[Etymonline:] Old French recreant "defeated, vanquished, yielding, giving; weak, exhausted; cowardly," present participle adjective from recroire "to yield in a trial by combat, surrender allegiance,"
literally "believe again;" perhaps on notion of "take back one's pledge, yield one's cause,"
from re- "again, back" (see re-) + croire "entrust, believe," from Latin credere (see credo). [...]

Both OED for the obsolete verb 'recray' and Wiktionnaire for the Old French 'recroire' specify the semantic shift to have emerged in Late Latin, but neither specifies the meaning of re-.

I ask the entitled question, because I do not understand how 'believe again' semantically connects to 'surrender one's pledge or cause'.

1 Answer 1


"Believe again" is actually not very well translated. re- chiefly has the meaning of "back" (cf. retro), so "take back one's pledge" does indeed seem accurate. The "again" here is sloppiness on the editor's part.

Let me draw your attention to the Oxford Latin Dictionary's definition of re-:

re-, prefix....Vbl. prefix denoting movement back or in reverse (redeo, reuerto, reuoco), withdrawal (recondo, religo, reticeo), reversal of a previous process (refrigero, resoluo, retego), restoration (renouo, reualesco), response or opposition (rebello, redarguo, respondeo), separation (remoueo), repeated action (repeto, repleo).

Of the examples given, movement indicating 'back' in some way encompass the first three types of use, while "again" is rather limited.

It also helps to remember that credere takes a dative, and therefore has a sense of giving implicit in it. Credere in fact was originally tied to giving credit, and trust naturally stems from there. Likewise, the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew words for "belief" all refer to 'trust' and 'loyalty (fides is the other Latin word for belief in god, and the English derivative fidelity still maintain the sense of 'loyalty').

As far as recroire, if we imagine the opposite (ie: recroire without the prefix; croire) to mean not just belief, but "believing in oneself", then to add the prefix to it would give us the meaning of "taking back belief in oneself" or "no longer believing in oneself". If you no longer trust yourself in battle, the option is to retreat or, if you're honorable, surrender.

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    Isn't again seen in repeated action? By the way, I wonder how the OLD would group reddo "pay" and "deliver; I was taught that re- can mean not only "restore to its previous state", but also "bring into [its proper state]". And even "bring into [any state]". Cf. also redigo "collect [money]" and "bring into [a certain state]", such as redigo aliquem ad inopiam "reduce someone to poverty".
    – Cerberus
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:54
  • @Cerberus You are undoubtedly correct about the flexible nature of re-. As for reddo meaning "pay", it seems clear that it means rather "give back", but again, flexible verbs. I probably should emend my last statement (and so I have).
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 0:00
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    Reddo can mean "pay/give back", but also just "pay" or "give". Example: Georgics 2, 194: lancibus et pandis fumantia reddimus exta "on the crooked dishes we offer smoking/steaming entrails" (to Bacchus). You could say any normal payment is done in return for some thing or service, so perhaps that lies behind the shift from "pay back" to "pay (one's due)".
    – Cerberus
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:21
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    @Cerberus I should have been clearer (it's difficult to do so in these small comments), but I meant it originated as "give back" or "give in return", but of course flexibility of use means it can turn into all sorts of things.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:24
  • Ah OK, then we are probably in agreement.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:43

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