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I was struck recently by the -dom suffix in freedom and kingdom. Not having etymology references at hand, our lunchtime group settled on the theory that -dom in both these words was from "dominion." Dominion is ultimately derived from Latin dominus (lord of the house), if I understand my etymology correctly. It seems to make sense; free from domination is freedom, domination by a king is kingdom.

But it seems that this is not the case. According to Etymology Online, this -dom is derived from Old English dom (judgement, law, statute) and is etymologically close to doom.

I'm really confused by this origin. It seems like the dom- prefix and the -dom suffix should be related. Are they really not, or is it only that my references don't go back far enough or that my etymological understanding is superficial at best? Can someone please clarify the etymology of kingdom, dominion, and doom for me?

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Doom ultimately shares the PIE root *dhē- with abdomen. –  AnWulf Feb 20 '12 at 3:32

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As your dictionary told you, the resemblance between the -dom suffix and the dom- prefix is coincidental. In European languages in general, affixes are either prefixes or suffixes, but very rarely both. I'm not aware of any affix at all in English that can be both a prefix and a suffix, so the fact that dom seems to occur in both places is a pretty big clue that the two roots are unrelated.

And dom- is not really a prefix. Rather, it's from Latin dominus "lord", which is in turn related to domus "home, house". Words that come directly from dominus include dominion, dominate, domain, while words coming from domus include domestic, domicile.

Now, the English suffix -dom comes from OE dom, which is a different word entirely meaning "state, condition, authority, jurisdiction", which despite its similarity in meaning and form is not related in any way to Latin domus. Rather, it comes from Proto-Germanic *dōmaz, from a stem verb originally meaning ‘to place, to set’

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I had no idea that affixes as a rule were either a prefix or a suffix, but not both. That is really interesting, thank you. –  KitFox May 31 '11 at 20:34
    
They can be, but the large majority aren't. For instance con/cum can be both, and a separate word as well: combination, attic-cum-laboratory, vade mecum, telecom, intercom. –  Cerberus May 31 '11 at 21:21
    
@Cerberus: Not sure about counting "-com" as a suffix. –  Colin Fine Jun 1 '11 at 17:11
    
@ColinFine: Yeah it is a bit dodgy... –  Cerberus Jun 1 '11 at 21:14
    
True, it's usually one or the other. But one that comes to my mind that is both is en- ... enlighten (from OE enlīhtan) and -en wooden, golden, asf. –  AnWulf Feb 20 '12 at 3:30

According to EtymOnline:

The -dom suffix comes from the Old English word dom (pronounced like dome), which meant statute or judgment. That is also where we get the word doom.

Dominion on the other hand ultimately derives from the Latin root dominus.

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In Scandinavian languages, which share the same heritage as Old English, the term "dom" is still used in various words referring to judges, judgments, courthouses, etc. and also in older terms for various titles, such as bishoprics (bispedømmer) or kingdoms (kongedømmer).

I looked the etymology up because I figured these words were derived from the architectural term "dome", from Latin, which is also found as a prefix for the Danish word for cathedral, "domkirke". On further reflection, this makes little sense in many cases, and indeed turns out to be wrong; In Danish as well as in English, the term "dom" for domes/domiciles/dominion and the term "dom" for legal terms and various titles are similar due to coincidence. In Danish, to complicate matters, the terms can both be prefixes.

Ironically, I almost wrote that the Germanic term refers to "domains" like kingdoms - "domain" being another Latin word. It's easy to see why there's confusion.

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