I apologise for any inconvenience and consulted What should we do with questions about etymology?, and want to confirm if any questions about etymology are allowed here? ELL can attend, help and treat more generously and instructively learners of etymology, whereas ELU exudes the air of experts and linguists (which I'm not).

For example, may I ask this here please?

How does “to entail” develop to mean “Involve (something) as a necessary or inevitable part or consequence”?

What's the logical derivation behind definition 1 of to entail:

  1. Involve (something) as a necessary or inevitable part or consequence:

How does the etymology (listed in that link and here) lead to the foregoing meaning?

Etymonline: mid-14c., "convert (an estate) into 'fee tail' (feudum talliatum)," from en- (1) "make" + taile "legal limitation," especially of inheritance, ruling who succeeds in ownership and preventing it from being sold off, from Anglo-French taile, Old French taillie, past participle of taillier "allot, cut to shape," from Late Latin taliare. Sense of "have consequences" is 1829, from notion of "inseparable connection." Related: Entailed; entailling..

Moreover, I'm confused by this intricate, complicated presentation of the etymology.

2 Answers 2


I enjoy these questions, myself. And I am wholly in sympathy with your desire to 'fix' the meaning in your mind by exploring the etymology: it was a large part of my own study of German back in the Dark Ages.

On the other hand, I would enjoy these questions just as much on ELU, where a large proportion of our users feel they would be better served; so I will not be greatly dismayed if your questions appear there instead.

I do wonder, however, why you consult only etymonline instead of the source from which most of that site's etymologies are drawn: the OED. As you have been advised, links to OED 1 are available right here on ELU. You would certainly get the answers you need much quicker there, where the successive meanings of words are laid out in a manner that requires only a little imagination to follow.

The short answer to your sample question, by the way, is that the modern sense of entail is a figurative use of the original legal sense: a fixed, unavoidable condition attached to the 'succession' (inheritance) of an estate is used analogically to designate a fixed, unavoidable condition attached to the 'succession' (consequence) of a logical argument.

  • The "slightly longer" answer to OP's question could make the point that the original Latin feudum talliatum derives from talio = to cut, prune. The fact that (non-cognate?) tail seems to make sense to the modern ear probably helps entail gain/retain currency, but this isn't necessarily going to help OP acquire an "intuitive" understanding of how to interpret current usage. Aug 20, 2014 at 18:00

I think questions should be asked where they are the best fit. By saying, "ELU exudes the air of experts and linguists," you are blurring the already-fuzzy line between the two communities. It sounds like you are saying, "I'd rather ask here; the people are nicer."

As for this comment: "ELL can attend, help and treat more generously and instructively learners of etymology," ELL is not intended to help learners of etymology, it's intended to help learners of English.

I don't want to say that all etymology questions are disallowed, but the question you provide here strikes me as a question that lies pretty firmly on the ELU side of the fence.

Some learners may be curious about the background or etymology of a certain idiom; that might be more appropriate for ELL. One example I've cited before is: "you sound like a broken record," which has nothing to do with Olympic records set on the track or in the swimming pool, but rather alludes to an older form of music recordings. Getting into 14th-century Anglo-French and Latin roots seems to be neither the kind of thing ELL was meant to address, nor the kind of thing that will be helpful for ELL's target audience.

  • It seems to me, however, that OP asks here precisely because he wants to get away from "14th-century Anglo-French and Latin roots": in all of his questions he asks for an explanation of the relationship between two current senses of a word. Aug 20, 2014 at 12:22
  • @StoneyB - That's a good point. If that's where the O.P. wants to go with this, I would try to make that more evident in the phrasing of the question, so that others won't be so quick to assume the question is off-topic.
    – J.R. Mod
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:44
  • @StoneyB Thanks. So can my question be asked here on ELL, if I edit it?
    – user8712
    Aug 29, 2014 at 6:09
  • 1
    @LePressentiment The sentiment of the community appears to be that etymological researches --how a word came to mean what it now means-- are better served on ELU; but a question about the relationship between current meanings (which may involve a word's history) is on topic here. Aug 29, 2014 at 13:35

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