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Painstaking Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Tuesday, 16 January 2007
Ok, this is probably silly to most of you but I was amazed and surprised. I've heard the word "painstaking" many times. I also recognized that it was a combination of two words. Most of the time when two words are combined the meaning of the end result is somewhat related to the individual meanings of the two words. For example, the word "airport" is a combination of the words "air" and "port". The "air" part indicates that we're dealing with things in the air and the "port" part brings in the concept of a port like something that ships sail to and from. Easy enough.
With painstaking I've often tried to figure out how we got the derived meaning from the two words pain and staking. The pain part was easy. It can be painful and tedious to spend the kinds of attention to detail that is implied with the term painstaking. The staking part confused me. I figured it was staking like staking a claim. Maybe staking a claim on the difficulty of the task? Or maybe an archaic reference to some task that people used to do (like staking down a bunch of trees to prepare for a windstorm).
All of this thought went out the window yesterday when I realized I'd been thinking of the wrong words all along. Painstaking is not a combination of "pain" and "staking". It's a combination of "pains" and "taking". It is a shorted version of "taking pains" or "taking great pains". It fits in with "he took great pains to make sure that every single article was in the right place. It was a painstaking effort.". Seeing the word for the way it really is suddenly makes the whole thing make sense.
I suppose it is kind of silly and trivial but the shift in perspective seems really profound. I wonder now how many other things I am confused about or don't understand simply because I've broken them down in to the wrong constituent parts.

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