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My dictionary gives priskribi as a translation of “describe”. However, looking at the word one would think it means to write about something. Presumably the English word “describe” has a similar etymology but has evolved to include discussing the subject orally. Is this also the case for priskribi? Or is there an alternative, less illogical word for this concept?

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Zamenhof used it figuratively for oral descriptions as well:

Sed la elfo [...] rakontis al ŝi, kiel en sonĝo, la teruran krimmortigon, priskribis al ŝi la lokon, kie la frato lin mortigis kaj enterigis lian kadavron (Elfo de la rozo, el Fabeloj)

I have to admit that it bothers me slightly, and it might be better to use pridiri instead (a word used in the translation of the New Testament), although the English words do contain "scribe" and "script".

Another solution is to switch to vortpentri (which covers both).

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    Note that in Esperanto the meaning of a compound is not equal to the collective meanings of its parts, so the figurative meaning should be acceptable. – Joffysloffy Sep 9 '16 at 9:21
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    That is true, but it is better if they don't wander too far from the surface meaning, and we need to be alert to every possible route by which a misunderstanding might creep in. – Andrew Woods Sep 9 '16 at 10:18
  • As the asker pointed out, the English word “describe” has the same root for writing (“scribe”), but can be used orally as well. I don't think there can be a potential misunderstanding there. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Sep 28 '16 at 14:27
  • I know that there is potential for misunderstanding, as I misunderstood it when I was a beginner. And note that the person asking is definitely not a beginner. – Andrew Woods Sep 28 '16 at 14:55
  • Neither "pridiri" nor "vortpentri" are common words in Esperanto. – Tomaso Alexander Jan 17 '17 at 21:15
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"Priskribi" is long established in Esperanto, and essentially functions as an independent word, much like "eldoni". "Pridiri" and "vortpentri" are not forms in normal Esperanto usage, although they might occur in some contexts. There's no reason to look for an alternative to "priskribi" in the sense of "to describe" either in speech or writing.

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