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I've been told that the prefix "para" means "against".

  • Parachute (against falling)
  • Paramilitary (against military)
  • Paraply/umbrella (against raining)

But, other words does not make much sense to me:

  • Paramedic (against medicine?)
  • Paraglider (against gliding?)

Pardon my Ausberger, but why isn't "para" used consistently?

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@OP: you may want to consider switching your question to "Why does para have multiple meanings?" or something along those lines so it might be saved. –  Jimi Oke Jan 14 '12 at 3:38
Isn't paramilitary something more along the lines like 'similar/in imitation to military', i.e., a SWAT team is professionally trained, highly equipped, have ranks, have uniforms, have a strict and defined chain of command, but are not military, therefore are a paramilitary force? -- This doesn't answer your question, but I wouldn't consider the para prefix in paramilitary to mean 'against' –  WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot Jan 14 '12 at 4:35
Here is what I believe is the real answer: The words parachute, parasol, and paraply (Fr. parapluie) come directly from French, where para- appears to have changed its meaning to against. In the words paramilitary, paramedic, and paraglider, the prefix para- retains its original Latin meaning of beside. –  Peter Shor Jan 14 '12 at 13:43
Let me clarify the above answer. The prefix para- meaning beside is Greek, and the prefix para- meaning against is French, stemming from the Latin word parare (to make ready) unrelated to the Greek para-. No shift of meaning, just a coincidence. –  Peter Shor Jan 17 '12 at 0:58
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closed as general reference by Robusto, aedia λ, mgb, Brendon, Lynn Jan 14 '12 at 5:18

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