[OED:] [2.] a. {intransitive} To deal with some matter in speech or writing; to discourse. (In quot. 1517 transf. of pictorial representation.) Const. of, formerly also on, upon.

How did of or on originate, for this (now transitive verb)? Can their meanings be explained? Please expose and explain all (hidden and missing) semantic drifts and links.

Wikipedia attests to the interpretation of prepositions in 'phrasal verbs' as metaphors of some original meaning, except those that defy the principle of compositionality.

PS: The above is exemplified in OED, and in Oliver Twist by Dickens.

  • It's pretty futile asking about the "meaning" of prepositions; but of was used in this sense with say and speak a century before the Conquest, and quickly extended to many other verbs of expresssion and apprehension. Write, tell, think, hear, dream, read are some which still take of in this sense. The use was established long before treat entered the language around 1300. – StoneyB Jun 21 '15 at 3:36
  • When you give a definition it's kinda usual to specify what word is being defined. – Hot Licks Dec 18 '15 at 19:35

Latin tractare is a verb that developed quite a lot of uses. When used of writers and their topic it could be used with accusative/object case (tractare aliquid) or with the preposition de + topic.

In English the typical prepositions used with topic are on (a treatise on logic) or of (to talk of politics). "Of" is parallel to Latin de.

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