To celebrate my forthcoming tween fiction; Lucy Evans, The InstaExplorer, I decided to look at the word ‘explore’.
It does not take a lot to imagine that it might be from Latin, as it resembles other Latinate words, and indeed this is the case. We start to find it as a verb in around the 1580s. But it was used as an adjective and noun before that time. Consider this example from around 1460. It comes from Knyghthode and Bataile (Knighthood and Battle), which is John Neele’s paraphrasing into Middle English of the Latin text De Re Militari, by Vegetius.
exploratory for to aspie fer & neer
(exploratory, in order to scout far and near).
It might have come into English via Middle French explorer, or else direct from Latin explorare, meaning “investigate, search, explore”.
The word is made up of two elements: ex-, which is a common prefix and can also appear in words of Greek origin. It means “out”. The second element is plorare, which meant “weep, cry”. You may be wondering how this came to have the meaning we know today! What has weeping got to do with investigating and exploring?!
It is not as far-fetched as it may appear. The word started out meaning “crying out”, and as it was used by hunters, the word underwent a sense development. It gradually took on the meaning of the whole expedition of hunting, searching for a quarry, rather than the crying out that the hunters did.