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Word of the Day - "gemein"

"gemein" means "mean" in the sense of "bad". But lots of words with "gemein" in them are about community. Today, we'll find out why.


gemein, die Gemeinheit, gemeinsam, die Gemeinde, die Gemeinschaft, allgemein, im Allgemeinen

Word Family

Root: *mei-

The core idea of this root was:

change, go from one to another

One branch of the tree focused on the idea of  “things shared by all”. Like… tools being passed around in the community for example. That’s the branch around common, community. communication and communism and also the Germanic gemein and mean (read my article for details).

But there are more offspring, so here’s a little overview:

  • migrate, emigrate (“moving from place to place”)
  • municipal (originally “services in the community”)
  • immune (originally “not rendering services”)
  • mutate, mutation (“change”)
  • mutual (“in exchange”)
  • mis-, mistake, mishear (originally “in a changed way”)
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