The word competence was first borrowed into the English language in the 1590s, and then it held several definitions until they died out and gave way to the modern meaning. For a bit, it meant "adequate supply", because that made you competent enough to get by. Briefly, it also held the meaning of "rivalry", but that had more to do with the related word competition, and eventually a new denotation of "ability to be efficient" emerged. This and the first definition hail from Latin competentia, "agreement", under a connection of sufficiency and harmony. Competentia derives from the verb competere, which meant "come together", something that makes sense considering its descendants' meanings. However, it might be a little confusing to discover that competere is also the etymon of competition, ostensibly because competing involves bringing together people to vie for the same prize alongside each other. Competere includes the prefix cum-, meaning "together" (from Proto-Indo-European kom, "next to") and the root petere, or "strive" (from Proto-Indo-European petheti, "fly"). I hope I was competent at explaining that.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior 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.