Motion and Movement

By Mark Nichol

If a word begins with mot- or mov-, chances are that it refers to literal or figurative motion or movement. This post describes many such words.

Motion and movement themselves are exemples of this class of word, which stems from the Latin verb movere, meaning “move.” (The connection for motion and other mot- words is that they derive from motus, the past participle of movere.) Motion and movement both mean “a change in place or position” and can also refer to physical activities and gestures. Motion also refers to an application or proposal made during a meeting or legal proceedings, and movement also describes an organized effort to achieve a goal or a distinct part of a musical composition.

Motion is also a verb describing a signaling gesture or, in a legal context, making a motion. The verb form of movement is move, although move can also itself serve as a noun, referring to changing the position of a game piece or otherwise taking a turn during a game; it is also a synonym for maneuver, as in the phrase “making a move.” Mutiny, meanwhile, originally meaning “revolt” but later coming to denote an insurrection of military personnel, also ultimately derives from movere.

Moment is, like mutiny, a word with a disguised shared ancestry; it derives from movere by way of movimentum. It generally refers to a brief portion of time or the present time, or a distinctive period, but on its own and as the basis of the adjective momentous, it also has the connotation of importance. (Moment also applies in specialized senses to physics and statistics.)

Something that can be moved is mobile and has the capacity of mobility (motile and motility also have this sense); the antonyms are immobile and immobility. Mobile, in addition to referring to a piece of kinetic, or moving, art, is the second element in the compound automobile, the formal alternative to car (which derives from carriage), which is sometimes truncated to auto.

Automobile literally means “self-drive” (in the sense of the driver operating the vehicle himself or herself, rather than the car driving itself, though technology for the latter has been developed). Coinages such as bookmobile (the name for a mobile bookstore or library) and bloodmobile (the name for a mobile laboratory for drawing blood to be donated), as well as snowmobile, have been derived in imitation. Automotive is the adjective pertaining to automobile.

To remove is to change the location of something or take it away or eliminate it, and the word is also a noun meaning “a distance or degree of separation.” Removal is the action or process of removing something. Something that can be removed is described as removable, and the quality of the ability of something to be removed is removability or removableness, though such usages are rare.

A motor is a device that enables an object to move or otherwise operate; that word is the first element of compound nouns such as motorboat and motorcycle (and motormouth, slang for a talkative person), as well as the altered compound motocross, which refers to a motorcycling sport and races in that sport.

An associated adjective is motive, which describes causing motion. As a noun, motive means “a reason to do something.” Motive is also a verb, albeit a rare one; its meaning is identical to that of motivate, which means “give a reason to do something”; motivational is the adjectival form.

Commotion (literally, “with motion”) and emotion (literally, “out of motion”) both originally meant “agitation,” but the former word came to mean “a disturbance,” while emotion eventually applied to mental reactions to stimuli. Emotional and emotive are adjectival forms, emotionally and emotively are the corresponding adverbs, and emote is the pertinent verb, while the slang word emo applies to a subgenre of punk music emphasizing anguish and screamo is a more intense variant. Commotion, by contrast, has only the rare verb form commove.

Promotion (literally, “forward movement”) refers to advancing something by advocating for or publicizing it or advancing someone by giving the person greater authority and responsibility; the verb form is promote, and promotional serves as an adjective in the former sense. Premotion is a rare word referring to movement before another movement, sometimes in the religious context of a divine impetus to act.

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4 Responses to “Motion and Movement”

  • D.A.W.

    In microbiology, some creatures such as paramecia, euglenas, and amebas are described as being “motile” because they have the capability of moving themselves about. This is in contrast to other forms of life, especially plants, that are “sessile”: they do not have ways of moving.
    In visible life, there are animals that are sessile, too: , such as barnacles, mussels, and hydrae.

  • D.A.W.

    The verb “to remove” is also used in another sense – probably an antiquated on – also connected to British India:
    “The Maharajah has decided to remove to his mountain palace for the duration of the monsoon season.”

  • D.A.W.

    There is the less-often use of mutiny to military forces. There was a large mutiny among the military in British India — a mutiny among native (“Indian”) troops. This was back before the time of metal cartridges for rifles. The British Army issued a new kind of ammunition for the muzzle-loading rifles of their troops. Each shot was in a small paper package that contained gunpowder and one rifle ball, and that container was greased with beef tallow and pork fat for waterproofing. The soldier was supposed to bite the package open, pour the gunpowder down the muzzle, drop in the rifle ball, and then use the package for “wadding” to keep it all in. This was a HUGE error by the British:
    1) All of their Hindu soldiers objected to biting into anything with beef in it, and they refused to do so.
    2) All of their Moslem soldiers objected to biting into anything with pork in it, and they refused to do so.
    In the great cultural insensitivity of the British officers in India, they labeled all of this a mutiny, and it grew into a bloody revolt by the Indian troops.

  • D.A.W.

    Mutiny: “later coming to denote an insurrection of military personnel”.
    The word “mutiny” is more often applied to insurrections by NAVAL personnel — sailors and some of their officers. Examples include “The Mutiny on the Bounty” and “The Caine Mutiny”.
    There is a distinction between “military” and “naval”. In the Constitution of the United States, it states that Congress has the authority to raise and support “military and naval forces”.
    In a more modern time, we would have written “military and naval forces, and an air force”.

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