Understanding ‘Understand’ Ain’t Easy

In order to understand ‘understand’ you must first understand that the history of ‘understand’ is very difficult to fully…comprehend.

Let’s start by stating that ‘understand’ does not mean to ‘stand under’; I cannot say that I stand under mathematics, or that I stand under the obesity problem in the country. I also cannot say I like the way the president stands under the education system.

Are there others you ask? Well of course! I must warn you however: what’s not easily stood under is that trying to stand under these words can be a troublesome subject to take under.

You might feel like you’re ‘under attack’ from the word ‘under,’ and for good reason. How then do you differentiate the ‘under’ you know from this impostor? After all, there are numerous ‘unders’ that make perfect sense: when you are underage, you will most likely underachieve in the purchase of alcoholic beverages, you may find yourself under arrest when an undercover officer finds you; it could be a sign you are undereducated; that you underestimated the importance of school.


The unfortunate answer here is:“I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.” Thanks Ron Burgundy. Some have the belief that the meaning of understand is ‘to stand among,’ to know what the subject is because you are ‘standing within it.’

Another states that the word ‘under’ came from Aramaic and meant ‘come to know’ or ‘know.’ There is however no proof that either of these are correct, they are simply guesses and estimates as to its origin. Dictionary.com states several Old and Middle English words that lend to the origin of ‘understand,’ words such as ‘understandynge,’ ‘understandincge,’ ‘understanden,’ ‘understonden,’ and ‘understondan.’

This does not help us answer our question though does it? No, it’s only given us some amusing and rather strange new – or old? – words to ponder the meanings and awkward pronunciation of…

I wish I could provide you with a happy ending to this conundrum, but alas, the meaning of the word ‘understand’ has been lost somewhere in the last 2000 years, making it a futile undertaking. In this world we live in today, we simply understand that ‘understand’ means to comprehend, to have knowledge, to see, to realize, to grasp and to perceive.

Do you stand under me? Not literally, of course. Can you think of any more compound words that are just as misleading?