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The difference between recreation and re-creation

Heymatt:

How come you can “recreate” something (like a Civil War battle) and it would be a “RE-creation,” but when you go play tennis (or whatever) it’s “WRECK-reation?” Are they different words or just the same word pronounced differently?

— Stanley, North Park

To answer this one, you have to go all the way back to Medieval times and the years of Middle English. We first got the word “recreation” from French (via the French-sih Anglo-Normans in the 14th Century. It originally referred to “a process of creating anew,” but could be extended to cover any sustaining act. Meals and rest could be referred to as “recreations” by virtue of their nourishing properties, which were thought to create anew the body and soul. It’s from that root that we get the idea of “recreational activities,” the idea being that barbecues and games of horseshoes nourish the spirit.

There’s a key difference between that meaning and the usage of recreate (with a long e) that denotes replication and reconstruction. That form of the word doesn’t show up until hundreds of years later and it’s almost always used with a hyphen after the first syllable. That hyphen is responsible for elongating the initial vowel, which linguistics tells us should otherwise be in short form. It’s not until the 20th Century that you see the hyphen start to slip away when people gained enough confidence in contextual inference to tell the difference between the two words.

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Heymatt:

How come you can “recreate” something (like a Civil War battle) and it would be a “RE-creation,” but when you go play tennis (or whatever) it’s “WRECK-reation?” Are they different words or just the same word pronounced differently?

— Stanley, North Park

To answer this one, you have to go all the way back to Medieval times and the years of Middle English. We first got the word “recreation” from French (via the French-sih Anglo-Normans in the 14th Century. It originally referred to “a process of creating anew,” but could be extended to cover any sustaining act. Meals and rest could be referred to as “recreations” by virtue of their nourishing properties, which were thought to create anew the body and soul. It’s from that root that we get the idea of “recreational activities,” the idea being that barbecues and games of horseshoes nourish the spirit.

There’s a key difference between that meaning and the usage of recreate (with a long e) that denotes replication and reconstruction. That form of the word doesn’t show up until hundreds of years later and it’s almost always used with a hyphen after the first syllable. That hyphen is responsible for elongating the initial vowel, which linguistics tells us should otherwise be in short form. It’s not until the 20th Century that you see the hyphen start to slip away when people gained enough confidence in contextual inference to tell the difference between the two words.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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