Around and Around: Circum

Make the rounds with these lists of prefixes that all have to do with things that go around: circum, ambi, peri
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definitions & notes only words
  1. circumference
    the size of something as given by the distance around it
    That's almost 10 times the circumference of the Earth, which is a surprisingly small 24,859.82 miles.BBC (Dec 1, 2014)
    circum (around) + ferre (to carry) + ence (suffix forming abstract nouns)
    Latin had the verb "circumferre" which meant "to carry around, lead around, take around." While the meaning of "ferre" carried over into other English words (transfer/transference, infer/inference), it no longer connects to "circumference" (pi times diameter), which only has a noun form that is focused on size rather than action.
  2. circumspect
    careful to consider potential consequences and avoid risk
    The second penguin seemed more circumspect, pausing at length to examine the unfamiliar terrain.The New Yorker (Mar 12, 2015)
    circum (around) + specere (to look)
    Do not confuse this with the adjective "suspect." Something that is suspect might seem untrustworthy or wrong, but this is a feeling that is not always based on facts. Someone who is circumspect is careful, and this approach is usually based on previous knowledge. The definition of the noun "circumspection" is "knowing how to avoid embarrassment or distress."
  3. circumvent
    avoid or try to avoid fulfilling, answering, or performing
    You really can circumvent the automated application and reach out to your hiring manager.Forbes (Aug 3, 2015)
    circum (around) + venire (to come)
    In military usage, the verb connects directly to its roots: a circumventing army can force its enemy to give up, not by avoiding it, but by completely surrounding it. In the example sentence, the verb is figuratively used to describe going around something. This type of circumvention sometimes suggests a sense of doing wrong by not doing something required; but if done well, it can also be seen as a victory achieved through cleverness and wit.
  4. circumstance
    a condition that accompanies some event or activity
    All new human beings arrive vulnerable to circumstances over which they had no influence, but which, in turn, have enormous influence on them.New York Times (Oct 14, 2015)
    circum (around) + stare (to stand)
    This general meaning of the word is not part of the pomp and circumstance you might hear and see at a graduation (that is an outdated usage that means "formal ceremony about important occasions"). The addition of the "s" indicates more than one condition, which differs from these definitions of "circumstances": "one's overall condition in life" and "a person's financial situation."
  5. circumstantial
    suggesting that something is true without proving it
    "It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence."Los Angeles Times (May 12, 2015)
    circum (around) + stare (to stand) + al (suffix forming adjectives)
    Another definition is "including the details of a specific event or situation." This sounds like the opposite of the chosen definition. But when considered separately from the whole situation, details are small facts that might have some truth but would not be enough to prove that something is beyond a reasonable doubt. To convict or convince, conclusive evidence is required.
  6. circumlocution
    an indirect way of expressing something
    We encourage candor to the point of tactlessness: No circumlocution, no fancy rhetoric, no beating around the bush.Forbes (Mar 29, 2013)
    circum (around) + loqui (to speak) + ion (suffix forming nouns)
    To make the point with more synonymous repetition, these words could be added: No periphrasis, no euphemisms. The list mostly describes roundabout ways of talking often used to avoid hurt feelings (rhetoric is fancy language often used to impress, persuade, or confuse). Lumped negatively together, they emphasize a company's value of straightforward honesty (candor) over sensitivity.
  7. circumscribe
    restrict or confine
    Here lies a paradox of the road trip: It is a venture into the open frontier, circumscribed by the narrow confines of an automobile.New York Times (Sep 15, 2014)
    circum (around) + scribere (to write)
    The example sentence suggests that a road trip is a wild adventure into the unknown. For a less paradoxical road trip, one could first take a map, literally circumscribe it (draw a circle or line around specific points), and follow the planned routes within the circumscribed space of a car.
  8. circumflex
    a diacritical mark (^) placed above a vowel in some languages to indicate a special phonetic quality
    Exclamations often have a circumflex inflection, as "Really!" spoken in a sarcastic tone; that is, the pitch rises and falls.Baum, Paull Franklin
    circum (around) + flectere (to bend)
    The word used to be a verb to describe how a charioteer turns his carriage and horses around. The chosen definition is for a noun, but as the example sentence shows, "circumflex" is most often used as an adjective. When not describing a manner of speaking, it describes body parts, such as the circumflex scapular artery in the shoulder or the circumflex femoral vein of the hip and thigh.
  9. circumnavigate
    travel completely around something
    By 1522, Magellan’s expedition had successfully circumnavigated the globe, and Spanish colonies were sprouting across the Americas — Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico.Washington Post
    circum (around) + navis (ship) + agere (to drive)
    As the roots, definition, and example sentence show, circumnavigation usually involves a vehicle and its route usually covers the entire world. But the word can also generally refer to the act of going around something rather than through it (unlike circumvention, this is often seen as going around goal-blocking obstacles rather than avoiding something that is required).
  10. circumambulate
    walk around something
    In the evening, hundreds of pilgrims circumambulate the stupa or meditate quietly in its shadows.Wall Street Journal (May 26, 2010)
    circum (around) + ambi (around) + ulare (to go)
    Because a person who circumambulates is usually on foot, the route is likely to be much shorter than one for a circumnavigator. In the example sentence, the pilgrims are deliberately circumambulating a religious shrine. This sense of purpose and direction differentiates the action from wandering.

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