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If the goal of imperialism is to create an empire, why is the word not spelled "empirialism"?

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Does this question boil down to: "why are imperial and empire spelled differently, despite having a common Latin root"? – congusbongus May 9 '13 at 5:21
Yes, exactly, looking this up, I often find the word "empiricism" which has a fully different meaning and thus I suspect that in order to avoid confusion with this word, the "imper-" root was preferred. – Edward Tanguay May 9 '13 at 5:42
The Latin root of imperial and empire is imperator, which is why im- is preferred for imperial. Quite why it is not preferred for empire is a different question -- which you could ask here. – Andrew Leach May 9 '13 at 5:55
I'd wanted to answer empire was borrowed from French (where imperium > empire via the usual sound changes from Latin to French), whilst imperial was borrowed directly from the Latin (i.e., from imperialis). A look at the OED, however, shows that imperial is also a borrowing from French, and indeed, the first cited use, from 1390, gives the spelling emperiall. I can only guess that the Old French original (sometimes itself spelled with i) was itself a learned borrowing from Classical Latin, or that the English loan was eventually re-identified as a borrowing directly from Latin. – Branimir Ćaćić May 9 '13 at 8:21
Latin terms came into European languages at several times, repeatedly, and later borrowings missed the previous sound changes. Rather like English skirt, borrowed from Old Norse, which is the same word as native English shirt, which had previously gone through a sound change. So we have two words for apparel instead of one, and efficiently use them for different pieces. – John Lawler May 9 '13 at 13:14

Imperialism is first recorded in English in 1826, from imperial + ism.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says of imperial:

late 14c., "having a commanding quality," from Old French imperial (12c.), from Latin imperialis "of the empire or emperor," from imperium (see empire). Meaning "pertaining to an empire" (especially the Roman) is from late 14c.

And for empire:

early 14c., from Old French empire "rule, authority, kingdom, imperial rule," from Latin imperium "rule, command," from imperare "to command," from im- "in" (see in- (2)) + parare "to order, prepare" (see pare).

So both English words have roots in the Latin imperium (at one stage or another) and come to English via Old French where they spelled one with an E and one with an I.

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Empire is essentially a French mutation of the Latin Imperium, which stems from the original Latin word Imperare which means "to command".


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protected by Mitch Aug 17 '14 at 21:04

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