English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've been wondering what the origins of the verb 'to miss', as in a to have a longing for, come from. Is it anywhere similar to the origins of the verb 'to miss' as in to not hit?

share|improve this question
That says when the word got it's meaning, but no explanation as to how it came about or why it's the same word used as another seemingly very different word. – Harold Mar 10 '11 at 10:10
Hence I commented rather than answered. Meaning "to fail to get what one wanted" is from mid-13c. Sense of "to escape, avoid" is from 1520s; that of "to perceive with regret the absence or loss of (something or someone)" is from late 15c. – mplungjan Mar 10 '11 at 10:17
up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you miss your mother, you do not have what you want (her). If you miss your target, you do not have what you want (a hit) either. This use of the mental conception of "having something" has apparently shifted a bit from "keeping physically near" to "counting among one's successes" in the case of the verb to miss. You could say that "having someone near", "having something in possession", and "having success" are linked in some way.

You might also define both senses by using a word other than "having", in which case you'd need to describe some other but similar metaphoric shift in meaning; I believe this shift in to miss and "having" is all part of a vague complex of conceptions of "nearness" and "possession" and "likeness" that are intimately connected in our minds. This is probably because in Prehistoric times the concepts of physical dimensions, movement, and time developed first; our patterns of thinking about those concepts we later reused for (often abstract) phenomena that are essentially different but can still be dealt with in useful ways by means of these patterns (large chance: I see no "large" object?; the well runs dry: what is it that "runs"?; you have a point: I see nothing "pointy"?' etc.). See the Wikipedia article on Conceptual Metaphor.

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt May 30 '12 at 13:06

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.