In Brother Mackey's opinion this is a modern, American, and wholly indefensible corruption of the technical word Demit. As the use of this form is very prevalent among American Masonic writers, he considered it proper that we should inquire which is the correct word, Demit or Dimit, and so he continues thus:
The Masonic world had been content, in its technical language, to use the word demit. But within a few years, a few admirers of neologisms-men who are always ready to believe that what is old cannot be good, and that new fashions are always the best-have sought to make a change in the well-established word, and, by altering the e in the first syllable into an i, they make another word dimit, which they assert is the right one. It is simply a question of orthography, and must be settled first by reference to usage, and then to etymology, to discover which of the words sustains, by its derivation, the true meaning which is intended to be conveyed.
It is proper, however, to premise that although in the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne used the word DEBIT as a verb, meaning to depress, and Bishop Hall used dimit as signifying to send away, yet both words are omitted by all the early lexicographers. Neither of them is to be found in Phillips, in 1706, nor in Blunt, in 1707, nor in Bailey, in 1739. Johnson and Sheridan, of a still later date, have inserted in their dictionaries DEBIT, but not dignity but Walker. Richardson, and Webster give both words, but only as verbs. The verb to DEBIT or to dimit may be found, but never the noun a DEBIT or a dimit. As a noun substantive, this word, however it may be spelled, is unknown to the general language, and is strictly a technical expression peculiar to Freemasonry. As a Masonic technicality we must, then, discuss it. And, first, as to its meaning:
Doctor Oliver, who omits dimit in his Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry, defines remit thus: "A Mason is said to DEBIT from the Order when he withdraws from all connection with it." It will be seen that he speaks of it here only as a verb, and makes no reference to its use as a noun. Macoy, in his Cyclopaedia, omits DEBIT, but defines dimit thus: "From the Latin dimitto, to permit to go. The act of withdrawing from membership." To say nothing of the incorrectness of this definition, to which reference will hereafter be made, there is in it a violation of the principles of language which is worthy of note. No rule is better settled than that which makes the verb and the noun derived from it have the same relative signification. Thus, to discharge means to dismiss; a discharge means a dismission; to approve means to express liking; an approval means an expression of liking; to remit means to relax; a remission means a relaxation, and so with a thousand other instances. Now, according to this rule, if to demit means to permit to go, then a remit should mean a permission to go. The withdrawal is something subsequent and Consequent, but it may ever take place.
According to Macoy's definition of the verbs the granting of a limit does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the Freemason who received it has left the Lodge. He has only been permitted to do so. This is contrary to the universally accepted definition of the word. Accordingly, when he comes to define the word as a noun, he gives it the true meaning, which, however, does not agree with his previous definition as a verb.
To instituting the inquiry which of these two words is the true one, we must first look to the general usage of Masonic writers; for, after all, the rule of Horace holds good, that in the use of words we must be governed by custom or usage, whose arbitrary sway.
Words and the forms of language must obey.
If we shall find that the universal usage of Masonic writers until a comparatively recent date has been to employ the form demit, then we are bound to believe that it is the correct form, notwithstanding a few writers have more recently sought to intrude the form dimit upon us. Now, how stands the case? The first time that we find the word demit used is in the second edition of Anderson's Constitutions, 1738, page 153. There it is said that on the 25th of November, 1723, "it was agreed that if a Master of a particular Lodge is deposed, or demits, the Senior Warden shall forthwith fill the Master's Chair."
The word continued in use as a technical word in the Freemasonry of England for many years. In the editions of the Constitution published in 1756, page 311, the passage just quoted is again recited, and the word DEBIT is again employed in the fourth edition of the Constitutions published in 1767, page 345. In the second edition of Dermott's Ahiman Rezon, published in 1764, page 52, and in the third edition, published in 1778, page 58, the word DEBIT is employed. Oliver, it will be seen, uses it in his Dictionary, published in 1853. But the word seems to have become obsolete in England, and to resign is now constantly used by English Masonic writers in the place of to DEBIT.
In America, however, the word has been and continues to be in universal use, and has always been spelled, until recently, DEBIT. Thus we find it used by Tannehill, Manual, 1845, page 59; Morris, Code of Masonic Law, 1856, page 289; Hubbard, in 1851; Chase, Digest, 1859, page 104; Mitchell, Masonic History, volume ii, pages 556, 592, and by all the Grand Lodges whose proceedings Brother Mackey examined up to the year 1860. On the contrary, the word dimit is of recent origin. Usage, therefore, both English and American, is clearly in favor of demit, and dimit must be considered as an interloper, and ought to be consigned to the tomb of the Capulets. And now we are to inquire whether this usage is sustained by the principles of etymology. First, let us obtain a correct definition of the word. To demit, in Masonic language, means simply to resign. The Freemason who demits from his Lodge resigns from it. The word is used in the exact sense, for instance, in the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, where it is said: "No brother shall be allowed to demit from any Lodge unless for the purpose of uniting with some other." That is to say: "No brother shall be allowed to resign from any Lodge."
Now what are the respective meanings of DEBIT and dimit in ordinary language? There the words are found to be entirely different in signification. To DEBIT is derived first from the Latin demittere through the French demettre. In Latin the prefixed particle de has the weight of down; added to the verb mittere, to send, it signifies to let down from an elevated position to a lower. Thus, Caesar used it in this very sense, when, in describing the storming of Avaricum (Commentary de bello Gallico, vii, 28), he says that the Roman soldiers did not let themselves down, that is, descend from the top of the wall to the level ground. The French, looking to this reference to a descent from a higher to a lower position, made their verb se demettre, used in a reflective sense, signify to Olive up a post, office, or occupation, that is to say, to resign it. And thence the English use of the word is reducible, which makes to demit signify Go region. We have another word in our language also derived from demettre, and in which the same idea of resignation is apparent. It is the word demise, which was originally used only to express a Loyal death. The old maxim was that "the king never dies." So, instead of saying the death of the king, they said the demise of the king, thereby meaning his resignation of the crown to his successor. The word is now applied more generally, and we speak of the demise of Pitt, or any other person. To dimit is derived from the Latin dimittere. The prefixed particle di or dis has the effect of off from, and hence dimittere means to send away. Thus, Terence uses it to express the meaning of dismissing or sending away an army.
Both words are now obsolete in the English language. They were formerly used, but in the different senses already indicated. Thus, Hollinshed employs demit to signify a surrender, yielding up, or resignation of a franchise. Bishop Hall uses dimit to signify a sending away of a servant by his master.
Demit, as a noun, is not known in good English; the correlative nouns of the verbs to demit and to dimit are demission and dimission. A demit is altogether a Masonic technicality, and is, moreover, an Americanism of recent usage. It is then evident that to demit is the proper word, and that to use to dimit is to speak and write incorrectly. When a Freemason demits from a Lodge, we mean that he residers from a Lodge, because to demit means to resign. But what does anyone mean when he says that a Freemason dimits from a Lodge?
To dimit means, as we have seen, to send away; therefore he dimits from the Lodge is equivalent to saying he sends away from the Lodge, which of course is not only bad English, but sheer nonsense.
If dimit is to be used at all, as it is an active, transitive verb, it must be used only in that form, and we must either say that a Lodge dimits a Mason, or that a Mason is dimitted by his Lodge. Brother Mackey believed he had discovered the way in which this blunder first arose. Rob Morris (Code of Masonic Law, page 289) has the following passage:
A demit, technically considered, is the act of withdrawing and applies to the Lodge and not to the individual. A Mason cannot demit in the strict sense, buff the Lodge may demit (dismiss) him. It is astonishing how the author of this passage could have crowded into so brief a space so many violations of grammar, law, and common sense. First, to demit means to withdraw, and then this withdrawal is made the act of the Lodge and not of the individual, as if the Lodge withdrew the member instead of the member withdrawing himself. And immediately afterward, seeing the absurdity of this doctrine, and to make the demission the act of the Lodge, he changes the signification of the word, and makes to demit mean to dismiss. Certainly it is impossible to discuss the law of Masonic demission when such contrary meanings are given to the word in one and the same paragraph.
But certain wiseacres, belonging probably to that class who believe that there is always improvement in change, seizing upon this latter definition o f Morris, that to demit meant to dismiss, and seeing that this was a meaning which the word never had, and, from its derivation from demittere, never could have changed the word from demit to dimit, which really does have the meaning of sending away or dismissing. But as the Masonic act of demission does not mean a dismissal from the Lodge, because that would be an expulsion, but simply a resignation, the word dimit cannot properly be applied to the act.
A Freemason demits from the Lodge; he resigns. He takes out his demit, a strictly technical expression and altogether confined to this country; he asks for and receives an acceptance of his resignation.
Thus far we have followed Brother Mackey who went into this matter in considerable detail. An equally impressive showing is to be found in the Builder (Volume v, page 308), where Brother C. C. Hunt discusses the same question. At the end of his article the editor, Brother H. L. Haywood, said, "A study of forty-nine codes of the Grand Lodges of the United States reveals the fact that forty-one used he word dimit while but eight used demit.
Brother Hunt (page 29, volume vi, Builder) comments upon this note, in brief, as follows: Dimit came into the English language through church usage, where a priest would be sent from one diocese to another. The bishop gave him a dimit, virtually an order to go. The priest had to accept dismissal. This word is obsolete since letter of dismissal, or dimissory letter takes its place. Demit came into the language from the same Latin word, but from the late Latin and the French, and meaning a voluntary resignation. It so came to be used by Freemasons, the thought being that a member of a Lodge, in good standing, had an absolute right to relinquish his membership and obtain a certificate to that effect. Until comparatively recently the word used was demit. History of the word has been lost and ecclesiastical rather than the Masonic sense attached to the word by those that use dimit.
The Lexicographer of the Literary Digest (July 9, 1927, page 68) has this to say of the distinction between demit and dimit: As a verb, the word demit designates to give up; lay down, or resign as an appointment; to drop or east down; depress. As a noun, it means a letter of dismissal, specifically, a recommendation given to a person removing from one Masonic Lodge to another. In the sense of to release or dimiss, demit is obsolete. The verb dimit means to permit or to go away; dismiss; to send or give forth; to grant or lease.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry