I'm curious about the word understand and based on brief research its origins seem not very clear, https://www.etymonline.com/word/understand

Breaking up the word in two, under-stand, I could make a word-by-word translation into the Swedish word under-ställa, which is quite authoric and translates back into submit under.

It kind of makes sense if the word understand is used in an hierarchical context e.g. military etc. However, when trying to emphasize the kind of understanding that doesn't ask for obedience, but rather a temporary shift of perspective or "theory of mind", could the word understand be replaced with a better one?


The OED does not offer much more insight, and there were no obvious connections between any of the definitions of 'under' and any of the definitions of 'stand' that appeared to have the same meaning as 'understand.' I would not read too much into the direct translation of 'under-ställa' since 'understand' is a very old word, and there are cognates in the many of the other Germanic languages with the same meaning as in English:

Old English: understondam, Old Frisian: understonda, Middle High and Low German: understân, Middle Dutch: onderstaen

As a side note, I find it interesting that a similar word in Old English 'forstandan' also had cognates in Old/Middle Dutch and German, 'verstaen' and 'firstantan,' which have survived their 'understood' counterparts in the modern languages.

  • Yeah, forstandan is also represented in swedish with the commonly used word "förstå". And the word understondam exists with a completely different meaning in swedish, "understundom" which means "sometimes". Oh languages are fun! – user247245 Nov 1 '18 at 19:12

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