Quests and Questions

By Mark Nichol

Many words with the letters que or qui stem from the Latin verb quaerere, which means “ask” or “seek,” and therefore pertain to questions and quests. This post lists and discusses such words.

Quest was originally synonymous with inquest (literally, “search in”), which refers to a legal investigation, but the former word came to apply generally to any search or mission. Now, quest is often associated with chivalric adventures or related journeys in fantasy literature. (Bequest, referring to an act of providing for someone in a will, is the noun form of bequeath and is unrelated.)

Question originally referred to a problem of philosophy or theology but later, by association, pertained to anything intended to prompt an answer or a discussion and came to serve as a verb as well. An act of interrogation is a questioning, someone who questions is a questioner, and an act of a dubious nature (which would prompt observers to question the actor’s morals or motives) is questionable.

Query is synonymous with question as both a noun and a verb. Querent, likewise, is a synonym for questioner but usually in the context of someone who seeks astrological insight; it is rare.

To inquire is to ask, and an act of asking is an inquiry; the latter word is also synonymous with inquest. (The variations enquire and enquiry are associated with British English but are sometimes used by writers in the United States.) Inquisition has the stronger sense of an interrogation; the adjectival form inquisitive implies mere curiosity, but it usually has the connotation of excessive interest. An investigation may also be referred to as a disquisition, although this term may alternatively refer to a long speech.

Request also means “ask” as well as “something asked,” and originally was synonymous with the related verb require, but the latter term came to refer to asking something with the expectation that it must be answered; this imperative sense is matched in the noun form requirement. Something requisite is required in the sense of “necessary,” and a requisition is an instance of asking for something considered essential. The noun and adjective prerequisite, which literally means “required beforehand,” is not to be confused with perquisite (“thing sought”), which is often abbreviated to perk in the sense of “benefits of employment or membership.”

Terms that may not appear to be related but are include the verb acquire (“earn” or “gain,” from the sense “seek to obtain”) and its adjectival forms acquired and acquisitive and noun form acquisition, the verb conquer (“search for”) and its noun form conquest (and the English and Spanish actor nouns conqueror and conquistador), and the adjective exquisite (literally, “carefully sought”).

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4 Responses to “Quests and Questions”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “The variations enquire and enquiry are associated with British English but are sometimes used by writers in the United States.”
    Such statements DO raise the questions of, “What about in CANADA, Australia, South Africa, etc.?” Most of the time, Canada leans the American way, but not always.
    Also, sometimes we hear well-educated people from those other countries, and we can exclaim, “The Australian man said that the American way, and not the British!” or “The South African woman said that the American way, and not the British.”
    On the other hand, there are the opposites. E.g. a Jordanian reporter on CNN who graduated from the University of Rhode Island, but she says almost everything the British way. “How can this be?” we ask ourselves? How could she go to college in the United States for four (plus) years, and survive, without learning and using a lot of American English? Especially to talk on American TV?

  • Dale A. Wood

    The South African woman whom I mentioned works for CBS in the US, and sometimes she appears on 60 MINUTES. She was as reporting on the crew of an oceanographic ship at work. The scientists and engineers had a remote-controlled TV camera beneath the sea, and they could watch the progress on a TV screen. She said, “The crew was glued to the screen.” Holy cow! That is very American. (“Crew” is a collective noun. Everyone in it is being treated as a unit, and hence that unit is singular.)
    There was none of that unspeakable business of {The crew were, the family were, the government were, the staff were, the team were, the RAF were,… }. “The Commonwealth were” ??

  • Dale A. Wood

    I believe that on opposite sides of the Atlantic, there are publications called “The Enquirer” and “The Inquirer”, just listing them in east-west order or in alphabetical order.
    Also, enquerent or inquerent? enquistitent or inquisitent?
    Inquisitent minds want to know!

  • Dale A. Wood

    QUEST: Jonny Quest and his father Dr. Benton Quest of the “Jonny Quest” animated TV series, along with their faithful pals Race Bannon and “HADJI”. This was an obvious spin-off of the series of books about Tom Swift, Jr., and his father, who were featured in a huge series of books that I was entranced by, and it was even better to see the Quests in animated action on TV. It was just took bad that they did not keep on making them for years, like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound Dog, and the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.
    I can also remember when I could buy a hardbound book of “Tom Swift, Jr.” for $1.00, but it was a lot harder to scrape together $1.00 back in the 1960s. I could also subscribe to a good monthly magazine for $3.00 per year, or splurge and get two years for $5.00 !
    D.A.W.

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