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Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember cedere meant “to go or yield” in Latin. Presumably this gives us the words concede and accede. (?)

But what about the words supersede and proceed? Are they derived from the same source? If so, why the different spelling?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

The different spelling of 'supersede' is appropriate because it is not derived from the same source as the others.

Supersede is derived from super (over) + sedere (to sit).
Proceed is derived from pro (forward) + cedere (to go).

Here is a comment from the Oxford dictionary on the spelling confusion of supersede:

The standard spelling is supersede rather than supercede. The word is derived from the Latin verb supersedere but has been influenced by the presence of other words in English spelled with a c, such as intercede and accede. The c spelling is recorded as early as the 16th century; although still generally regarded as incorrect, it is now entered without comment in some modern dictionaries

The -ceed/-cede suffixes are just spelling variations, all having derived from the verb cedere (to go/yield). The variation used appears to depend on the period that the word entered the English language:

  • exceed; 1325-75
  • succeed; 1325-75
  • proceed; 1350-1400
  • accede; 1400-50
  • recede; 1470–80
  • concede; 1625–35

There is one more exception that has nothing to do with Latin: the past tense of the informal verb to emcee is spelled emceed.

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@z7sg: The -cede in accede comes from late Middle English (in the general sense [come forward, approach] ): from Latin accedere, from ad- ‘to’ + cedere ‘give way, yield.’ –  Robusto Apr 18 '11 at 13:03
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According to etymonline.com, some of the cede/ceed words come from Latin via Old French and some of them directly from Latin. There doesn't seem to be any pattern in the spelling variation though. I would be interested to know why. –  z7sg Ѫ Apr 18 '11 at 13:13
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Uniformity in spelling was something Medieval scribes had little interest in. Only from the 18th century onwards can a large trend towards more uniformity be seen; before that, it was all up to whatever struck the writer's fancy. The general principle was "spell what you hear"; even proper names were very, very often spelled in two or more different ways within the same document. -Cede and -ceed seem to be spelling variations of the same sound. The fact that both have survived is probably best considered a random development. –  Cerberus Apr 18 '11 at 13:35
    
Spellings started becoming fixed with the advent of dictionaries. This was not something Dr Johnson intended or anticipated, which is one of the reasons why English spelling is still somewhat erratic. –  user1579 Apr 18 '11 at 17:07
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The linguistic period in which words enter the English language usually affects the spelling convention they follow. –  The Raven Apr 18 '11 at 20:26
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