in·ter·nec·ine (ĭn′tər-nĕs’ēn′, -ĭn, -nē’sīn′)
adj. 1) Of or relating to struggle within a nation, organization, or group. 2) Mutually destructive; ruinous or fatal to both sides. 3) Characterized by bloodshed or carnage.
[Latin internecīnus, destructive, variant of internecīvus, from internecāre, to slaughter : inter-, intensive pref.; see INTER-(Cf. inter-) + nex, nec-, death; see nek-1.]
Word History: When is a mistake not a mistake? In language at least, the answer to this question is "When everyone adopts it," and on rare occasions, "When it's in the dictionary." The word internecine presents a case in point. Today, it usually has the meaning "relating to internal struggle," but in the first known attestation of internecine, dating from 1663, it is used with the meaning "fought to the death" as part of the phrase internecine war. How the word acquired its more common modern sense is an interesting story in the history of English. The Latin source of the word, spelled both internecīnus and internecīvus, meant "fought to the death, murderous." It is a derivative of the verb necāre, "to kill." The prefix inter- was here used not in the usual sense "between, mutual" but rather as an intensifier meaning "all the way, to the death." Samuel Johnson was unaware of this fact when he was working on his great dictionary in the 18th century. He included internecine in his dictionary but misunderstood the prefix and defined the word as "endeavoring mutual destruction." Johnson was not taken to task for this error. On the contrary, his dictionary was so popular and considered so authoritative that this error became widely adopted as correct usage. The error was further compounded when internecine acquired the sense "relating to internal struggle." This story thus illustrates how dictionaries are often viewed as providing norms and how the ultimate arbiter in language, even for the dictionary itself, is popular usage.

Word Histories. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • internecine — Dr Johnson had a hand in changing the use of this word, which its Latin origin shows to mean ‘characterized by great slaughter’. He mistakenly understood the prefix inter to denote reciprocal or mutual action and defined internecine as… …   Modern English usage

  • Internecine — In ter*ne cine, a. [L. internecinus deadly, murderous, fr. internecare to kill, to slaughter; inter between + necare to kill; akin to Gr. ? dead. See {Necromancy}.] 1. Involving, or accompanied by, mutual slaughter; mutually destructive. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • internecine — ► ADJECTIVE 1) destructive to both sides in a conflict. 2) relating to conflict within a group: internecine rivalries. ORIGIN Latin internecinus, from inter among + necare to kill …   English terms dictionary

  • internecine — index deadly, destructive, detrimental, harmful, lethal, noxious Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • internecine — (adj.) 1660s, deadly, destructive, from L. internecinus very deadly, murderous, destructive, from internecare kill or destroy, from inter (see INTER (Cf. inter )) + necare kill (see NOXIOUS (Cf. noxious)). Considered in the OED as misinterpreted… …   Etymology dictionary

  • internecine — [in΄tər nē′sin, in΄tər nē′sēn΄; ] chiefly Brit [, in΄tərnē′sīn΄] adj. [L internecinus < internecare, to kill, destroy < inter , between + necare, to kill: see NECRO ] 1. Now Rare full of slaughter or destruction 2. deadly or harmful to both …   English World dictionary

  • internecine — adjective /ˌɪntəˈniːsaɪn,ˌɪntɚˈnɛsin/ a) Mutually destructive; most often applied to warfare. Internecine strife in Gaza claimed its most senior victim yesterday when militants assassinated one of the most hated security chiefs there. b)… …   Wiktionary

  • internecine — in|ter|ne|cine [ˌıntəˈni:saın US ˌıntərˈni:sən, ˈnesi:n] adj [only before noun] formal [Date: 1600 1700; : Latin; Origin: internecinus, from internecare to destroy completely , from necare to kill ] internecine fighting or struggles happen… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • internecine — [17] Etymologically, internecine denotes ‘attended by great slaughter’. Its modern connotations of ‘conflict within a group’, which can be traced back to the 18th century (Dr Johnson in his Dictionary 1755 defines it as ‘endeavouring mutual… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • internecine — [[t]ɪ̱ntə(r)ni͟ːsaɪn, AM siːn[/t]] ADJ: ADJ n An internecine conflict, war, or quarrel is one which takes place between opposing groups within a country or organization. [FORMAL] The whole episode has drawn attention again to internecine strife… …   English dictionary

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