M. J. Toswell, Today's Medieval University p. 24 claims a new master

would eat at the commensa, the joint table, after his commencement ceremony of stepping upward

Does the English word "commence" derive from a Latin word commensa < con + mensa (together at table)? Commensa ∄ in Lewis & Short.

1 Answer 1


This sounds like folk etymology to me. I'm not aware of any word *commensa, and the formation looks odd: prepositional prefixes aren't as common on nouns, and surely "together-table" would be expressed with an adjective? If anything I'd expect a verb *commensāre, "sit at a table together".

The etymology I'm familiar with says "commence" comes from something like *com-initiāre "begin together": compare Italian cominciare, Spanish comenzar.

  • 2
    There is a medieval Latin word commensalis (someone having meals with someone else), survived in the modern Italian word commensale. I would doubt it has anything to do with commence though. Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 11:07
  • 3
    @DenisNardin "commensal" even exists in English, though it's rare/technical.
    – hobbs
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 13:41
  • And there is commensalism link: a long-term biological interaction (symbiosis) in which members of one species gain benefits while those of the other species neither benefit nor are harmed. Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 16:00
  • @hobbs Does that come from mens (mind), mensus (measurement), mensa (table), or mensis (month)‽
    – Geremia
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 18:03
  • @Geremia mensa, I believe. It's the adjectival form of the "commensalism" that JobRozemond just mentioned.
    – hobbs
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 18:21

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