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I don't understand the etymology of interfacio: inter + facio.

How it became "to kill"? What is the link between "to do between"?

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Complex verbs like tr. interficere 'to kill' and intr. interire 'to die' contain the prefix inter-, which some scholars (e.g., López Moreda (1987: page 222), among others) have claimed is related to the suffix *-tero, which can express "a separative function" (cf. Benveniste (1948)). According to López Moreda, i.a., the original meaning of interficere is 'to put in between by separating' [cf. also the previous relevant source pointed out below by AlexB on Hermann Hirt (1928) Indogermanische Grammatik (volume IV, page 59)].

Filimonov (2019: page 86), among others, also points out a parallelism with Sanskrit antar-dha ‘to kill, destroy’ (lit. ‘in the middle, between’-‘put’). In this respect see also the article by Sandoz, Cl (1976). “Du latin interficio au védique antar dha”. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique LXXI: 207-219 [but see TKR's remark below on the alleged parallelism given by Filimonov (2019: 86)]. A further parallelism between Lat. inter and Hittite istarna can also be pointed out to give evidence for the separative component.

Assuming, along with López Moreda et al., that the original meaning of the causative change of state verb interficere is 'to put in between by separating', it is also relevant to point out that the separation idea involved in this verb is clearly related to its privative use in Early Latin: e.g., Salue, qui me interfecisti paene uita et lumine (Pl. Truc. 518). Hence its meaning 'to cause me to be separated from life'. Cf. also the same definition provided by the Indo-Europeanist Meier-Brügger (2003: page 187): "interficere: 'to separate (from life), to make disappear'.

Finally, as for the causation idea, it is obvious that it is involved in interficere, since the transitive verb facere means 'to do/to cause' (cf. the intransitive-unaccusative verb interire, which does not express 'causation' but only 'change (of state)').

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    I don't understand this etymology -- inter means "between", and has no specific idea of separation (even if it ultimately contains a suffix which can express separation, which I'm not sure about either). Also for Skt antar-dhā I'm not finding a sense "kill, destroy" in Monier Williams (the standard Skt-Eng dictionary). – TKR Nov 2 '19 at 2:26
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    Thanks, the Filimonov paper is a little clearer (but only a little...). So if I understand correctly, the semantic link with "separation" is that to place something "between" two things is to separate those things; hence interficere comes to mean "separate", and then specializes to "separate from life, kill", I suppose by euphemism? – TKR Nov 2 '19 at 2:56
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    (Btw Mayrhofer 1992:76 doesn't give any definition for antar-dhā, which as far as I can tell means "place within, conceal" rather than "kill".) – TKR Nov 2 '19 at 3:02
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    The so called "separation" explanation is a very old one and surely it wasn't proposed by Lopez Moreda or Filimonov or even Benveniste himself. As far as I can see (based on Walde and Hoffman or Szantyr), it goes back to Hermann Hirt Indogermanische Grammatik (volume IV, p. 59). – Alex B. Nov 2 '19 at 16:19
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    @AlexB. Thanks, Alex, for your comments and for quoting this relevant passage from Hirt (1928). You're absolutely right: it is also important to examine the parallelism with Sanskrit more thoroughly. I've just discovered another specific article on this topic in Spanish ("Sobre el significado etimológico de interficere") but, unfortunately, it is not downloadable. ;-( cosechador.siu.edu.ar/bdu3/Record/… – Mitomino Nov 2 '19 at 21:21
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interficere “to kill” goes with interfieri “to be destroyed” and interdicere “to ban”. Latin inter is cognate with (among others) Old High German untar, English under. This suggests that the descendants of IE *enter (or *H1enter) designate not only “in, between” but also “under, below”. In this case Latin interficere would have a similar semantic as the English “to take down”.

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    Interesting alternative to the explanation I found in the literature (cf.supra). I've just seen that Lewis & Short give yours at the very end of the lexical entry of inter: "Under, down, to the bottom; as interire, interficere". I wonder why this explanation is not given in the entries of these two verbs. Did they abandon it? perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… – Mitomino Nov 2 '19 at 21:03
  • Btw, I've been unable to find discussion of your interesting alternative proposal in the specialized literature. I'm not acquainted with Indo-European Linguistics and perhaps I don't look at the relevant sources. The ones I've consulted revolve around the "separative function" commented on in my post above (e.g., see the definition provided by the Indo-Europeanist Meier-Brügger (2003: page 187): "interficere: 'to separate (from life), to make disappear'. caio.ueberalles.net/Indo-European-Linguistics-Introduction/… – Mitomino Nov 3 '19 at 1:36

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