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)
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.