Mmegi Blogs :: Unveiling the ancient etymology of prefixes and suffixes
Last Updated
Wednesday 21 February 2018, 17:14 pm.
Unveiling the ancient etymology of prefixes and suffixes

The terms ‘prefix’ and ‘suffix’ contain the word ‘fix’, or ‘affix’. What is this in terms of Setswana? Fikisa is a Bantu term (now fitlhisa in Setswana) meaning ‘make reach a [contact] point’.
By L M Leteane Fri 03 Jun 2016, 15:08 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Unveiling the ancient etymology of prefixes and suffixes

With this obviated, what is the ‘pre’ in ‘prefix’ itself? Pre (‘before’) relates to the proto-term pere (before); now pele in Setswana due to the common l to r sound-shift. As for su in ‘suffix’, it means ‘under’, as in ‘sous-chef’ (pronounced ‘soo-shef’ in French): the chef working under the chef: his deputy. Su might seem unrelated to ‘under’ in Setswana (which is ‘tlase’), but its direct equivalent is ‘selo-se’…the se itself being a prefix meaning ‘like’, as in se-morafe (‘tribe-like’ as in ‘tribal’ or ‘tribalistic’) and ‘selo’ meaning ‘thing’ – thus a thing ‘like’, or ‘after the fashion of’. Indeed, ‘like’ and ‘after’ relate in that a thing that is likened to something else is deemed to be ‘following’, or is ‘behind’ or ‘after’ or ‘under’ that thing. Of course, selo in rapid speech is s’oo.

As it turns out, selo-se is but one of many compound terms of s’oo, others being sus, sub, sup, sug, suc, suf and sum – all implying ‘under’. In other words, the great variation following su (‘under’) is quite evidently a pale echo of the complex variations of definite and indefinite articles in Setswana: s’oo-se[tona], ‘s’oo-bo[rethe], s’oo-go[swa], s’oo-mo[diro], etc. Having duly dealt with the make-up of the terms ‘prefix’ and ‘suffix‘ themselves, let us now deal with examples of such appendages. One of most used of prefixes is ‘a’ – a proto-term that can mean ‘of/towards’ or ‘away from’ depending on the context. Example: ‘metsi a noka’: water belonging to the river’ is as in the English term ‘abase’ (‘lead toward being at the base’). Examples of the opposite meaning is ‘attenuate’ (‘lead away from being tenuous, i.e. to weaken’), and ‘asexual’ (away from (i.e. ‘not’) sexual’.

From ‘a’, it seems appropriate to now discuss ‘be’. In Sesotho, be is still as in the ancient, now-extinct languages of Sumerian and Akkadian…and in English. “A go be joalo” means “may it be so”. As such, the prefix be as in ‘bedevil’ means ‘be a devil [to someone or something]’; ‘befuddle’ means ‘be confusing [to someone or something]’, etc. The Latin prefix ‘semi’, when transliterated to Setswana, is composed of se (like)…mme (but). In other words, it is like something…but not quite (se is used in the example explained above). The term mme (but) also appears in the Latin prefix mis, as in ‘misappropriate, misconduct, miscalculate’, etc. We can parse the term as comprising mme (but) and ese (‘not being’). Thus, when a verb (an ‘action word) is appended, as in ‘calculate’, the full sense is: ‘but not quite being to calculate’, i.e. not properly calculating. Another term having a sense of ‘not quite like’ is anti or ante. I have seen the word ante used in Sumerian and it basically means ‘on the contrary’. In Setswana, the term ka (‘by means of’, e.g. ka selepe: ‘by means of an axe’) was appended, so it is now kante (ka + ante) – but


the essential meaning does not change. Thus, today we may say:  A re ke nnete, kante ke maaka (‘He says it is the truth, [but] on the contrary it is lies’). As such, ‘ante-clockwise’ means ‘counter of clockwise’. And ‘anti-establishment’ means ‘opposing the establishment’.

Although there are many other prefixes we can discuss, we need to allow space for suffixes, so the last ones I will discuss are tele, as in telephone, telescope, television, etc., and para, as in paramount, parallel, paragon, etc. Tele in Latin means ‘far away’ or ‘a long way away’, thus a telephone allows one to listen to sounds (‘phonetics’) from far away; a telescope allows one to see a sight (‘scope’) from far, a television allows one to see (‘vision’) from far, and so forth. Tele evidently relates to telle (long, lengthy – thus ‘at a distance’) in Setswana, later strung out to telele in the same way mollo (fire) can now be molelo. Para (phara in Setswana, as in bo-phara) means ‘wide’, or rather ‘of  great width’, thus acquiring the semantic meaning of ‘big’ or ‘great’, and this sense is entailed in the prefixes ‘paramount’ (‘of the greatest height’) and paragon (‘the greatest model/example’’). But para also relates to ‘pair’ (thus ma-para (thighs) in Setswana), hence the counterpart Indo-European term ‘parallel’, which is composed of para + lala (lie down]), thus meaning ‘that which lies wide off [another]’.

Getting, now, to suffixes, we find that the English term ‘ish’ means ‘like’ or ‘having the characteristic of’ – thus ‘darkish’ means ‘dark-like’ or ‘having the characteristic of darkness’, and ‘piggish’ means ‘pig-like’ or ‘having the characteristic of a pig’. We may relate all this with the Setswana suffix ‘e se’ – ‘it is like’(e se-pitse: ‘it is horse-like’. Another well-used suffix is ‘ile’ as tactile, mobile, docile, etc. Although it is similar in meaning to ‘ish’, ile has more a sense of ‘having come to be’.

The connotation of ‘having transformed’ is clearer in Setswana: ‘senyegile’ is ‘having become spoilt’, latlhegile is ‘having become lost’, etc. ‘Ile’ can also mean ‘having gone’, thus the French term soleil (‘sun’) can be deciphered as the ancient phrase zu-le-ile: ‘darkness has [now] gone.’ Last week we dealt with the Latin suffix ere (to [be]’ which is included in many Latin terms. The term junge(re), ‘(to) yoke’, is one such term. Here, the ere is ‘to’ while the base word is jung(e).  ‘Ere’ is akin to the Setswana suffix ega (‘to be)’, as in bulega (to be open). Another common suffix is ‘ology’, as in biology, zoology, chronology, etc. In my very own Dictionary of Protolanguage Terms, it means ‘unravel [that which is woven]’, thus ‘zoology’ means ‘unravelling the [woven/intricate] science of animals’. The key word here is ‘ologa’ (unweave/undo: loga is ‘weave’) – thus hunologa (‘get untied’), dirologa (‘be undone’), budologa (‘unbud’ i.e. expand). Let us look at more suffixes next week.

Comments to


Digging Tswana Roots
Fri 03 Jun 2016, 15:08 pm
Fri 27 May 2016, 10:10 am
Fri 20 May 2016, 14:43 pm
Fri 13 May 2016, 17:11 pm
Fri 06 May 2016, 12:22 pm
Fri 29 Apr 2016, 14:43 pm
Fri 22 Apr 2016, 10:11 am
Fri 08 Apr 2016, 14:57 pm
Fri 01 Apr 2016, 15:39 pm
Thu 24 Mar 2016, 11:23 am
Fri 18 Mar 2016, 14:14 pm
Fri 11 Mar 2016, 13:39 pm
Fri 04 Mar 2016, 12:33 pm
Fri 26 Feb 2016, 16:42 pm
Fri 19 Feb 2016, 15:13 pm
Fri 12 Feb 2016, 12:29 pm
Fri 05 Feb 2016, 14:29 pm
Fri 29 Jan 2016, 15:12 pm
Fri 22 Jan 2016, 14:58 pm
Fri 15 Jan 2016, 16:28 pm
Fri 08 Jan 2016, 12:29 pm
Fri 18 Dec 2015, 17:02 pm
Fri 11 Dec 2015, 15:34 pm
Fri 04 Dec 2015, 11:38 am
Fri 27 Nov 2015, 14:07 pm
Exchange Rates
FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Wednesday, 21 Feb 2018
1 USD = Pula   9.5420
1 GBP = Pula   13.3333
1 EUR = Pula   11.7647
1 YEN = Pula   0.0885
1 ZAR = Pula   0.8109
1 Pula = USD   0.1048
1 Pula = GBP   0.075
1 Pula = EUR   0.085
1 Pula = YEN   11.3
1 Pula = ZAR   1.2332
have a story? Send us a Tip
  • Previous
    Masa Centre
    ::: Thursday 22 Feb - Thursday 22 Feb :::
  • Previous
    ::: Thursday 22 Feb - Thursday 22 Feb :::
  • Previous
    ::: Thursday 22 Feb - Thursday 22 Feb :::
Botate! Botate! Nna Pele!
istanbul escort