Thinking about "Per" and "Pen"
First Thoughts Only
"Per" and "Pen" are among the richest Latin prefixes that have come into English. They are, to use Augustine's suggestive phrase when describing his vision of Chastity in Book VIII of the Confessions, "the fruitful mother of children." In this essay I will introduce five or six familiar words and let the mind begin to play with them. Successive essays will explore the mysteries of "per" and "pen."
The Prefix and the Words
Per is not only a Norwegian male name (pronounced like the fruit) but, more important for my purposes, a Latin preposition meaning "through" or "completely" or "fully." We have the word "fervid" which means "feverish," but "perfervid" means "very fervid, glowing, or ardent." One may "fix" a day to do something, which means that one decides to do something on a particular day, but then one may also perfix it, which means "to fix firmly or definitely," even though this word has been declared "Obsolete" by the OED. The same fate has happened to perfinish, according to the OED, but I think this would be a great word to recapture for use with teenagers--"Are you sure you have perfinished your homework?"
Actually, the number of English words where per acts as a kind of intensive is relatively few; in many instances, by contrast, we have English words that replace the per with a different preposition, such as "in," when pervade becomes invade, or perflate becomes the more popular inflate. Sometimes a word beginning with per looks like a verb but is in fact an adjective, such as perfoliate, which instead of meaning something like 'to bring to complete flowering,' is used in a phrase like "perfoliate leaves." The reason for that is that a word like perfoliate or perforate is formed off what is called the Fourth Principal Part of the Verb (past participle), which is an adjective in Latin.
To the Words!
Enough of that. Six words that interested me today are permeate, pervade, perviate, perforate, penetrate and pertund. They all suggest a process of entry into or suffusion of an object. Let's start with the most obscure or least fully developed words first. Pertund is actually known to many people through its fourth principal part, pertussis, which is popularly known as the "Hooping" or "Whooping" cough. Pertund is an obsolete and rare verb combining "per" with "tundere," which latter word means "to beat, hammer or strike with repeated blows." Pertund means to "break through, perforate" and the Latin word directly behind it, pertundo, means "to bore a hole through, perforate."
A leaf that is seemingly bored through with holes can be referred to as a pertused leaf. I, however, rather favor making pertuse a verb to mean "strike thoroughly or penetrate." It sounds better to the ear to say, "He pertused the metal" than "he pertunded the metal." Perhaps you think that both should receive a burial in a deep grave. In any case, pertusion, to describe the action of beating or boring, is probably useful as a helper to "the action of drilling" or "boring," because the former is overused and the latter is often used to describe people. "Skillful pertusion of the surface yielded an undamaged find below."
This verb is, again, very rare but its cousin, pervious, has become much more popular. But, in fact, it is through pervious' nemesis impervious that many people know the family. Perviate is built upon the Latin term "via," meaning "road" or "way," and literally means "to make a way through; to penetrate, perforate." Something pervious is something that allows passage through or lies open. Figuratively it means "transparent" or "accessible" and is captured in the quaint clause, "In exposition of places of Scripture, which he alwaies makes so liquid, and pervious." To digress only momentarily, something lying open, something pervious, can also be described as patulous. Patulous is a richly suggestive word, derived from patere, meaning "to be open" and can be easily perceived in more prevalent in the popular English word "patent" which is used both to describe something that is "obvious" and to describe the license of protection for an invention that a person has for a specified period.* Sorry for my digression on the word patent, though, if truth be told, I guess I really am not sorry.
[*The word "patent" became associated with invention because early in the English common law "letters patent" (that is, letters that were not sealed; they were "lying open") were sent throughout the Kingdom announcing the protection a person had to a certain invention.]
Aside from the obvious noun perviousness, pervious means the same thing as pervial or perviable. Though both of these have no attestations after the 18th century, the latter is nicely captured in Chapman's 1595 book on Ovid: "That Poesie should be as pervial as Oratory, and plainness her special ornament, were the plain way to barbarism." In other words (as I interpret it), don't force poetry to be as limpid as oratory.
Go to the next page for the rest of the six words.