Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jun 08, 2020 8:14 pm

<2020 “He [[Jim Walmsley, American long-distance runner]] would spend nights alone, stewing over what a life outside of the Air Force would look like. He would break things —“usually a lamp”— and persevereate on what seemed to him a streak of awful luck.”—The New York Times Magazine, 16 February, page 57>
Interesting sounding word which I am not familiar with, but assume is somehow related to the more familiar word ‘persevere’– "to persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement" (The American Heritage Dictionary)

I’ll begin with a bare bones definition provided by Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary:

perseverate (per-se-ver-ate) intransitive verb: To repeat something insistently or redundantly: <to perseverate in reminding children of their responsibilities>

[1910–15; back formation from ‘perseveration’]

Checking out the source of the back formation:

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

perseveration noun: Continuation of something (as an activity or pursuit) usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point: such as

a) continual repetition of a mental act usually evidenced by speech or by some other form of overt behavior especially as a mechanism of defense

b) spontaneous and persistent recurrence of something (as an idea, mental image, tune, or word)

Origin: Latin perseveration-, perseveration perseverance, from perseveratus + -ion-, -io –ion

First Known Use: 1907

perseverate (per-se-ver-ate) intransitive verb

1) To manifest the phenomenon of perseveration <the perseverating tendency in stutterers in sensorimotor tasksQuarterly Journal of Speech>

2) To repeat or recur persistently <the tune perseverates in my mind>; to go back over previously covered ground <a careful scholar who perseverates unhesitatingly to reevaluate and incorporate new data>

[3)] To repeat something insistently or redundantly <to perseverate in reminding children of their responsibilities> (

Origin: Latin perseveratus, past participle of perseverare to persevere

The following quotes are from archived news sources:
<1964 “They also perseverate, that is, they are unable to break away from one activity and initiate another.”—The Mobile Journal (Mobile, Alabama), 25 September, page 2>

<1989 “One of Jeffrey’s problems is that he ‘perseverates’ (a psychological term for indulging in endless repetition). In cleaning the men’s room at the bowling hall, this meant that he kept mopping the same section of tile over and over.”— The Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida), 16 march, page 10>

<2008 “But regardless of what they say, they still perseverate before they buy.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 27 January, page B07>

<2011 “For reasons nobody sane will ever understand, some baseball managers perseverate on bad ideas the way a dog perseverates on a chew toy.”– The Boston Globe (Boston Massachusetts), 31 July, page R18>

<2015 “. . . children with anxiety can often be upset over seeing friends’ pictures on social media platforms and may perseverate about being left out, . . . “—The Herald News (Passaic, New Jersey), 12 March, page A17>

<2020 “How the Pandemic Will Change Us . . . . . . Of course I’m sick at heart. I lay awake at night, imagining a wave of death that sweeps away the old and the frail. I perseverate about an unprecedented economic collapse of both supply and demand, and worry about what that would mean to my family or to entrepreneurs I know.”—The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 April, page Z4>

Ken Greenwald – June 8, 2020

Re: perseverate

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:45 am

Some Slavic languages have verbs for common actions (e.g. the verb meaning "to go") which have a frequentative aspect, meaning they indicate that the action in question is repeated or takes place on a habitual or persistent basis.

(In English, the same idea is generally conveyed by qualifying the verb with "regularly", "often", "habitually", "keeps / kept on", etc.)

It occurs to me that "perseverate" could be regarded as a rare example in English of a frequentative verb. In this case it would be the frequentative form of "persevere".

But I'm struggling to come up with other examples. Can anyone else think of any?

Re: perseverate

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jun 12, 2020 5:56 pm

Hi Erik,

I don't know if this is what you had in mind, but in searching for other examples of 'frequentive verbs', I came up with this discussion, and several other similar discussions, which cast a more general light on the issue which I hadn't considered:
<2017 “Bobble, sniffle, sparkle. Blabber, chatter, flicker. English, along with many other languages, has a delightful class of verbs called frequentatives. Fancy name aside, these words simply show some sort of small or intense repeated action. Chattering, for instance, involves incessant chatting, and sniffling, slight and ongoing sniffing.

English can mark its frequentative verbs with the endings i-le and –er. And once you spot the pattern, you’ll start noticing these curious words all over the place. Be careful, though, as English has many more words ending with –[/i]le[/i] and –er that aren’t frequentatives.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . —, 20 March>

The author goes on to list 23 examples (e.g. twinkle, crinkle, slither, flutter, . . .) of the le and er endings and a different 24th example. See this article here.

Ken Greenwald —June 12, 2020

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