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  • Someone who practises medicine is a professional.

  • Someone who practises the piano is still learning.

How have these two apparently opposite senses of the word practise arisen?

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The kind of professional who practises medicine is known in some places as a medical practitioner. Wikipedia defines practitioner as "someone who engages in an occupation, profession, religion, or way of life". This may be a more accurate description than 'doctor' when you consider that to be a registered medical practitioner in Australia, for example, your qualifications may not include a degree at the level of Doctor. – pavium Jul 18 '11 at 7:48
+100 @Jasper Loy -- They wouldn't stay expert pianists without practice! – thursdaysgeek Jul 18 '11 at 19:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The short story is: the "apparently opposite" meanings are in reality not opposite at all; they are merely applied to different spheres.

Dictionary.com on practice:

1375–1425; (v.) late Middle English practisen, practizen (< Middle French pra ( c ) tiser ) < Medieval Latin prāctizāre, alteration of prācticāre, derivative of prāctica practical work < Greek prāktikḗ noun use of feminine of prāktikós practic; see -ize; (noun) late Middle English, derivative of the v.

I put the original meaning practical work in bold. From here, it is easy to derive the two current meanings: practicing the piano is practical work if you want to get better at it; practicing medicine is practical work if you are good at it and want to keep a job. They're just two senses of the same thing. It doesn't require a large stretch of imagination to go from practical work to either current meaning.

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There might have been more to it, but if you take etymonline:

practice early 15c., "to perform repeatedly to acquire skill;" mid-15c., "to perform, to work at, exercise," from O.Fr. practiser "to practice," from M.L. practicare "to do, perform, practice," from L.L. practicus "practical," from Gk. praktikos "practical." The noun is from early 15c., originally as practise, from O.Fr. pratiser, from M.L. practicare. Also as practik, which survived in parallel into 19c. Practiced "expert" is from 1560s; practicing (adj.) is recorded from 1620s in reference to professions, from 1906 in reference to religions.

the meanings are not really opposite. Original meaning "to perform repeatedly to acquire skill" keeps the meaning of "to perform repeatedly", but changes it slightly to "performed repeatedly and became an expert." This change is explainable by common use of the word.

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