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I had never seen or heard of the word "devotement" until reading it in my Chinese girlfriend's brother's college application essay. To me, it's always been "devotion." However, I noticed that Google Drive was not marking it as an unknown word, so I looked it up on Google. Turns out it's defined in plenty of online dictionaries with a definition equivalent to that of "devotion." It even exists in thesauruses. But for the life of me, I could not find something that talked about when you would use "devotement" instead of "devotion", or how such a similar word ended up in usage. Even now, Chrome's spell check doesn't like that I've placed "devotement" in this paragraph. Why Drive's spellcheck doesn't complain when Chrome's does... only adds to the mystery for me.

Can anyone clear this up for me? Why does "devotement" exist? When would one use it?

  • Related: Abolition vs. Abolishment – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 8:07
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    As for Chrome, it depends on the dictionary you have installed, and whether you have checked US English or UK English, you can also add words to the dictionary as you come across more and more words, or foreign expressions e.g., l'esprit d'escalier (the last word is underlined on my browser) that are not listed. – Mari-Lou A Dec 28 '15 at 9:19
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Devotement is an outdated, less common variant of devotion:

  • The action of devoting, or fact of being devoted; devotion, dedication.
    • 1604 Shakes. Oth. ii. iii. 322 He hath deuoted, and giuen vp himselfe to the Contemplation, marke, and deuotement of her parts and Graces.
    • 1852 Wayland Mem. Judson (1853) i 29 His own personal devotement to the missionary cause.

OED

Ngram: devotement vs devotion.

Ngram: devotement.

It origin is probably due to the practice of adding the suffix -ment to verbs to form nouns which starred from the 16th century:

-ment :

  • suffix forming nouns, originally from French and representing Latin -mentum, which was added to verb stems sometimes to represent the result or product of the action. French inserts an -e- between the verbal root and the suffix (as in commenc-e-ment from commenc-er; with verbs in ir, -i- is inserted instead (as in sent-i-ment from sentir).

  • Used with English verb stems from 16c. for example merriment, which also illustrates the habit of turning -y to -i- before this suffix).

(Etymonline)

Devotion (n.) has an older origin:.

  • early 13c., from Old French devocion "devotion, piety," from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from past participle stem of devovere "dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly,"

From which devote (verb)

  • 1580s, from Latin devotus, past participle of devovere (see devotion). Second and third meanings in Johnson's Dictionary (1755) are "to addict, to give up to ill" and "to curse, to execrate; to doom to destruction."

and later (17th century) "devotement".

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It is simply impossible to know why some words survive and others don't, but let's examine the history of these synonyms, which we can do courtesy of the OED.

Devotion is an old word, coming to us from the Old French devocion, ultimately from the Latin devotio. The OED records several senses of he word, the first from 1225, having the connotation of religious devoutness. This follows the Latin meanings which were about religious ceremonies or the taking of vows to devote oneself to virtue. (Latin had others words -- dedere, devovere, dedicare -- to apply to situations of dedicating oneself to things other than the sacred.)

In the 16th century, influenced by more modern Italian and French, devotion started to be used for people, causes, hobbies, and so on. The OED finds 1530 the first use in the sense. In 1604, Shakespeare uses the word devotement in Othello (Act II, Scene iii) where Iago talks about Desdemona:

... Our general's wife is now the general: may say so in this respect, for
that he hath devoted and given up himself to the
contemplation, mark, and devotement of her parts
and graces....

(Well, maybe. That's the First Folio. The Second has denotement. If you won't accept Othello, then the next cite is from 1621.)

There's also another synonym, devoteness, first recorded in 1606.

So the 1600s saw authors turning from devotion and its history of religious connotation to new words useful for secular circumstances as well. With multiple words for both contexts, at some point, people decided to remain devoted to devotion.

  • I accepted the slightly earlier and more navigable answer above, but props for suggesting the original functional difference between the words. Very interesting. – zrisher Jan 14 '16 at 2:29
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Many nouns that end with -tion has a French root and devotion is not an exception. According to Online Etymology Dictionary:

early 13c., from Old French devocion "devotion, piety," from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from past participle stem of devovere "dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly," from de- "down, away" (see de-) + vovere "to vow," from votum "vow" (see vow (n.)).

There are not many verbs which have 2 different noun forms. But a verb like abolish has two noun forms.

Abolition: the act of officially ending or stopping something : the act of abolishing something; specifically : the act of abolishing slavery

Abolishment (My Chrom Spell-checker doesn't like it, either) is listed under the verb abolish. [Merriam-Webster]

If you look at the linked Ngram Viewer, abolishment is so rarely used that it's graph is at the bottom compared with abolition.

The word abolition is also from Middle French abolition according to Online Etymology Dictionary.

I am not trying to say that you have to choose devotion over devotement since abolition has been chosen over abolishment by people. My point is words do compete for survival and only the fittest that is chosen by majority of people will survive. The word devotement didn't survive and the Ngram Viewer supports it.

Unless there is any difference in meanings, shorter nouns with easier pronunciation might have survived more often than longer ones as the survival of devotion and abolition indicates.

Regarding your last two questions:

Nobody will choose devotement over devotion unless any special meaning that can differentiate the former from the latter is attached to devotement.

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