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Fre­nar and Re­frain

Fre­nar (Span­ish for, “to break”, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the sense of, “to stop” — think of, the breaks on your car!) comes from the Latin frenare, mean­ing, “to re­strain,” which it­self is from the old Latin frenum for “bir­dle” — yes, the mouth­piece you put on a horse to, umm, re­strain it.

From that same root, we get the Eng­lish re­frain. It is the same frenare root, with the re- added for em­pha­sis. But we have the ‑ain spelling be­cause it comes in­to Eng­lish via French, with the re­fraign­er, of course. We can see the f‑r-n maps to the (re)-f-r‑n very clear­ly as well.

The les­son here is: from re­strain­ing some­one from do­ing some­thing (the old sense of the word) to re­frain­ing com­plete­ly from do­ing it (the new sense of the word) is just a mi­nor step. At least lin­guis­ti­cal­ly.


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