[1] purchase = 2. [mass noun] Firm contact or grip

I've been trying to understand how the noun purchase evolved to mean definition 2 above. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. I tried OED but it's too terse and jumbled; so I turned to:

[2] Etymonline for purchase (n.) : ... The sense of "hold or position for advantageously applying power" (1711) is extended from the nautical verb meaning "to haul or draw (especially by mechanical power)," often used in reference to hauling up anchors, attested from 1560s. ...

In view of this reference to a nautical definition, I returned to ODO and encountered:

[3] purchase = {verb} 2. {Nautical} Haul up (a rope, cable, or anchor) by means of a pulley or lever.

I still couldn't perceive the etymology; so I tried to consider the morphemes:

[4] Etymonline for purchase (v.) : ... from pur- "forth" (possibly used here as an intensive prefix; see pur-) + Old French chacier "run after, to hunt, chase" (see chase (v.)). . ...

My confusion worsened. How does [3] relate to [4]? In other words, how can a chase forth possibly mean a haul? Any object to be hauled is tied by a cable; so what's there to chase?

  • 1
    When you haul up an anchor rope, you're chasing for the end of the rope where the anchor is attached.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


Could it be as in when you purchase goods, you are bringing them to you. Thus when you pull on the rope, you are bringing the anchor to you. The idea of drawing near makes the meaning similar?

Perhaps the idea of "gripping" something was taken from gripping the rope rather than just pulling the anchor towards you?

I also agree with the other person who said, "chasing the anchor end of the rope".

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