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Strip away the ment from amendment and you get amend.
Go further and strip away the leading “a” and you get mend.
This is the place to start in building up the history and meaning of the word amendment.
We may think of the mend in our clothing as the place where a tear has been fixed, but the Latin from which this word comes—as usual via Old French—the Latin mendum or menda meant “fault.”
So from the Latin perspective the mend isn’t the repair, it’s the original rip.
Again from the Latin perspective the way to fix it is with an emendare, that meant “to take out the fault,” which became our amend.
When amend and amendment appeared in English in the 13th century the word mend hadn’t yet broken through from Latin so in English this word had to deconstructed out of amend.
Amendment seemed to have arrived from French with most of the meanings we give to it today, plus a few more.
An amendment to a document is supposed to improve it by removing its faults.
Soil amendments made things grow better—we’re talking manure here, it’s just coincidence the word also relates to legal procedure.
The meanings we no longer recognize relate to people’s behavior and health both of which seemed to improve by amendment.
Another surviving related word is amends. We “make amends” when we repay an injured party. 700 years ago we would have made amendment.
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.