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Word of the week: transition

the process of changing from one state to another

Published on: Monday 31st July 2017

Tran si tion

There’s a hidden root in the word transition: it’s tiny, but it’s hugely important!

trans – across, through

i – going

tion – act, process, result

Transition can refer to the actual process of changing, or to the period of time it takes to change. It is really a noun, but recently has started to be used as a verb: “Year 5 are transitioning into Year 6 well.”

Trans implies change and movement in itself:

transfer – to change something across from one place to another; it’s usually used when transferring ownership, responsibility or participation to another department, team, flight, etc. rather than actually picking something up and carrying it to another place (fer – bringing, carrying).

transport – to physically carry something or someone from one place to another, e.g. by car, lorry, train, etc. (port – carrying).

transatlantic – going across the Atlantic Ocean, e.g. a transatlantic flight or voyage.

The ‘i’ in the middle of transition is easy to ignore  – it looks like just a linking letter between the trans and the tion. However, it is from the Latin verb ire – to go, and sneaks into many other English words!

ambition – amb/amph means both, i means going, tion means act, process, result, so ambition means ‘the result or process of going in both directions’. But what on earth does that mean? Well, it refers to the effort that political candidates in Ancient Rome put into trying to gain votes. Someone who wanted to do well – someone who had ambition – would dash here, there and everywhere to meet and greet as many voters as possible.

circuit – circ/circu means around, and it means goes, so a circuitis something that someone goes round.

exit – the it means going and the ex means out.

initial – literally means ‘to do with the beginning’: the in means in, into, the i means going, the al means to do with, so altogether it means ‘to do with going in, entering into something, starting’.

ion – in Chemistry, ions are electrically charged atoms or molecules that go towards an electrode of opposite charge; they were named by chemist Michael Faraday in 1835, actually from a similar Ancient Greek verb, also meaning to go.

There are also a variety of words that are part of the transition family: transit (the action of passing through), transitory (not permanent, tending to just pass through), transient (lasting or staying only a short time, quickly on the move).