Content is a Heteronyms – two words that are spelt the same but have two different pronunciations and two different meanings. Depending on how you read that you may be thinking of the noun ‘content’ or the adjective ‘content’, just to make it more complicated you can also use content as a verb, as in “I contented myself with the joy of words”.
So how did all these words get mingled up? Let’s start at the beginning, way back at the beginning, with the Proto-Indo-European language; the common tongue on which all modern languages of Indian and European countries are based. As we’ve talked about before, the Proto-Indo-Europeans had a lot fewer words than most languages today, and they mainly related to communicating ideas necessary to survival; ‘lion near water’ etc, and the word the Proto-Indo-European’s used for ‘near’ was ‘kom’.
In the Latin language ‘Kom’ became ‘com’, a small change but now it’s starting to look like it belongs in our word of the day. Like the spelling the meaning was also changed; it now meant ‘with’. In Latin it was paired with ‘tenere’ which meant ‘to hold’. The com quickly became ‘con’ and we now had the word ‘contenere’ – begining to sound familiar? ‘Contenere’ effectively meant ‘held with’.
In France in the 13th century ‘contenere’ became ‘contenir’ and was brought back to Egnlish during the hundred years’ war where it became ‘contain’; it was common when transferring words from French to English do away with their word endings and ‘contenir’ became contain, from which content was derived.
But in France the word continued to evolve, its meaning changed to ‘to fill’ and then ‘to satisfy’. In the 15th century the word once again travelled to English and again the word ending was removed and the derivative ‘content’ created.