Words That Turn on the Root “Vert”

By Mark Nichol

The Latin verb vertere, meaning “turn,” is the source of a number of English words that pertain to shifting one’s position from the status quo. The list below defines many of these terms (those with prefixes, and their various grammatical forms); a subsequent post will continue the discussion of additional words in the vertere family: those with suffixes and those with the variant root vers rather than vert.

Vert is a rare verb meaning “turn in some direction,” and those four letters constitute the foundation of most words on this list. When attached to a prefix stemming from the element ad-, it yields the verb avert (from the Latin verb avertere, meaning “turn away”), which retains the sense of its etymological source (usually in the sense of prevention) and the adjective averse, meaning “disinclined,” and the noun aversion, describing a disinclination bordering on distaste or disgust.

Advert, of the same Latin derivation, means “turn toward,” though this sense is rare; the word is (in British English) now more common as an abbreviation for the noun advertisement. The verb advertise originally meant “inform” or “warn”; eventually, it acquired the connotation of “call attention to goods for sale,” and the noun became likewise associated with announcements of available products. (In American English, the short form is ad, often misspelled in lay writing as add, perhaps from an erroneous association with addition.) The act of using advertisements, and the industry based on doing so, are called advertising.

To “turn” something or someone so that it or him or her is in agreement with something or someone else (whether a device to be made compatible with another or a person whose beliefs are to be aligned with another’s) is to convert; the concept is called conversion. Converse, meaning “talk,” is a back-formation of conversation, which originally meant “living together” and subsequently became a euphemism for sexual intercourse; this sense slightly preceded that pertaining to speaking with someone else. Someone who speaks with others, generally in the context of complimenting the person for skill in doing so, is a conversationalist; a rare variant is conversationist.

To divert is to turn away; to present multiple qualities (thus turning away from a single reference point) is to be diverse. An act of turning away is a diversion, and an act of making something more diverse, or the natural process by which this occurs, is diversification. Evert and its adjectival and noun forms, which pertain to turning out or over, are rare, but invert, meaning “reverse,” is commonly used to describe turning something upside down; the noun is inversion. Subvert has the same general meaning, with the connotation of upending what is considered standard; the adjectival form is subversive, and the noun is subversion.

The verb pervert, originally an antonym for the religious sense of convert, came to mean, more broadly, “corrupt.” The word as a noun, by association, refers to someone with deviant sexual urges; perv (sometimes perve) is a slang truncation of the noun and as a verb pertains to perverted behavior. A corruption of accepted behavior or belief, meanwhile, is called a perversion; the adjectival form for the former sense, meanwhile, is perverse.

The verbs extrovert and introvert mean “turn outward” and “turn inward,” respectively; each also serves as a noun describing a person with a personality consistent with the respective meaning. The adjectival forms are extroverted (alternatively, extraverted in the context of psychology) and introverted, and the action of turning outward or inward is described, respectively, as extroversion or introversion. Someone who exhibits both personality traits is an ambivert, and that state is called ambiversion.

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7 Responses to “Words That Turn on the Root “Vert””

  • Petra

    Interesting piece, thank you. There’s just one error I have to point out. The prefix ambi- does not mean “about” or “around” at all. It means both (in the adverbial sense, of in two ways, not the conjunctive or pronomial senses).

    This error (about its meaning “about” or “around”) has arisen from a confusion (which the exasperating echo-chamber effect of the web is garnishing with truthiness) between the Latin adverb ambo and the derived Latin verb ambio, ambire, which is a compound of ambo with the verb io, ire/i. (Io forms a multitude of compounds in Latin and descendent languages.) This means, literally, “go both ways” or “go in two ways”; in other words, “go about, go around” and, hence, verbs like “skirt around, circulate, seek, canvass, solicit, strive for”.

    The echo chamber is currently propagating an even worse blunder by further misinterpreting the existing misunderstanding (of ambi- as “about” meaning “circuitously” or “here and there”) by imputing the “approximately” or “vaguely” meaning of “about” to the ambi- prefix.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Petra, you are completely correct about the prefix “ambi” as in “ambidextrous”, “ambivalent”, and maybe even “ambient”.
    Ambidextrous is dexterous with BOTH hands, and ambivalent is either seeing BOTH sides of things (issues) or of “being of two minds” about something. “Ambient” could be totally unrelated, and I will leave that one to you.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “The Latin verb vertere, meaning ‘turn’, is the source of a number of English words that pertain to shifting one’s position from the status quo.”
    Is there any relationship with the roots of “vertical” and “vertex”?
    When someone says “on the Root ‘Vert’,” I have a way of taking that this means ALL of them, and not just a subset. Also, something can be “turned” from a horizontal position to a vertical one, or from a vertical position to a horizontal one, so the verb “to turn” is applicable.

  • Anne-Marie Shaffer

    Isn’t an extrovert turned out and an introvert turned in?

  • Dale A. Wood

    Yes, Anne-Marie, that was written down precisely backwards in the article! I read that part too quickly to notice.
    Thank you.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “February 01, 2017 12:34 am” The clock on this Web site is also a mess. I wrote on January 31, 2017 at 8:34 p.m. MST. Even allowing for the difference in time zones between the Atlantic and the Pacific of North America, that is too much difference. It is early on February 1st right now somewhere like Greenland, the Azores, or the Cape Verde Islands: not big hubs of the Internet, either.

  • Mark Nichol

    Thanks for the notes about the inadvertent reversal of definitions and the erroneous etymology of ambi-. These errors have been corrected.

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