Saturday, April 26, 2014
I swear I have never heard anyone say "LIAISE". I have never seen it in print. I guess I've been lucky.
The saucy source of “liaise”
Q: The word “liaison” has been around for quite some time, but at a recent lunchtime meeting someone offered to “liaise” with others. This usage makes me cringe, but what’s your take on it?
A: We liaise a lot—that is, we work together on matters of mutual concern—but we don’t use the term “liaise” (it sounds like jargon to us).
Nevertheless, the verb “liaise” is standard English, a back-formation that’s been around for nearly a century, and a word with roots in the 1600s.
We’ve written many blog posts about back-formations—words formed by dropping parts of existing ones. New words have been formed this way for many hundreds of years.
Examples of verbs that started as back-formations from nouns include “injure” (from “injury”), “babysit” (from “babysitter”), “escalate” (from “escalator”), “curate” (from “curator”), and “surveil” (from “surveillance”).
We can add the verb “liaise” to the list. It’s a back-formation (from the noun “liaison”) that emerged in British military slang during World War I, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
“ ‘To liaise’ … was at first frowned on by the pundits: its usefulness … soon came to outweigh its objectionableness.”
The OED defines “liaise” as meaning “to make liaison with or between.” By the 1950s, according to the dictionary’s citations, the usage had been absorbed into civilian usage.
The noun that it came from, “liaison,” can ultimately be traced to the Latin verb ligare (to bind). And when it first came into English, in the mid-17th century, it was decidedly civilian.