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The two senses of this word seem very different. One sense is just another way to say like, and the other is an adjective describing the state of being divided into different portions. I can't see immediately how they are related. How did the antecedents of this word evolve? What is the etymology?

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Whatever the reality, 'partial' as 'like' sounds to me like British-style understatement/misdirection. –  Mitch Mar 27 '11 at 16:26
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2 Answers

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According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, both come form the late Latin partialis (part), but through different Old French words: from partiel in the meaning of “incomplete”, and from parcial in the meaning of biased.

Etymonline does not corroborate this, but it indicates that the meaning of “incomplete” emerged later than the meaning of “biased”.

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That's fascinating! From the French to the English they would almost appear to be false cognates, but from the Latin to the French they are clearly not. –  kojiro Mar 27 '11 at 14:13
    
Why does parciel mean biased when the original root meant part? That is what I'm trying to get at; what's the connection between the first easily extrapolated sense and the stranger sense in "partial to"? –  Uticensis Mar 27 '11 at 15:32
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impartial = taking no 'part' in, ie no side in the argument. Partial is a back-formation from impartial. –  mgb Mar 27 '11 at 20:28
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@Billare, "parciel" would mean that you have only part of the viewpoint. As in "one sided". –  Alain Pannetier Φ Mar 28 '11 at 10:12
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These are two different meanings of the same word:

partial |ˈpär sh əl| adjective

1 existing only in part; incomplete : a question to which we have only partial answers.

2 favoring one side in a dispute above the other; biased : the paper gave a distorted and very partial view of the situation.

That's from NOAD. Their example sentence in the second meaning I don't think is unambiguous enough, so I would rewrite it as: the paper gave a distorted view of the situation, one that was partial to the incumbent mayor's party.

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