The Joy of Language Learning

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

Lt sumere means to take (or buy) and if we add prefix con- to it we get the root for consume (as in, he was consumed by jealousy i.e. taken or eaten up) and consumption (high consumption of red meat has been linked to heart diseases).

Replacing con- with pre- we get presume, presumption and presumptuous. Presume earlier referred to the act of taking on a responsibility, duty etc without the authority required to do so. Nowadays we generally use it in the sense of ‘take something for granted (esp in the absence of proof or support)’, as in, I presume she did not cause the damage intentionally or I suggest we don’t presume her support (rely or depend on).

You may also sometimes see it used in phrases such as ‘I do not presume to question your knowledge on the subject’ in which it carries the sense of ‘dare to or go so far as to’ or ‘you must not presume on the kindness and generosity of this good man’ in which it takes the sense of ‘take undue advantage of or exploit’.

Meaning and etymology of presume

Words discussed:

Consume*, Consumption, Presume*

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