How does adding the prefix "inter" affect the meaning and usage of the word "mingle" ?
The two terms appear to have come into existence about the same period, the 15th century, and at that time the prefix inter- entered the English language from French. They appear to be just synonyms.
- *Latin inter (prep., adv.) "among, between, betwixt, in the midst of," from PIE enter "between, among" (cognates: Sanskrit antar, Old Persian antar "among, between," Greek entera (plural) "intestines," Old Irish eter, Old Welsh ithr "among, between," Gothic undar, Old English under "under"), a comparative of *en "in" (see in). Also in certain Latin phrases in English, such as inter alia "among other things." A living prefix in English from 15c. Spelled entre- in French, most words borrowed into English in that form were re-spelled 16c. to conform with Latin except entertain, enterprise
- (v. t. Int.) to mingle, one with another; intermix.
intermingle (v.) (etymology)
- late 15c., from inter- + mingle.
- mid-15c., "to bring together," frequentative of Middle English myngen "to mix," from Old English mengan (related to second element in among), from Proto-Germanic *mangjan "to knead together".
As for usage( Ngram) mingle appears to be a more common verb than intermingle.
Check out these definitions:
Intermingle: to Mix or mingle together
Mingle: 1) to mix or cause to mix together. 2) to move freely around a place or at a social function, associating with others
Both words mean "to mix." However, the word "mingle" refers to socializing in a group setting. Beyond that additional meaning, I do not think the prefix "inter" has much effect. It comes from the latin inter, which means "among, between, betwixt, or in the midst of." Since both words already allude to the "mixing" of disparate parts, the additional prefix is superfluous.
I've not checked a dictionary, but as a well educated native English speaker, my response is that one would use "intermingle" talking about things rather than people and not in first person. E.g., The threads were intermingled. I wouldn't say "I intermingled at the party." It might, technically, be correct usage, but it sounds strange and as if one is using a more complicated word to impress.
Mingle sounds like a generic term for socializing in a group.
Intermingle implies two distinct groups that are mixing.
Co-mingle is another term for this I believe, but implies gender more often then not.