Bill Casselman

Surprising Etymology of

the Word Impeachment

The 2017 News Story: Donald Trump's unfitness for presidential office, his mental unclarity, his world-endangering lack of any leadership ability whatsoever, his not reading anything and Trump's recent invitations to seditious cessation  of the American government. Donald Trump is, as British psychiatrists stamp on a patient's record after initial interviews, "A Suitable Case for Treatment." Hell, there's enough madness in that blurry noggin to sustain a month-long convention of psychiatrists.

After more than a year of Donald Trump as incompetent boob President of the USA, millions of Americans have stopped whispering the word “impeachment” and begun to say it aloud, in hopes of possibly preserving American democracy. Therefore it is worthwhile to look at the origin and precise meaning of the word.

Impeachment (read the 25th amendment to the American Constitution) is the arraignment and prosecuting for an outrageous misdemeanour or crime while in high office of any human being. An equally high tribunal of the accused’s peers must try the misconduct. Congressional conviction usually leads to removal from political office. Senators and presidents are liable for impeachment by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Constitutional Amendment XXV concerns Presidential succession and sets forth procedures both for filling a vacancy in the office of the Vice President as well as responding to Presidential disabilities including madness and not being capable of carrying out Presidential duties.

Origin of the Word Impeachment
The word came into English after the Norman Conquest from Old French empechement. Modern French is empêchement. Ultimately the noun derives from a late Latin hunting verb impedicare ‘to catch a small animal with a leg trap, to entangle,’  from a Latin noun pedica ‘a foot chain, a fetter, a shackle’  from Latin pes, pedis ‘foot.’

 Related Word Borrowings
The Latin noun for foot (pes, pedis) is the prime etymon (root) of many English words.
The pedal on a bicycle is where you put your foot.
A millipede insect seems to have a thousand little feet. (Latin mille ‘a thousand’)
A centipede seems to have a hundred feet. (Latin centum ‘a hundred’)
A quadruped like a horse has four legs. (Latin quadr- word-forming root meaning ‘four’)
A biped is an animal with two feet, like humans.

A pedestal was first used as a term in classical architecture to name the base or foot on which a pillar stands. Later a statue might stand on a pedestal, or you might elevate in your high regard some hero and they were placed on an imaginary pedestal. The English form is a direct borrowing from French. The French word came from late thirteenth-century Italian piedestallo = Italian piede ‘foot’ + Italian stallo ‘seat, abode, base.’

 A pioneer is someone who performs a notable feat first, like exploring a new country or discovering a new scientific fact. But the very first pioneers were sixteenth-century French pionniers, foot soldiers who entered territory to be fought over before the regular army to prepare their way. Old French was paonier from peon from Medieval Latin pedo, pedontis ‘foot soldier’ from earlier Latin pes, pedis ‘foot.’

Expedient as an adjective and a noun concerns something of advantage to a procedure, a means to an end, not always a noble end. Hence sentences like this: Fred left the patio door unlocked because it was expedient to the later burglaring of the house. The word derives from a Latin verb expedire ‘to facilitate, to make easy, to liberate’ whose base sense is ‘to set free a person from foot chains, to unfetter a horse.’ It was the opposite of another Latin verb impedire ‘to hinder’, from which English gets our verb, to impede.

 Therefore, go forth, presidential persons and handmaidens, toadies, lickspittles and associated fart-catchers all, and cleanse thy spirit of unrest and perturbation - - - by means of professional help, either psychiatric, congressional, SWAT team, posse or impeachment.

Bill Casselman, February 26, 2018

Text Copyight 2018 by William Gordon Casselman,

but any portion of this text may be freely quoted and disseminated.


  At the Wording Desk

Investigate the Roots of Words in the News & Increase your in-depth knowledge of how English vocabulary originates