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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Impeachment: When things ain't peachy

Image result for impeach

"Impeach" comes to us ultimately from the Latin word for foot, pes, of which pedam was one of the forms. From this the Romans derived their word for "fetter", (one of those chains you put on a prisoner's feet), pedica, and a verb impedicare (to catch by the feet or entangle). 

In French, as usually happened, a few syllables were lost from the Latin, and they ended up with empecher, which is the Modern French word for "prevent." And "prevent" or "impede" was what "impeach" first meant when we borrowed it into English in the late 1300s. 

But even as early as that it was also used to mean "accuse" by people who thought it derived from another Latin word impetere (which was the Latin for "accuse"). A sense of accusing of treason or another high crime dates from the 1500s, and from there the verb came to apply specifically to charging someone in public office of misconduct. It was an easy step from there to the meaning "remove someone from public office for misconduct". 

Perhaps surprisingly, PEACH (in the usage "to peach on someone" = to be an informer) is connected to "impeach", and to a synonym "appeach" that existed in the Middle Ages. Just like "impeach", "peach" in the 1400s meant "accuse" or "bring to trial." By Shakespeare's time it meant "inform against an accomplice" - in effect, accuse one's accomplice of the crime. 

For peach (the fruit), see this post:

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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.