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shameless pleading

Extend, Pretend, etc.

My back paystubs.

Dear Word Detective: I was driving into work this morning thinking that perhaps I should extend my vacation. That made me wonder: what is the relationship between “extend” and “pretend”? — Inesa.

I know the feeling. I used to get it all the time on my morning subway ride. Eventually I took a leave of absence from my job and just never went back. After a few years (!) they sent me a letter saying I no longer worked there, which is nice to know. But I still have anxious dreams of being yelled at for not filling out my time sheets. Oh well.

One thing’s clear when you start looking at the history of “extend” and “pretend”: you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth. Both words are members of a large family, call it “the Tends,” with lots of descendants.

In the beginning was the Proto-Indo-European root “ten,” meaning “to stretch” (source of the adjective and verb “tense”). From that came the Latin verb “tendere” (meaning “to stretch, point, direct, touch, offer”), and we were off and running. With the help of some common Latin prefixes, we ended up with scads of “tend” words, including “attend,” “contend,” “distend,” “intend,” “extend,” “portend,” “pretend,” “subtend” and, of course, “bartend.”

English actually has two verbs we might call “just plain tend,” which are considered separate words although they both come from “tendere.” “Tend” in the sense of “to care for, watch over” is actually an aphetic, or cropped, form of “attend,” which we borrowed from Old French in the 15th century and rests on the sense of “stretching” one’s mind, ears, eyes, etc., “towards” an object, person, etc. Our other “tend,” meaning “to have an inclination to do something” (“Bob tends to ignore instructions”), appeared in English around the same time.

“Intend” comes from the Latin “intendere,” meaning “to turn one’s attention to” (literally “to stretch toward”) which also included the sense of “to plan.” “Extend,” which appeared in the 14th century, was derived from the Latin “extendere,” meaning “to stretch out, expand.” The original, now obsolete, sense of “extend” implied strong stretching or straining, but the weaker sense of “straighten or extend” (as one “extends” one’s arm) had appeared by the late 14th century. The sense of “prolong in duration” first appeared in the late 16th century. Today we also use “extend” in senses including the geographic sense of “cover” (as in “His sales territory extends as far as California”) and “hold out, put forward” in (as in “He extended an offer of settlement to the victim”).

“Pretend,” which also appeared in English in the 14th century, comes ultimately from the Latin verb “praetendere” (“prae” meaning “before,” plus our old pal “tendere,” to stretch). One of the senses of the Latin verb, carried into Anglo-Norman and from there to English, was “to put forward as a pretext or reason; to deceptively allege.” So “pretend” has a long history of deception.

However, one interesting use of “pretend,” now largely obsolete, meant simply “to put forward a claim,” not necessarily with an implication of dishonest intent. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, a time of considerable governmental instability in Europe, there were a number of folks who asserted claims to various thrones, most notably in Britain. Some of these “pretenders to the throne” were deluded, some were the cat’s-paws of schemers and rogues, but some probably had a good case for being, say, Charles III (who failed in his efforts, and is known today as Bonnie Prince Charlie).

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