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Prefix ‘step’ comes from Old English

SHARE Prefix ‘step’ comes from Old English

Question: Why is the word "step" used in words like "stepmother" and "stepbrother"? Also, is there such a thing as a "stepgrandparent," a "stepaunt," and a "stepuncle"?Answer: The original sense of the combining form "step-" can be seen in a related Old English verb, "astepan," which meant "to bereave or deprive." Thus "steopcild" ("stepchild") in Old English meant "orphan," that is, a child deprived of a parent by death. When that child's surviving parent remarried, the "steopcild" became a "steopsunu" (stepson) or "steopdohtor" (stepdaughter) in relation to the new parent, who was either a "steopmodor" ("stepmother") or "steopfaeder" ("stepfather"). Although these words referred originally to the relationships that resulted when a widowed mother or father remarried, they eventually also came to be used when the earlier marriage had ended in divorce (a rare event in Anglo-Saxon times) instead of death.

We didn't start using "stepbrother" and "stepsister" to refer to the son and daughter of a stepparent until the 15th century. For that matter, "stepparent" itself did not appear until around 1890. So what do you call this combined family? A "stepfamily," of course -- but "stepfamily" is quite a recent introduction, having been first recorded only in 1966. Other recent coinages do indeed include "stepgrandparent," "stepaunt," and "stepuncle." The popularity of "step-" as a combining form is now so well-established that you might even hear of a "stepcat" or "stepdog." Such "steppets" (to coin our own word) are pets that comes with one's new wife or husband, or they can be pets that belong to one's stepmom, stepdad or stepsibling.

Question: In the expressions "short-lived" and "long-lived," should the "i" be long or short? I have heard it pronounced both ways and wonder which is right.

Answer: The terms "short-lived" and "long-lived" are both derived from the word "life." For this reason, some people maintain that the pronunciation with long "i" is more logical. The version with short "i," however, is at least as common among educated speakers. Both pronunciations are established and correct.