Friday, July 16, 2010

on withdraw

Like many people, a word I encounter all the time, which I consider normal will occasionally pop out at me and seem odd in some linguistically interesting way. Today, the word withdraw popped out at the ATM (along with the cash, hehe). It's the preposition that struck me as odd. I can still get the use of draw to mean take away (mostly thanks to poker), but what's with doing in that word? To withdraw does not mean draw with.

The preposition with is a tricky one that marks a wide variety of semantic roles. A brief set of examples should suffice to make the point (forgive my semantic role labels if they don't match your preferred terminology, just trying to make the point obvious):
  • Chris loaded the truck with hay.               hay = object*
  • Chris loaded the truck with a pitchfork.     pitchfork = instrument
  • Chris loaded the truck with Larry.            Larry  = co-agent
  • Chris loaded the truck with enthusiasm.  enthusiasm = manner
  • Chris loaded the truck with stripes.         stripes = modifier
In his big red syntactic theory book, one of my professors wrote a fairly involved analysis on why with is so versatile. But arguments as to why this is the case are not particularly relevant at the moment. I'm more interested in how with got there in the first place, not why the contemporary English grammar** allows it.

The Online Etymology Dictionary lists the following defintiion (sorry, no OED access): withdraw  early 13c., "to take back," from with "away" + drawen "to draw," possibly a loan-translation of L. retrahere "to retract." Sense of "to remove oneself" is recorded from c.1300. (emphasis added)

1300 1200 is a long time ago, so the word has serious English street cred. But I found the definition of with as 'away' again, just odd until I followed up on the etymology of with:

with: O.E. wið "against, opposite, toward," a shortened form related to wiðer, from P.Gmc. *withro- "against" (cf. O.S. withar "against," O.N. viðr "against, with, toward, at," M.Du., Du. weder, Du. weer "again," Goth. wiþra "against, opposite"), from PIE *wi-tero-, lit. "more apart," from base *wi- "separation" (cf. Skt. vi, Avestan vi- "asunder," Skt. vitaram "further, farther," O.C.S. vutoru "other, second"). In M.E., sense shifted to denote association, combination, and union, partly by influence of O.N. vidh, and also perhaps by L. cum "with" (as in pugnare cum "fight with"). In this sense, it replaced O.E. mid "with," which survives only as a prefix (e.g. midwife). Original sense of "against, in opposition" is retained in compounds such as withhold, withdraw, withstand. (emphasis added).

So, to withdraw is to draw against an account, and that makes perfect sense. Thank you freely available online lingo-tools. It's a nice example of how dramatically a word can change its semantics. Virtually all contemporary uses of with involve the sense of together, not against. But there it is, in black and white (and a little bit of green).

*I think Propbank would use cargo as the role label for hay, I'm not sure, but I figured object was more obvious for lay readers. U. Illinois has a nifty online Semantic Role Labeler demo, if you want to play around with this kind of thing.

**Careful now, I'm using the term English grammar in a fairly technical, psycholinguisticee sense.


Matthew Sullivan said...

FWIW, I read draw to be taking money against a line of credit (i.e. not your own money), whereas withdraw is the opposite -- The bank owes you the money that you previously deposited, so a withdrawal is calling in your loan to the bank (decreasing the bank's debt to you, rather than increasing your debt to someone else in the case of draw).

To be more clear at what I'm getting at: I see the against of with- in withdraw as an appositive (the opposite of drawing new debt), rather than a conjunction ("an account withdraw" as a way of saying "draw against an account").

Reading through the article I wasn't sure which meaning you read into it.

Gordon P. Hemsley said...

Early 13th century is the early 1200s. ;)

Chris said...

Good catch Gordon, thanks!

Chris said...

Matthew, good point. I hadn't thought it out quite that well. My intuition right now is that withdraw means taking your own money (even if technically the bank is issuing credit; I don't think this fact enters into the day-to-day use of the term).

Alon said...

Well, this is what the OED has to say:

withdraw, v.: [f. WITH- (I) + DRAW v. (Cf. L. retrahere to RETRACT, RETRAY, F. retirer to RETIRE.)]

And for the compositional with-, we get: representing OE. wiþ- (see WITH prep.) used as a prefix to verbs (and derived ns.) with the meanings: (1) away, back, as in OE. wiþbláwan to blow away, wiþfaran to escape, wiþgán to disappear, wiþtéon to withdraw; so WITHDRAW, WITHHOLD; a few modern words come under this heading, which are formed by substituting with- for re-, as withcall; (2) away from one, as in several OE. verbs meaning ‘reject’, ‘refuse’, wiþcéosan, wiþcweþan, wiþhoðian, wiþlecgan, wiþsacan WITHSAKE v., wiþweorpan; (3) against, in opposition, as in OE. wiþfeohtend adversary, wiþhabban to resist, wiþlicgan to oppose, wiþsprecan to contradict, wiþstandan WITHSTAND v.; (4) together, in withjoin.
The following is a list of the less important verbal formations (transitive verbs except where otherwise marked); mostly obs. (see quots.).
†withbere [BEAR v.1], to carry away; see also b; †withboȝt pa. pple. [BUY v.] redeemed; †withbrast pa. tense [BURST v.] intr. burst asunder; †withbreide [OE. wiþbreðdan, BRAID v.1], to withdraw; †withbuwe [BOW v.1], to avoid; withcall, to recall; †withclepe, to recall, revoke, repeal; †withdrive, to drive away, repel; †withhuhe [OE. wiþhoðian], to despise; †withjoin, to join together, conjoin (intr. and trans.); †withleft pa. pple. left behind; †withlosen pa. pple. [LEESE], lost; †withnay [NAY v.; cf. RENAY], to deny, refuse; †withnim [= L. reprehendere; see NIM v.], to reprove, rebuke; †withpass, to escape the lips of; †withquethe, to deny, contradict, refuse; †withscape, to escape; †withschadowid pa. pple., darkened; †withschild [SHIELD v.], in God w., God forbid; †withscore, to cut away, detach; †withshonte [SHUNT v.], intr. to shrink back; †withslip, to escape; †withsoȝt pa. tense [SEEK v.], pursued, persecuted; †withsperre v. [SPAR v.1], to bar (the way); †withstad, -sted pa. pple. [STEAD v.], beset; †withstarte [START v. 6], intr. to escape; withstay [STAY v.1 III], to hold back, oppose, withstand; †withstew [STEW v.1], to check; withstrain, †(a) to constrict; (b) to restrain; †withtee [TEE v.1], to withdraw; refl. and intr. to abstain; †withtelle, to gainsay; †withturn, to avert.

All those daggers indicate that most of these terms became obsolete quite a while ago, although there are a few not listed as obsolete (e.g., "withcall") that I do not recall having ever seen.

(OT side note: when id the OED going to replace all those pesky binary representations of non-Latin letters with the proper Unicode equivalents? There is hardly a platform in common use nowadays that doesn't support them?)