The verb “to collaborate” can easily be put into plain English by saying “to work with”. Indeed, this is exactly what “collaborate” means in Latin: com– ‘with’ + labore ‘to work’. But what about “collaborator” and “collaboration”? The fairly useless word “collaborate” looks like it’s being buttressed by these two words, as well as by the negative, traitorous sense. Indeed, perhaps “collaborator” is slowly coming to mean something like “traitor”, and thus the time might be right for “collaborator” to be shuffled off.

We could turn the verb phrase “work with” into the phrasewords “withworker” and “withworking”. However, “with” when used as a kind of prefix actually means “against”; look at “withstand” (stand against, resist), “withhold” (hold back), and “withdraw” (draw back). The reason for this weirdly counter-intuitive situation is that in Old English, “with” (wiþ) meant ‘against’. The meaning of wiþ changed under the influence of phrases like “fight with”. The eremost (original) English word for the concept of “with” was “mid” — this still lives on in words like “midwife” (literally, ‘with wife/woman’).

So we have two choices here.

  1. Extend the nearly-dead usage of mid- to mean “with” and with- to mean “against”, even though it runs counter to how these words work when not compounded/prefixed.
  2. Write off current with- and mid- as relics, patterns too irretrievably lost to bring back, and make a new prefix with-.

Option one gives us midworker and midworking. Option two gives us withworker and withworking.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

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