Ducts and Dukes Lead the Way

By Mark Nichol

The Latin verb ducere, meaning “lead,” is the basis of many English words pertaining to action, development, and movement. This post lists and defines these words.

To abduct (literally, “lead away”) is to kidnap or seize someone; one who does so is an abductor, and the action is called abduction. Abduce is a synonym for the medical sense of the word; abduce and abduct both describe drawing a body part away from another. (Abductor is used as a noun in this sense as well.) To adduce (literally, “lead to”), by contrast, is to draw a body part toward the axis of a limb or the center of the body. It also means “provide an example, proof, or reason to support a proposition.” (Abduction and adductor are the noun forms, and abducent and adducent are the adjectives.)

A duct is a channel or a conduit; aqueduct literally means “water channel.” (Duct tape, sometimes, as a result of a mishearing, called “duck tape,” is so named because it was developed for repairing ducts.) Something that is ductile is capable of being beaten thin, bent, or pulled (as in the case of certain metals), of being formed anew (as in the case of other malleable materials), or of being easily influenced or lead (as in the case of people).

To conduct is to lead to a particular result, though conduce is sometimes used for this meaning. Something that leads is a conductor, as in the case of a substance that carries heat or another form of energy or a person who is the head of an orchestra or an official on a train. The act is conducting in the sense of carrying energy is called conduction.

To deduce is to figure out by reasoning or to trace; a deduction is the result. Deduct is synonymous with deduce, but it also means “subtract.” Induce and introduce both mean “lead into,” but the former pertains to influence, persuasion, or persuasion, or to forming or producing. (In the sense of producing an electrical current, the verb form is induct.) Introduction, by contrast, refers to the act of presenting, especially for the first time, or to inserting or instituting something.

To produce is to develop; something produced is a product, although produce is employed to refer to fruits and vegetables; production is distinguished from product in that it refers to the creation of goods or of artistic works. To reduce is to diminish the amount of something, and to seduce is to literally lead away or astray, either in a physical, sexual sense or in the figurative sense of “persuade.”

Less common words derived from ducere include circumduction (“circular movement of an extremity or limb”), subduction (“movement of the edge of one tectonic plate below another”), traduction (“defamation,” although it also has senses pertaining to logic and rhetoric), and transduction (“transfer of energy or information”).

Words that may not be immediately apparent as belonging in the ducere family include educate (literally, “lead out”); someone who educates, or teaches or trains, is an educator, and the act of teaching or training is education. (The adjectival form is educational.) Another is douche, which came to English from French by way of an Italian word for “spray” and as both a noun and a verb refers to vaginal cleansing. Duke, meanwhile, stems from the Latin word for “leader” and referred originally to a prince and later to a high-ranking nobleman. The adjectival form is ducal, the domain of a duke is a dukedom, and the wife of a duke is a duchess. (The verb and noun dock may also derive from ducere, although it may have a Germanic origin.)

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4 Responses to “Ducts and Dukes Lead the Way”

  • venqax

    @Peter Buxton: I, too, have heard that “duck” tape is actually the original and proper term for the product, which is so-called after the cotton duck fabric, or something resembling it, that it was made from. It is “duct” tape that is the later misapprehension, not the other way around. In fact, some knowledgeable sources contend that the stuff is not particularly good for repairing ducts (Service Champions, Real Clear Science).

    Also, as to “the domain of a duke is a dukedom.” I don’t think that is quite correct. I think that while the title and privileges of a duke constitute a dukedom, the actual domain of one is called a duchy.

  • Peter Buxton

    Kathy. “Duck Tape” is marketed as such. It is named, as I understand it, after its duck cloth backing.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A related term from biology and anatomy is the “adductor longus”. These have a connection with the “gluteus maximus”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Does the word “docent” have any connection with these?
    What about the Belgian name “Dux”?
    Something related to ones that you did mention is (Michael)
    Faraday’s Law of Electromagnetic Induction, and this is the one that makes electric motors run. Just try to imagine a world without any electric motors.
    Another electrical device that operators by electromagnetic induction is the “inductor”, which has “inductance”. These were studied by the American scientist Joseph Henry, and the unit of inductance is the “henry”.
    A related electromagnetic effect is “capacitance”, leading us to the device called the “capacitor”. These were studied by the Englishman Faraday, and the unit of capacitance is the “farad”.
    The three-phase “induction motor”, and the generators and transformers to go with it, we invented by the Serbo-Croatian/American engineer Nikola Tesla. There is an important magnetic unit named the “tesla” in his honor.
    Notice all of the related electrical terms that end in “or”:
    alternator, capacitor, conductor, generator, inductor, insulator, motor, resistor, rotor, sensor, and stator, BUT
    transformer, transducer, meter, transmitter, repeater, and receiver.
    There is also the related mathematical concept of the “phaser”, and not the kind that they have on STAR TREK.

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