Words Containing “-rupt”

By Mark Nichol

One of the latest business buzzwords is disruption, referring to how technology-centered businesses are operating differently than their traditional counterparts, as when Lyft and Uber compete with taxi companies or Airbnb cuts into the lodging business (and the rental market). The metaphor of breaking away is apt, as disrupt, like any word with the root -rupt, has something to do with breaking or breaking out, because that syllable stems from the Latin verb rumpere, meaning “break.” (Disrupt literally means, with the elements reversed, “break apart.”)

Abrupt refers to a sudden break or disconnection. (The ab- prefix, meaning “away” or “off,” is also seen in absent, absolute, and absorb.) To erupt is, literally, to break out or burst; the term originally was used in the context of disease and only later was applied to volcanic action. Rupture, too, originally had a medical connotation, referring to a bone fracture and later a hernia. Irruption, rare and sometimes confused with eruption, is actually an antonym of the latter word; it means “an instance of breaking in” or “an invasion.”

To interrupt (literally, “break between”) originally was to commit a transgression: interfering with the legal right of another. Only later did it acquire a general connotation of breaking into or breaking in on.

Two less obvious members of the -rupt family are corrupt, which came from a French word meaning “unhealthy” or “uncouth” (the prefix is a corruption of com-, meaning “with”) and bankrupt, which, acquired from Italian, essentially means “broken bench.” The metaphoric meaning of bankrupt actually has a literal origin: Banca was the term for a moneylender’s shop, and when the proprietor of such an establishment was financially ruined, the authorities broke his bench.

Rout, meaning a disorderly retreat, and route, meaning a path or road (each is also employed as a verb), are related: A rout is an assembly or formation of people that is broken up, and a route is a road that breaks through the heretofore undisturbed countryside.

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