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Usually the prefix "a" means "not" or "without", for example: atheist, anarchy. But, in "amaze" it's not the case, since the word maze means "confusing" or "labyrinth" and "amaze" means "surprise". Is there another meaning to the prefix "a"? Or, is it not a prefix in this word?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Online Etymology Dictionary reports the following:

early 13c., amasian "stupefy, make crazy," from a-, probably used here as an intensive prefix, + -masian, related to maze (q.v.). Sense of "overwhelm with wonder" is from 1580s.

So the a- is a prefix here, but it intensifies instead of negating. Wiktionary lists the several uses of a- and notes the Greek-based meaning you cite as the only one that remains productive today.

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I would also think the word muse has the same roots. "Amuse" then might be to say without thoughts on, which could be said 'speechless' in our culture. –  fredsbend Apr 5 '13 at 7:48

I'm surprise that Wiktionary does not have a sense of "to the" which I have understood to be another use of a-.

And I think it's productive, as well, as I use it to make new words, though admittedly ones that sound archaic.

How about ...

a-swimming we will go...?

Usually hyphenated, this would be my understanding of the use in amaze: "to the maze" = "to confuse my mind (with the sheer wonder of it!)"

Is there no reference that agrees with this?

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Wiktionary now has a- as a prefix meaning 'toward' in two senses –  AakashM Jan 2 '13 at 14:50

See etymonline (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=amaze):

early 13c., amasian "stupefy, make crazy," from a-, probably used here as an intensive prefix, + -masian, related to maze

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