Clearly superstitious is of Anglo-Norman origin, used in English since well before Chaucer's time to refer to 'unorthodox religious beliefs'.(OED)

But the classical Latin is often written hyphenated as super-stitiosus. However I have not been able to find the word stitiosus in any Latin dictionary to which I have access.

Is there a Latin scholar out there who can help?

  • 3
    Is this question about Latin, or English? A witness in Old Latin was superstes, one who stands by (or over). Stitiosus is an adjective formed from the participle of stare "to stand", and means standing. Lectures and Essays, Nettleship, 1885.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 9:33
  • 1
    Lol is this is a question inspired by my little-stitious question? Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 11:51
  • @chaslyfromUK OED says classical Latin superstitiōsus in a state or religious exaltation, ecstatic, full of unreasoning religious awe or credulity, in post-classical Latin also overscrupulous
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 11:56
  • @AndrewLeach It is a question about English - the etymology of superstitious. But I am a little puzzled as to how the holding of an unorthodox religious belief might be linked to super-standing or the like. Any ideas?
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 12:13
  • Not sure how you read that from the link I gave. But it sounds like an example of the Etymological Fallacy. Sometimes the meaning of a borrowed word changes independently of its source.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 12:17

2 Answers 2


The Latin origin seems to be unclear:


  • late 14c., "involving faith in supernatural powers or magic; characteristic of pagan religion or false religion," from Anglo-French supersticius, Old French supersticios, or directly from Latin superstitiosus "prophetic; full of dread of the supernatural,"* from superstitio "prophecy, soothsaying, excessive fear of the gods". See


  • from super "above" (see super-) + stare "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet). There are many theories to explain the Latin sense development, but none has yet been generally accepted. Originally in English especially of religion; sense of "unreasonable notion" is from 1794.


As for the hyphen use:

  • While the formation of the Latin word is clear, from the verb super-stare, "to stand over, stand upon; survive", its original intended sense is less clear. It can be interpreted as "‘standing over a thing in amazement or awe",but other possibilities have been suggested, e.g. the sense of excess, i.e. over scrupulousness or over-ceremoniousness in the performing of religious rites, or else the survival of old, irrational religious habits.


  • 1
    Excellent posting, Josh. You have directly addressed my question, even though there are clearly no obvious answers. Because I had seen it hyphenated in Latin, I had not actually looked up superstitio - but had just focussed on the ending -stitiosus.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 19:07

I have never had any doubt, thanks to a sound classical education, that SUPERSTITION - a word found in many modern languages - derives from an amalgam of SUPER (preposition usually governing the accusative case meaning ABOVE) and STARE (an irregular but perfectly normal 1st conjugation verb, in the present tense, meaning TO STAND or TO BE (in a non- intrinsic sense q.v. STARE in Italian or ESTAR in Spanish as opposed to ESSE/ESSERE/SER). Thus the modern semantic concept is of a thing which claims to possess or is treated as possessing, qualities "additional to what it most clearly or visibly possesses" and so can be dismissed by the illuminati as ILLOGICAL.

  • 1
    Can you provide some sources for this version of the etymology of "superstition"? Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 16:29
  • I regret that I am insufficient of a Latin scholar to evaluate what you have written, so I will refer to @Josh61 to see what his views are on this, with reference to his own answer.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 18:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.