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The dictionary definition is

ten times as great or as much

I believe that this is a misnomer. The word seems to describe a process of folding something ten times; for example, a piece of paper. If you fold a piece of paper ten times you will get 210 or 1024 different rectangles.

I don't understand how the definition of this word came to be and how is it different from the phrase ten times?

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It's the same as 'ten times', just another way of saying it. –  Mitch Jan 30 '12 at 5:00
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Even if your assumption about the etymology were right (which it isn't: see @choster's answer), it would be irrelevant. A word means what it means, not what somebody thinks it ought to mean. Meanings do change (and it sometimes happens that different people use a word in inconsistent ways), but it is extremely rare that an individual is able to effect a change in the meaning of a word. –  Colin Fine Jan 31 '12 at 0:28
    
Question assumes the only way to fold a piece of paper ten times is to double it each time. The folding of cloth, as the etymology suggests, refers to pleats. –  MετάEd Sep 4 '12 at 4:00
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The suffix -fold is not in any way related to the word fold in modern English. It is a way of indicating a multiplicative product, except in the word manifold which is indefinitely numerous.

Etymonline says

-fold: multiplicative suffix, from O.E. -feald, related to O.N. -faldr; Ger. -falt; Goth. falþs; Gk. -paltos, -plos; L. -plus.

fold (v.): O.E. faldan (Mercian), fealdan (W.Saxon), transitive, "to bend cloth back over itself" …. Related: Folded; folding. The noun meaning "a bend or ply in anything" is mid-13c., from the verb.

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On the contrary, they are related, but a long way back. –  Colin Fine Jan 31 '12 at 0:31
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Yes, both root and affix come from the PIE root *pel³, glossed as 'fold' in the AHD of PIE Roots. Any online etymology source that doesn't cite PIE roots isn't worth the electrons it's written in. –  John Lawler Jan 31 '12 at 15:52
    
Very well then, edited. I didn't realize this was Old EL&U :). –  choster Feb 2 '12 at 15:45
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