Pulling apart “separation”

This week, US President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border, well, separated our hearts. We’ve seen the cruel ironies of etymology on this blog before. The word separate, alas, is no exception.

Families, not fences. (Pixabay)

Together and apart

Separate enters English from French via Latin. The earliest form, the noun separation, is attested in the early 1400s, the verb and adjective by the end of the century.

The Latin root is separare, “to pull apart.” The “pulling apart” families policythat plain language better captures it, doesn’t it?

The verb separare joins a verbal prefix se- (without, apart) and parare (“to get ready”). Words like seclude, secret, secure, sedition, seduce, and segregate also feature that separating se- element.

The word prepare also comes from parare, which is related to the word parent. The root verb is slightly different, parere or parire, “to bring forth,” extended to “to give birth.”

A parent, then, is literally something that “produces”—a parens, in Latin, could refer to any mother or father, plant or animal, that begets offspring, though it largely narrowed to the human form in English since at least the 15th century.

The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) base for separate and parent, if we dig deeper into the realm of hypothetical reconstructions, is *pere-, “to produce” or “procure.”

Mainly through Latin, this PIE root also ultimately yields apparel, empire, parade, repair, and viper—that last derivative (literally “begetting alive”) particularly apt for the immorality, the inhumanity of an immigration policy that separates parents from their children.

m ∫ r ∫


3 thoughts on “Pulling apart “separation”

  1. While the cruelty of family separation as a policy is at the core of how this current effort to acclimatize us to despotism is backfiring, it’s instructive to remember that “family unity” was the cynical basis on which one million Mexican immigrants were forcibly deported by Hoover in the late 1930’s, over 60% of whom were legally US citizens, either children born in the US after the invited workers arrived here or American-born spouses of those workers. This shameful period in our history is largely unknown, yet it makes clear that neither family unity nor separation is the core of the issue: the issue is racism and the abuse of power. Source: the current episode of “On the Media”: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/revisiting-our-mass-deportation-past


  2. For me, no matter who is running the government, the bottom line is illegal entry. If the folks were not attempting illegal entry, they would not be getting arrested / detained, or whatever else you want to call it. They would also not be getting separated from their families. There are plenty of embassies in Mexico where folks can go to seek legal entry to the United States, as well as at legal border entry points.
    Plus, any time an American citizen gets arrested, they are separated from their families and put in jail.
    Plus, military members are separated from their families during deployments, with no promise of ever seeing their families again.
    So, for me, bottom line, if you don’t want to be separated from your family, enter the United States legally.


  3. Agree Securitydog,
    But you need to get used to it. I don’t know how many science bogs I visit but every article has a nod to global warming, every item on biology bends the knee to Blessed Charles Darwin, and the rest take a pop at Trump even if there is not a discernible link. Even one on maths had a snigger. In the intro to an article, it is a way of letting a reader know he thinks you agree with him/her.


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