for unfit.

On to origins. Who among us has not been obliged to write an essay, yea, verily, perhaps even the famed five-paragraph essay? But where does the word essay come from?

Yet another etymological surprise: essay is related to the word assay, which means "to examine or analyze." I don't think I'd use assay in a generic sense of examining a thing; I think of it as something done to or with, dunno, gold ore or something. And there is definitely a metallurgical sense of assay.

The verbs essay and assay were originally variations of the same idea, both referring to "test." Or if I read the OED right, to essay was a variant on to assay, which was based on French essayer; essay is actually the older form.

The word essay for the written form was apparently first used by the French writer Montaigne, who wrote a bunch of them. With his essays, Montaigne was indeed testing ("trialling") ideas. As per the article in Wikipedia, his essays …

did not aim to educate or prove. Rather, his essays were exploratory journeys in which he works through logical steps to bring skepticism to what is being discussed.

Apparently Francis Bacon brought both the idea and the word into English in his 1597 book Essayes. There is no particularly formal definition other than that it's usually in prose. If for some reason you have a teacher who insists that you write an essay that follows a rigid format, you can quote Samuel Johnson at them, who described an essay as "an irregular undigested piece." That should quiet them down.

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