Etymonline proclaims that

replicare "to repeat, reply," literally "to fold back,"


from re- "back, again" (see re-) + plicare "to fold" (from PIE root *plek- "to plait")

What notions underlie folding and repeating?

p 1785 on Oxford Latin Dictionary (2012 2 ed) doesn't expound the semantic shift. I marked the entry with a red line.

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  • 1
    Have you checked what Lewis and Short say on replico? The route from the basic meaning to II.B.2 gets some more perspective if you read the whole entry.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 16:45
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Thanks. I read the OLD (now quoted!), and not Lewis and Short, but now that I have, I'm still too stupid to connect the dots.
    – user37
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 4:53
  • 1
    This isn’t really a question about Latin at all. Nevertheless, I would suggest concentrating on all the different kinds of plication (ex, in, con, re, ad, sub) simultaneously since they will give a better sense of parallel evolution. Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 7:16
  • @Cerberus. Certainly. Am I wrong to assume that Oxford Latin Dict. (last revised 2012) is better than Lewis & Short last revised in 1879?
    – user37
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 5:53
  • @Greek-Area51Proposal: Oh! I am ashamed. I read it as Oxford English Dictionary, how stupid of me (the letters in the image were too small to read without opening it in a new tab). The Oxford Latin Dictionary is fine, of course! It is generally the better dictionary, although perhaps in this case Lewis & Short can be helpful, as they usually provide more possible translations of each sense of a word.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 14:12

1 Answer 1


Plico means "to fold, roll, wind". Re- means "back, again", so replico means "to fold back, roll back, rewind". A sense "to roll over" is not very different; this no doubt developed from "roll back".

As it often happens, that concept could be used figuratively: "to roll something over in the mind". As rolling or folding an object or substance, such as a scroll, a braid, a toga, involves spending some time touching it and being able to inspect it from multiple angles, the figurative sense flows into "reflect upon [an idea]". (Cf. re-flecto "to bend back, turn back".) Re- suggests going over it again, so the sense of repetition lies in that praefix. When you reflect upon an idea, you think about it again and again; it's not just one simple act of thinking. Perhaps re- had a double effect: perhaps the step from "reflect on" to "repeat (in the mind)" was owing to the subconscious' taking the sense of repetition from re- into account a second time. Or perhaps it makes sense as a reinterpretation without duplicity. At any rate, the sense of repeat developed post-classically, so after the other senses, according to Lewis & Short.

As to replying, that originates in late juridical Latin (Lewis & Short). A reply means saying something back to the original utterance, so I think it is logical for that sense to be expressed by re- as well. As to why folding (back) came to mean uttering (back), I imagine the figurative sense "to roll something over in the mind" was expanded to rolling something over in a conversation, inspecting it by talking about it.

The full entry on replico from Lewis & Short:

rĕ-plĭco, āvi (e. g. Vulg. Gen. 4, 27; id. Jos. 8, 35 al.), ātum (collat. form, replictae tunicae, Stat. S. 4, 9, 29), 1, v. a., to fold or roll back, to bend or turn back (cf.: revolvo, reflecto).

I. Lit.: vel Euhemero replicato, vel Nicagorā, etc., unrolled, opened, Arn. 4, 147; cf. infra, II.: surculos in terram dimittito replicatoque ad vitis caput, bend back, Cato, R. R. 41, 4; so, labra, Quint. 11, 3, 81; cf.: replicatā cervice, Plin. 34, 8, 19, 80; and: margine intus replicato, id. 9, 33, 52, 102: ab omni laevitate acies radios tuos replicat, casts back, reflects, Sen. Q. N. 1, 3, 7; cf.: quia radii solis replicantur, id. ib. 2, 10, 3: jocinera replicata, folded inwards, Suet. Aug. 95.—

II. Trop., to unfold, unroll, turn over; to bend or turn back; to open: ut ne replices annalium memoriam, unfold, turn over, Cic. Sull. 9, 27; so, memoriam temporum, id. Leg. 3, 14, 41: traductio temporis nihil novi efficientis et primum quicque replicantis, unrolling, unwinding, id. Div. 1, 56, 127: cujus acumen nimis tenue retunditur et in se saepe replicatur, is bent back, Sen. Ben. 1, 4, 1: vestigium suum, to withdraw, i. e. to go back, App. M. 4, p. 151, 15.—

B. In partic.

1. To turn over and over in the mind, to think or reflect upon; to go over, repeat (post-class.): haec identidem mecum, App. M. 3, p. 129: titulos, singula, Prud. στεφ. 11, 3: necem, to tell again, Amm. 30, 1, 3: vitam, Sid. Ep. 7, 9: lamentum, Vulg. 2 Par. 35, 25; id. Num. 27, 23: quorum (glirium) magnitudo saepius replicata laudatur adsidue, Amm. 28, 4, 13: vultu adsimulato saepius replicando, quod, etc., id. 14, 11, 11. —

2. In jurid. and late Lat., to make a reply or replication, Dig. 2, 14, 35 fin.; Greg. Mag. in Job, 16 init.

  • +1. Thanks. I hope you don't mind that I just narrowed this question to 'repeat', and asked anew for 'reply', so that each post is devoted to one semantic shift.
    – user37
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 22:51

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