[exact (adj.)]   exigere "demand, require, enforce," literally "to drive or force out," also "finish, measure," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + agere "drive, lead, act" (see act (n.)).

1. I drive out; expel.
2. I demand, require; enforce, exact (pay).
3. I execute, complete a task.
4. I measure against a standard; weigh.
5. I determine, find out, ascertain.
6. I examine, consider, test.
7. I endure, undergo.
8. (of time) I spend, pass.
9. I bring to an end, conclude, finish, complete.

To me, meanings 4, 6, 7, and 8 appear more abstracted from the etymology, and appear to have shifted semantically. So what underlying semantic notions captures and explain all the meanings above, as well as representing the Semantic Field for this verb?

  • 2
    What era? Classical only, or broader? Feb 23, 2016 at 19:04
  • @Nathaniel No preference; please feel free to decide (personally, I am interested in Vulgar Latin too, but it may be impertinent to my question).
    – user37
    Feb 23, 2016 at 19:05
  • 1
    This L&S entry is a good place to start for usage examples.
    – brianpck
    Feb 23, 2016 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


u/Foundinantiquity answered this at r/classics.

If you think about it, the English compound verb "undergo" literally means "go under something" but it is used abstractly to mean "to endure".

The base verb "agere" (drive, do, act...) is extremely wide in its range of meanings already, so compounds of this verb inherit a lot of that range.

Often you can't predict from the base components exactly what the compound verb will mean, because they often take up special meanings just for that speicifc compound (eg. undergo in English means endure, but we don't have under-walk or under-come with meanings of endure)

In hindsight, the idea of "determining the length" of something is to "drive out" or "find out" the length measurement, which is related to "4. measure against a standard".

From the idea of determining a measurement it's not so far a stretch to then have "6. examine, consider, test". And from "test" comes an idea of "test out, try out" which is close-ish to "7. endure, undergo" and "8. spend time".

All this happened because of the changing and varied usage over centuries, not necessarily because you can find them out from the original ingredients of the word.

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