Who could pass up a title like today’s? The re before the colon means ‘with regard to, in the matter of,’ and it introduces the subject of today’s post, which is the unrelated prefix re-. That prefix existed in Latin, where it added the sense ‘(back) again’ to a verb. Both Spanish and English have many verbs beginning with re-, as you can easily verify by looking at the re- section in a dictionary of either language. Sometimes, from the notion of ‘over and over again,’ the re- conveys the sense ‘very,’ as in Spanish resabido ‘well-known’ and English renowned, which is etymologically ‘very much named.’
Spanish inherited re- directly from Latin, but in English the borrowed prefix re- is also a living one, meaning that it can be applied to existing verbs, including those of Anglo-Saxon or other non-Latin origin, to make new compounds. For example, a soldier can re-up, meaning ‘reenlist,’ in the army. Someone can blog and someone else can reblog. At the same time, there’s still occasionally—and unpredictably—resistance to using the Latin-derived prefix re- with an English verb of long standing: although English says redo, recall, and remake, it doesn’t say *resit, *refeel, *rebe, or *rego.
Sometimes we can remove the re- from what is etymologically a compound and be left with a verb that exists on its own. For instance, Spanish has resurgir and surgir, reproducir and producir, rellenar and llenar, rehacer and hacer, rematar and matar. Even in pairs like those, however, the semantics may be somewhat different, as in matar ‘to kill’ but rematar ‘to finish off.’ In plenty of other cases, however, removing re- from a verb leaves something that’s not a real verb. We have resistir/resist but not *sistir/*sist, retaliar/retailate but not *taliar/*taliate.
The situation is even more complicated than what I’ve outlined here, but this gives you the basic story. You can rechazar or reject it if you like, but while you might somehow make the case that you could chazar it in Spanish, you certainly can’t *ject it in English.
© 2015 Steven Schwartzman