More About “Mission”

By Mark Nichol

A recent post listed and defined many words containing the element mit and miss and descended from the Latin verb mittere, meaning “send.” This follow-up offers related words not as easily discerned as being part of the mittere family.

But first, here are the details about a word integral to this vocabulary family but not discussed in the previous post: Mission, the word that often forms the root of the noun form of words in the mittere family, itself means “job” or “task” or sometimes refers to those sent to do a job or task. Because the practice of sending religious personnel to convert people or provide aid to them historically also had political and economic motivations, the term came to apply also to assignments of diplomatic personnel and trade representatives.

Also from the religious sense, a complex of buildings constructed to support such work is called a mission. (A particular style of architecture and furniture inspired by buildings and furnishings for Catholic missions in North America is called “mission style.”) Someone engaged in mission work in a religious context is a missionary; that term is also employed as an adjective to describe someone very supportive of a cause or eager about a job; this fervor might be described as “missionary zeal.”

Mass, describing a church service,” derives from Latin by way of the Old English term mæsse, which refers to the church service known as the Eucharist; it likely stems from the priest’s concluding statement, “Missa est” (“It has been sent”). Religious documents and publications generally capitalize the term, while in lay usage it is usually lowercase. (The noun and verb mass, referring to a large amount or crowd, is unrelated.) A missal, meanwhile, is a book containing prayers said or sung at various times of year during masses.

Mess in the dining sense, usually employed to describe a meal seating in a military context, comes from the notion of sending a meal to be eaten. The sense of “jumble” or “state of confusion or untidiness,” and the meaning, by extension, of “quantity” derives from the original sense applied to mixed food given to animals.

A message is a communication (as a verb, the word means “communicate by message” or “send a communication”); it can also apply, more broadly, to an idea or theme. The near synonym missive refers specifically to a letter, while a missile is a weapon “sent” by projecting or throwing.

The phrase mise-en-scène, borrowed directly from French, literally means “setting on the stage” and is based on the French noun mise, “a placing or putting”; it refers to the physical arrangement of performers and scenery in a live or recorded dramatic presentation or, by extension, the context or setting of a narrative or the environment of a place in general.

To dismiss is to disregard or send away; such an act is a dismissal.

Demise is a formal synonym for death that also applies to the end of activity or existence or the loss of position or status, as well as conveying sovereignty or an estate; in the latter sense, it is used in legal contexts as a verb. (In the sense of “death,” such usage is rare.) A premise is an idea or statement accepted as true or the sake of argument or to discuss a reasoning; the word is also employed as a verb in that sense. In plural form, it has the specific formal meaning “buildings and the piece of land on which they are built.” (This usage stems from the fact that in legal documents, where such property was often described, premise was employed to mean “something previously stated.”)

Surmise means “imagine” or “infer,” or refers to having a poorly supported idea or thought; such is also referred to as a surmise.

A promise is a pledge or vow—one literally “sent forth”—or the action of pledging or vowing; the word also pertains to an expectation, as in “the promise of rain” or “showing promise.”

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