What's an intuitive derivation behind definition 2 of obtain, that helps to internalise its meaning:

2. [no object] [formal] Be prevalent, customary, or established


How does the etymology (listed in that link and here) lead to the foregoing meaning?

I haven't pasted the Etymonline entry from above, because it refers only to the more common definition 1 [ie: to get, acquire (something)], about which I'm NOT asking here.

  • It just has 2, separate meanings... – Tim Aug 29 '14 at 15:59
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    It's not that much of a stretch to consider something that's prevalent, customary, and established to have taken a hold and be now holding fast (to its position, or just in general). The two meanings don't seem that far apart or incompatible to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 29 '14 at 16:24
  • (ODO sense 2) 'obtain' has been bleached (for part of its range of application) so thoroughly as to be replaceable by 'subsist' or even 'be'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 29 '14 at 19:50

The OED has examples of the intransitive obtain dating from as early as 1441, but gives no specific etymology for this use.

However if you look at the general etymology, which indicates obtain coming to English via Norman-French it is instructive. Particularly look at the the classical Latin. Included in the English meanings of obtinēre are words such as win, prevail, hold, possess, to be prevalent, customary or established.

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman obtenir, optenir, optiner and Middle French, French obtenir (strong stem obtegn- , obteign- ) to gain, to achieve (1283 in Old French as optenir ), to be victorious (c1380), to win (15th cent.), to succeed in attaining (c1500), to subsist (c1508), to hold, occupy (a1525) < classical Latin obtinēre to gain, to achieve, secure, to win, to be victorious, to prevail, succeed, to hold, possess, occupy, to be prevalent, customary, or established, in post-classical Latin also to conquer (from 8th cent. in British sources), to arrive at a place (11th cent. or earlier) < ob- ob- prefix + tenēre to hold, keep (see tenant n.).

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  • A far better answer than United seem able to come up with. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 29 '14 at 19:42

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