incarceration (n.)
"fact of being imprisoned," 1530s, from Medieval Latin incarcerationem (nominative incarceratio), noun of action from past participle stem of incarcerare "to imprison," from in- "in" (see in- (2)) + carcer "prison, an enclosed space,"
from Proto-Italic *kar-kr(o)-, of uncertain origin.

It seems best to connect carcer with other IE words for 'circle, round object', such as [Latin] curvus, [Greek] κιρκος 'ring', [Old Norse] hringr, although not all of these have a good IE etymology. The reduplication in Latin carcer could be iconic; thus, the original meaning would have been 'enclosure'. [de Vaan]


What does 'iconic' mean or refer to here? I researched the OED but remain confused.


It's been a long time since I did any linguistics, but iconic features are said to be features in which (my paraphrase) form supports function. In other words, if somebody was late to come and meet me and I said, "It sure took you a long time to get here!" and extended the vowel in "long" so that it took a long time, that would be iconic.

Another example of iconic use would be the fact that in the series "high, higher, highest," the further in the series you go, the higher the number of phonemes.

The poetic device onomatopoeia is a specific form of iconic language.

So what the passage you quoted is saying is that carcer could have started out as cur or cir or cer or the like, meaning something circular, and then the syllable was doubled to represent something VERY circular—a prison that enclosed a person entirely, a circle that didn't let anybody out.

I myself find this a little fuzzy, but it's certainly possible.

I can't think of any iconic reduplication in English, but if you read the work of Sharon Inkelas, linguistics professor at UC Berkeley (this for example) you may find something (and you'll certainly find her referring to it in other languages).


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