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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The injustice of injuries

The Olympics are now in full swing, and all this pushed-to-the-limit physical activity brings with it the risk of injury, such as the one that caused figure skater Evgeni Plushenko to pull out of the competition and retire from the sport.

Working so hard for so long, only to have all chances of winning eliminated by an instance of body betrayal does seem to reflect a fundamental cosmic unfairness, and in fact the word "injury" is related to the word "injustice".

In Latin, jus meant "right, law, justice"; in derivatives, jus became jur-. This is why we have the word "justice" but also related words like "jury, jurisprudence" and so on. So, in Latin, an injuria was an injustice done to someone. This was the sense that "injury" first had in English when we borrowed it from Latin in the 1300s.

A couple of hundred years later, "injury" had taken on another meaning: a spoken injustice, an insult. Although it no longer has this sense in English, in French the word for "insult" is still injure.

By the 1400s, "injury" was also being used to mean some physical damage or loss, but it could apply to damage caused by the elements to a building, or the physical unpleasantness of standing out in the rain. It wasn't until the 1800s that it settled down into its now most common meaning of more serious, temporarily incapacitating damage inflicted on some internal part of the body.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.