I was looking up something else in Webster’s when my eye fell on indagate:

Etymology: Latin indagatus, past participle of indagare, from indago ring of hunters encircling game, act of searching, from Old Latin indu in + Latin agere to drive — more at end-, agent
Date: circa 1623
: to search into : investigate

An intriguing word, but it bothered me that I’d never run into it. So I checked the OED, and the first thing I noticed was the second line of the entry: “? Obs.” If the OED was suggesting it was obsolete in 1900, why on earth is it not marked as such in the 2004 edition of Webster’s? Just to make sure, I googled, and indeed all the hits were from lexicographical sites. To make doubly sure, I googled “indagate the“; at first I thought it was still fitfully in use, because in one of the hits the authors “aim to present and indagate the fundamentals and practice of Plasma Arc Welding,” but clicking on the link showed me that it was (badly) translated from Portuguese. Indeed, indagar ‘investigate, inquire into’ is in current use in Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan, and I assume essentially all the uses on the internet are from people translating from those languages and assuming, understandably, that since English has the same word, it’s a good translation. I suggest that Merriam-Webster either delete it from their next edition or mark it “obs,” which it most certainly is.
It doesn’t seem ever to have been in wide use; here are the OED citations, a meager crop for three centuries (and note that of the five cites, one is a dictionary definition and two employ a synonym with it):

1623 COCKERAM, Indagate, to search. 1633 J. FOSBROKE Six Serm. Ep. Ded., To indigate and search out the drift and scope of the Spirit of God. 1677 CARY Chronol. II. i, I. xiii. 126 How from them should we indagate the time of his Expulsion? 1829 LANDOR Wks. I. 470/1 We talk of indagating, of investigating. 1867 MUSGRAVE Nooks Old France I. ix. 293 They indagate the history of a hundred and fifty years.


  1. John Emerson says

    This form of hunting is called the battue in scholarly literature about the Mongols, among whom it was an important practice.

  2. Bob Helling says

    Thanks LH! You made my Friday. I love coming across gems like this. And to think some people don’t understand why I like to “read” the dictionary. Sadly, I’ve gotten out of the habit but I used to enjoy it.

  3. I found what appears to be a contemporary, non-translated, “in the wild” usage.
    Unfortunately, your spam filter won’t let me give the actual URL, but if you replace the word “REPLACE” in the following url with “board” you can see it.

  4. Matt, I don’t think that’s a native speaker at the URL you allude to, though his command of English is mostly excellent:
    “a bad bill of goods” for “a bill of goods” (bad by definition);
    “responsible for the charge of leading an entire state”: “charge” seems very odd;
    “ripped Al Qaeda into little, though still dangerous, threads”: should be “pieces”.
    “turn their words around on them”: “around” or “against them”;

  5. rootlesscosmo says

    @John Emerson: there’s a vivid account of this hunting technique as practiced by the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon; she suggests that the concatenation of events that brought him to Sarajevo, on that particular day and at that particular spot, was a kind of battue as well.

  6. I agree with John Cowan; I’m guessing the guy is a native Spanish speaker, though his English is excellent.

  7. John Emerson says

    With his hawk, hound, and horse, at time the medieval nobleman bore an astonishing resemblance to the Turkish or Mongol nomad.

  8. J. Del Col says

    The similarity in techniques and appearances between European and Mongol austringers and falconers isn’t coincidental. The practice is very old, and cultural exchanges were probably far more prevalent than we can imagine.

  9. I can’t think I’ve ever seen an English word traced to any Old Latin word before. “Indu-” seems to have been a regular Latin combining form though (like con-): cf. indigent, indigenous and indoles, but not indolent (for which the OED etymology quotes untranslated Latin and Greek from Jerome!)
    From Valpy’s 1828 Latin etymologicon, which is almost always wrong (he derives nearly every word from Greek, but not this one):
    Indago, I trace out as hunters do; I investigate. For induago, from indu, within; and ago. That is, I drive wild beasts from their lurking places into nets ready to entrap them. Or D is put in, as in Indigeo. Al[ternatively], from inde and ago. Scaliger: “Quia inde, i.e. ex loco suo, agimus quae venamur.””

  10. Watkins on in-: “7. Extended form *en-do. a. industry, from Latin industrius, diligent (Archaic Latin indostruus; *stru-, to construct; see ster-2); b. indigent, from Latin indigere, to be in need (egere, to be in need). Both a and b from indu-, within, from Archaic Latin endo; c. endo-, from Greek endon, endo-, within.”

  11. Indagare is a common verb in Italian, as well as the related noun, indagine (investigation).

  12. John Emerson says

    Valpy’s 1828 Latin etymologicon, which is almost always wrong….
    Reliability is a virtue not to be scorned. Is he at least internally consistent?

  13. Yes, reasonably. The full PDF is on Google Books if you’re interested.

  14. John Emerson says

    It strikes me that he’s just an alternative-world Latinist, and as such no better and no worse than any other Latinist developing the consequences of his paradigm.

  15. “Indago Felix,” usually translated as “the happy search,” is the motto of the American Society of Dowsers.

  16. That’s great! The Indagating Dowsers is a nice phrase, even if it would make a terrible band name.

  17. ktschwarz says

    Comfort your wills then
    With hungry hopes; to this indagation
    Allay your longings: may our luck find the
    Regressive road to Grandmother’s House.
    —Auden, The Age of Anxiety

    Is this Auden digging up obsolete words again? Seems like it to me, and I don’t see how “to this indagation allay your longings” makes sense; shouldn’t it be “with this indagation”?

    Every other English dictionary for over a hundred years has marked indagate as rare, archaic, or obsolete, if it’s included at all. Even Merriam-Webster’s own Third New International, in 1961, had indagate (with its derivatives indagation and indagator) labeled archaic. The entry was the same in the 7th Collegiate edition (1963), but in the 8th Collegiate (1973), the label was gone. I suspect a production error, or perhaps a misguided attempt to save space.

    Not long after this blogpost, MW featured indagate in a Word of the Day podcast, whose transcript has been added to the page:

    A close examination of “indagate” reveals that it’s a rather uncommon word. If we delve into the past, we discover that it first appeared in an English dictionary in 1623. Probing further, we see that its synonym “investigate” was already a hundred years old at the time. Despite the fact that our search turns up the derivatives “indagation,” “indagator,” “indagatory,” and “indagative,” we see that none of these words was ever used as widely as “investigation,” “investigator,” “investigatory,” and “investigative.” If we hunt for the etymology of indagate, we sniff out the Latin verb indagare (“to track”), which often referred, as did Latin investigare, specifically to tracking done by hunting dogs.

    Cute, but it would’ve been more helpful, I think, if they’d taken the opportunity to ask themselves, if this is so rare, shouldn’t it be labeled archaic, rare, or obsolete? and checked their own old editions. The way it stands, as you say, it’s a disservice to L2 readers especially.

    indagar ‘investigate, inquire into’ is in current use in Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan

    As for French, TLFI says indaguer exists only in Belgium and only as a legal term: “Mener une enquête judiciaire.”

  18. Is this Auden digging up obsolete words again?

    Without a doubt, and I wish somebody had told him to knock that shit off. Great poets don’t have the luxury of indulging all their childish whims — they have posterity to think of!

    Cute, but it would’ve been more helpful, I think, if they’d taken the opportunity to ask themselves, if this is so rare, shouldn’t it be labeled archaic, rare, or obsolete?

    Yes indeed.

  19. Another possibility is that Merriam-Webster has found recent usages, which warrant retention of the word in its dictionaries and removal of the label “archaic.”

    An inquiry may be left here:

  20. Apparently you have to sign up/log in to leave a comment, and that’s too much trouble right now.

  21. John Cowan: “ripped Al Qaeda into little, though still dangerous, threads”: should be “pieces”.

    “Shreds” sounds more like his original idea, imperfectly realized as “threads.”

    @peterpoe: “Indagare is a common verb in Italian, as well as the related noun, indagine (investigation).”

    If you’re into Italian True Crime (you should be if aren’t yet), these terms are everywhere, including indagato, a person being investigated.

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