[ CNRTL : ] Empr.[unt] au lat[in] *exquartare, dér.[ivé] du lat[in] class[ique] quartus « quart ».

Wiktionary states the same etymology: how does the Numeral Adjective 4 in Latin semantically connect with the notions of removal or separation or deployment?


3 Answers 3


Building on Cerberus' answer above, I think the semantic link might be tied to the development of quartus --> quartier: a piece of land; a neighbourhood; lodgings, accommodation; an encampment of troops (see "quartier")

If the é- does denote a Latin e(x)- then perhaps we could understand écarter to mean "out of the neighbourhood/lodgings/encampment" and thus away, at a distance.

What made me think of this was the original link to écarter above as the first attestation in the entry is "s'être éloigné du gros de l'armée".


When you quarter something, you divide it into four, so that you have four separate parts. This notion of separation is what developed into the sense of enclosure or separation or removal. That's why most languages have a word like quarter, quartier, kwartier, Viertel meaning "a fourth part, a separate part of the city, a quartered-off neighbourhood".

That a fourth part should have developed this sense, and not a fifth or a sixth party, is perhaps arbitrary. But perhaps it was common to divide cities into northern, eastern, southern, and western parts? We also do that in mathematics with quadrants.

  • I don't think the number four is so arbitrary. After all, it's quite natural to cut things (like land) into rectangular pieces or to split something in two halves twice, leaving four parts. But it's true that the choice of the number doesn't bear a deep meaning in this context.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 5:45
  • I haven't studied etymology formally, but isn't it likely that "cart" here comes from the word for card--carte? It seems a pretty perfect parallel to English discard, which comes from card, not "quartus."
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 16:48
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    @brianpck: Not knowing the etymology, that might have been possible, why not (although I suspect French é- is normally from Latin e(x)- or s- ?). At any rate, the etymology has been studied, and Timere shows in his quotation from the Trésor de la langue fançaise, a respectable source, that it comes from *exquartare. There are often several paths to the same sound; that is, the same syllable in two French words can come from two entirely unrelated Latin roots (or even from a Latin root and a Greek root, as in -cart-). Cf. English discard, cardiology (two unrelated Greek roots).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 0:40
  • 1
    @brianpck, there are two tabs for écarter in the link and the second one has exactly that meaning and etymology! Not to mention a wonderful quote from Balzac: "Ma belle dame, vous avez écarté le roi de cœur, j'ai gagné"
    – Penelope
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 5:50
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    @Penelope: Ah, I hadn't noticed, excellent!
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 18:58

It's more likely that écarter comes from *quartare. I fact, carta < Greek charta would have given charte like in old french. Carte is a Renaissance word from the same root. Comme on a écarter et non écharter, l'origine du mot est romane, et on doit "écarter" le mot carte.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! To what or to whom are you responding, exactly? Without context, it is not entirely clear to me that you are answering the original question at the top of the page. And is the French a quotation?
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 0:27
  • This appears to be a comment on one of the other answers instead of a separate answer. Can you which one it is, so we can convert this to a comment? Or, alternatively, you could expand this to a stand-alone answer. As such, this does not seem to answer the original question.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 9:32

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