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Patient

Q From Henry de Souza: Can you tell me the origin of the word patient?

A I take it you mean the medical sense? Actually, the noun meaning a person who is being treated for some illness or injury is closely related to the adjective relating to a capacity for calm waiting. The original is the Latin verb pati, to suffer (from which we also get passion and passive, by the way), through the participle form patientem, for one who is suffering. In Latin this word took on the extra sense of somebody who suffers their afflictions with calmness and composure, hence longsuffering or forbearing, all ideas intimately tied up with our word patience. The medical sense of the word was present in English right from its first recorded use by Chaucer near the end of the fourteenth century. Down the years, the adjective and the noun have moved apart somewhat in meaning, so hearing a person described as being patient doesn’t now immediately evoke medical associations.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 26 Jun. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 26 June 1999.