The Hidden Power of Words: ‘Compile’

posted in: Language 0
Image of different colored plastic tarps
A compilation of plastic tarps.

The Hidden Power of Words series takes a look at the language origins of frequently used words across the subjects of organizing, time management and productivity.

There’s quite a lot of hidden history (and fascinating order) when it comes to the words we use in today’s day and age!

compile |kəmˈpīl|
verb [ with obj. ] 1 produce (something, esp. a list, report, or book) by assembling information collected from other sources
• collect (information) in order to produce something
• accumulate (a specified score)

Today’s Word: Compile

Common Phrases and Usage in American English: “She compiled the entire collection of 50,000 stamps by herself. It took over 25 years to for her to secure all of those stamps.” “Never before have I heard such an amazing compilation of world music! Where did you get that album from?”

My Take on the Definition and Guess as to the Origin: I’m going to guess ‘compile’ is related to ‘com-‘ as well as ‘pile’ in the sense of piling things together.

Drumroll Please:

ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French compiler or its apparent source, Latin compilare ‘plunder or plagiarize.’

Well, that’s quite interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed something as innocent sounding as ‘compile’ has roots in a word with references to stealing, thievery or downright plagiarism. It’s completely true though; when you compile something you take items from different sources. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have thought the origin to have such strong word association! Let’s take a look at the entry for ‘compile’ from my favorite online reference, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

compile (v.)

early 14c., from Old French compiler “compile, collect” (13c.), from Latin compilare “to plunder, rob,” probably originally “bundle together, heap up;” hence “to pack up and carry off,” from com- “together” (see com-) + pilare “to compress, ram down.” Related: Compiled; compiling.

Okay, this entry gives a bit more support to my theory of the com- and ‘pile’ being used together, but it’s not quite as I thought. Let’s now take a look at ‘plunder’ and ‘plagiarism.’

plunder |ˈpləndər|
verb [ with obj. ] steal goods from (a place or person), typically using force and in a time of war or civil disorder

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from German plündern, literally ‘rob of household goods,’ from Middle High German plunder ‘household effects.’ Early use of the verb was with reference to the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), reflecting German usage; on the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, the word and activity were associated with the forces under Prince Rupert.

plagiarism |ˈplājəˌrizəm|
the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin plagiarius ‘kidnapper’ (from plagium ‘a kidnapping,’ from Greek plagion) + –ism.

Interesting origins, no? It almost makes you want to not take lightly the simple task of compiling papers or information!

Now to you…were you surprised by the origins of the word, ‘compile’? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!

Note: Dictionary used for definitions and references is The New Oxford American Dictionary, Version 2.2.1 (143.1), Apple Inc., Copyright 2005-2011 and The Online Etymology Dictionary.

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.
Latest posts from