When it was brought into English in the late fourteenth century, the word cancel used to literally mean "cross out with a line" and it only took its figurative definition of "nullify" in the mid-1600s. Through Anglo-Norman and French, it comes from the Latin word cancellus, meaning "lattice" (a grid of lines), and that's from the root carcer, meaning "enclosed space" (also present in the word incaration). Finally, carcer derives from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction kar-kro, meaning something like "circular" or "enclosure". It's kind of a cool example of etymology in action to observe cancel continue to evolve today: now, it can be applied to people, through the notion of things like TV shows and professional contracts being cancelled once they are exposed for whatever they did
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.