Lord Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary, in a BBC interview tonight with Jeremy Paxman used the word 'repercuss' as a verb. It was with reference to President Obama's handshake with Raul Castro at the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela.

David Owen said 'It is bound to repercuss', presumably meaning 'There are bound to be repercussions'. However, whilst 'repercussion'implies an unfavourable side effect, Owen had been at pains to stress the inevitability of America's due-course normalisation of its relations with Cuba, and other than in the use of this one word he made no suggestion that any harm would come of it.

So what are we to make of 'repercuss' as a verb? The Oxford Dictionary of English doesn't recognise it.

  • 1
    Is this a real question or a peeve? – TimLymington Dec 10 '13 at 23:56
  • @TimLymington It smells like a peeve, but it’s also a prevarication, because the assertion that the OED does not recognize it is demonstrably false. – tchrist Dec 10 '13 at 23:57
  • Would you have preferred the more etymologically wholesome (as it were) repercute? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 11 '13 at 0:55
  • It can be a peeve and a real question. – I. J. Kennedy Dec 11 '13 at 2:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Most recent OED citation for repercute v. Obs. rare. is: “1578 Banister Hist. Man i. 11 — When the first bone, percussed by the stroke of the ayre, repercuteth the other in manner of a mallet.” Unless we’re intentionally calquing from French répercuter or Spanish repercutir, it seems a trifle recherché in modern English, n’est-ce pas? – tchrist Dec 11 '13 at 4:33

The OED does so recognize it; I don’t know why you pretend otherwise.

The first OED citation for repercuss v. is from 1501 and the last ones are from the lattermost part of the 20th century.

Those were transitive uses.

The OED notes that the intransitive sense dates only from the first quarter of the 20th century, and is a back-formation from repercussion.

  • Who said it wasn't in the OED? – WS2 Dec 11 '13 at 9:27
  • @WS2 You yourself did so. – tchrist Dec 11 '13 at 18:28
  • I never at any point mentioned the OED. – WS2 Dec 12 '13 at 9:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.