New Year Etymology Corner – we take a look at the word of the moment, ‘resolution’

‘Resolution’ is one of a group of nouns that come from the Latin word solūtus (meaning ‘made loose’) and are all related to verbs ending in ‘-solve’ (from the Latin solvō, meaning ‘I release’).

Other members of this group are ‘dissolution/dissolve’ and ‘absolution/absolve’. They all suggest some sort of release or breaking down of a substance into a simpler state. In the case of ‘resolution’ the ‘re-’ part indicates intensity rather than repetition. So a resolution is a ‘complete breaking down’ rather than a ‘breaking down again’. This makes sense when it relates to the resolution of a problem or a dispute, but what has it got to do with the promises we make to ourselves at the start of the year (and have usually broken by the end of January)?

The answer is that the word has acquired various extended meanings over the course of the centuries. From its basic meaning of ‘complete breaking down’ we get another sense of ‘revealing the details of’, and this in turn leads to the meaning of ‘a formal decision to do something’, which is the meaning that we think of at New Year.

Other Articles

Turkish delights: Turkish words in Collins English Dictionary

Turkish delight Look up the word Turkish in the Collins Dictionary and you’ll encounter several compounds that hint at the influence Turkey and its culture have exerted over the centuries. Take Turkish coffee, that mood-boosting, energy-providing short but sweet shot. Perhaps you have a… Read More

The Barbenheimer effect: 9 portmanteaus you need to know about

It’s been a summer of cinema this year, with Greta Gerwig’s long-awaited Barbie movie finally hitting the screens at the same time as Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller Oppenheimer. Barbie’s marketing team have been painting the town hot pink, from transforming London’s Barbican underground station into Barbie-can,… Read More

Around the world in 8 words: The changing language of travel

Not all those who wander are lost, and when it comes to travel, sometimes wandering is one of the most exciting things you can do. And if you live in the UK, you’re lucky enough to have access to many beautiful destinations on your doorstep. In a time when travellers… Read More