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Des is a prefix that indicates a negative (the contrary of). This is evident in so many Spanish words. Trivial examples: desobedecer, destapar, desordenar, descolgar.

For some reason, desfallecer does not mean the opposite of fallecer, but "to become weak". One would expect for it to mean "to come alive, to resuscitate". Or at least it should mean "to become stronger", the opposite of what it means.

Why is this the case? Is this a unique "misuse" of this prefix or there is a linguistic reason?

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  • [to become weak]. You can disobey, uncover, disorder and unhook but you can undie. That's why. Of course, it is not a misuse. fallecer is not just to die. You can go look it up in the RAE.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2023 at 19:35
  • We also have examples in English like flammable/inflammable where the negative prefix in- has no effect.
    – mdewey
    Dec 1, 2023 at 13:53
  • @mdewey That's a misunderstanding. That is not the negating prefix in- in inflammable. It's a different in- prefix, the one you can see being used in inflame. So inflammable means able to be inflamed. It does not mean, for lack of a better word, "un-flammable". So that's why flammable and inflammable amount to the same thing, not because some negative prefix anomalously "doesn't count".
    – tchrist
    Dec 14, 2023 at 0:16

2 Answers 2

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Porque en latín también se daba exactamente la misma multiplicidad de significados con el prefijo dis-. Buscá primero en la RAE, a ver qué tiene para decir:

des- Confluencia de los prefs. lats. de-, ex-, dis- y a veces e-.

  1. pref. Denota negación o inversión del significado de la palabra simple a la que va antepuesto. Desconfiar, deshacer.

  2. pref. Indica privación. Desabejar.

  3. pref. Indica exceso o demasía. Deslenguado.

  4. pref. Significa 'fuera de'. Descamino, deshora.

  5. pref. A veces indica afirmación. Despavorido.

Ahora, consultamos el Wikcionario a ver qué nos dice:

Latin Alternative forms: dī- dif-
Etymology
From Proto-Italic *dwis-, from Proto-Indo-European *dwís. Cognate with Ancient Greek δίς (dís), Sanskrit द्विस् (dvis). Doublet of bis.

Prefix dis-

  1. asunder, apart, in two
    dīmittō ― dismiss, disband
    discēdō ― part, separate
  2. reversal, removal
    dissimulō ― disguise, conceal\
  3. utterly, exceedingly
    differtus ― stuffed full

La cuestión viene desde hace bastante. Y las etimologías anteriores al latín en general son hipotéticas, así que más ciencia que ésta no creo que sea posible hallar.

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La idea de que fallecer solo se aplica a la muerte natural probablemente sea influencia de desfallecer (‘perder el aliento y las fuerzas’), pero en la actualidad son voces distintas con sentidos que carecen de relación directa (aunque tengan un origen común).

Source https://www.fundeu.es/consulta/fallecer-vs-morir/#:~:text=La%20idea%20de%20que%20fallecer,aunque%20tengan%20un%20origen%20com%C3%BAn).

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