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Replace has several meanings, but a common one is "to put something in the place of," as in, "After drinking your cola, I replaced it with a beer."

The way in which replace, which seems to most obviously mean "to place again," came to be used in this manner is a mystery to me.

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It seems no stranger than fill ~ refill; i.e, you can place or fill something, but when it's not there any more, you can replace or refill it. The re- prefix has a number of uses, depending on what it's attached to. – John Lawler May 7 '13 at 15:31
Let me get this straight. In your sentence "I replaced your cola in the fridge with a beer after drinking it," do you mean that you somehow got into the refrigerator, drank a beer, and then replaced the cola with an empty beer can? No, that can't be right. I think what you meant to say is, "After drinking your cola that was in the fridge, I replaced the cola with a beer." – rhetorician May 7 '13 at 15:48
@rhetorician Yes, my example was ambiguous in what had been drunk. – Mathew May 7 '13 at 15:51
Or who had been drunk. – MετάEd May 7 '13 at 16:03
The Q stands the risk of being closed. Start some serious research, show results, add muscle to the question and take a chance if someone comes up with a brilliant answer. – Kris May 8 '13 at 5:55
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The suffix "re-" means to repeat something. It can also be phrase "to re-do something". This can imply "re-doing" it in a better way, a way that suits someone more. "To place something somewhere" means to put something down somewhere. If you combine it - there you go! To put something in the place of (something better).

PS: You may find this useful:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/re- >>> re- a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion: regenerate; refurbish; retype; retrace; revert. From Middle english.

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Looking through the dictionary reference on re- in combination with this answer might have cleared things up. My initial confusion was that if you place object A with object B, it implies you put the two objects near each other. However, if you replace object A with object B, it implies you removed object A and left object B in its place. Thinking of replacing as withdrawing the placement makes the phrase more sensible. – Mathew May 12 '13 at 20:31

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