What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 that helps to remember its meaning:

1. circumscribe = Restrict (something) within limits:

Etymonline: late 14c., from Latin circumscribere "to make a circle around, encircle, draw a line around; limit, restrain, confine, set the boundaries of," from circum- "around" (see circum-) + scribere "write" (see script (n.)). Related: Circumscribed; circumscribing.

Yet how does the idea of 'writing around' something restrict that something?

  • 1
    Defining ('writing') the limits (boundaries, 'circle'-of-freedom/ operation/ existence/ influence/ control) HTH. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakshmana_rekha – Kris Oct 3 '14 at 8:12
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    A good proportion of these -scribe words have extended (from the purely graphic sense) senses: prescribe, proscribe, subscribe, and in a usually more limited way, describe. 'Scribe' is the root morpheme here, not a suffix. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 8:14
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    Writing does not only mean "put a pen on paper and form letters". Any but the most restricted interpretation of writing would make the meaning of circumscribe immediately clear. Try to be flexible when reading something into meaning, especially in etymology: draw a line around something quite obviously can be read as set boundaries around something. – oerkelens Oct 3 '14 at 8:23

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