https://www.wordsmyth.net/blog/2020/01/dissemble-2 baffles me.

Dis*\assemble is a derivation of the verb “assemble.” The prefix “dis-” means “to undo or reverse” the action denoted by the base, that is, verb to which the prefix is attached.

And we would have trouble pinpointing which meaning of the prefix “dis-” is being used in “dissemble”: “dis-” may here function only as an intensifier of the verb base. It certainly is not the “dis-” of “disassemble.” [emphasis mine] But it is conceivable that it means “apart or away.” So for the practical end of being able to distinguish “disassemble” from “dissemble,” you need read no further than the end of the previous paragraph.

1. How do we know that the prefix DIS- in DISsemble "certainly is not the “dis-” of “disassemble”?

2. In DISsemble, why must DIS- in DISsemble mean "completely"? Why can't DIS- mean "to undo or reverse"?

The ultimate source is the Latin dissimulare (to disguise or conceal). The Latin verb combines dis- (completely) with simulare (to pretend), Chambers adds.

  • We know it comes from Latin, and we know roughly the Latin elements and what they mean: it doesn't mean the opposite of simulare, even if the precise origin is unclear. If you have a question about the Latin origin, there is a Latin SE you can ask in. (Obviously, DIS- does not have to mean completely, and in many other words means different things, but in this case it is from the meaning completely. Lots of words and word-elements have multiple meanings.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


The prefix dis- has different meanings and usages. In dissemble the sense is the figurative one as shown in the following extract:


from dis- "completely" (see dis-) + simulare "to make like, imitate, copy, represent," from stem of similis "like, resembling, of the same kind"


word-forming element of Latin origin meaning 1. "lack of, not" (as in dishonest); 2.* "opposite of, do the opposite of" (as in disallow); 3. "apart, away" (as in discard), from Old French des- or directly from Latin dis- "apart, asunder, in a different direction, between," figuratively "not, un-," also "exceedingly, utterly." Assimilated as dif- before -f- and to di- before most voiced consonants.


  • It's worth noting that "dissemble" comes from Latin, whereas "disassemble" in the modern sense (per EtymOnline) is from 1893.
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 19:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.