June 08, 2013
- redeem (verb)
- What does it mean?
- 1 : to buy or win back2 a : to free from captivity especially by paying a ransom b : to free from the penalties of sin3 : to change for the better : reform4 : to remove the obligation of by payment5 : to make good : fulfill
- How do you use it?
- "I would risk my life to redeem my honor and recapture my sense of decency. I shall pay my debt and blot out the foul mark that sullies my good name." (E. B. White, _The Trumpet of the Swan_)
- Are you a word wiz?
As you can see, "redeem" has a lot of meanings, but it has only one root. "Redeem" traces back to the Latin root word "emere." What does "emere" mean?The verb "emere" means "to take" or "to buy," and when combined with the prefix "re-," the resulting Latin verb means "to take or buy back." This is the first and oldest sense of the English verb "redeem," too. Over the years, the idea of winning or buying back was extended to prisoners or slaves (sense 2a), to people caught or "held" by sin (sense 2b), and later to inanimate objects like situations (sense 3), things sold for money, like trading bonds (sense 4), and promises (sense 5). All six of these senses were well-established in English by the 1800s.