A few months ago in my other blog I showed a picture of a dragonfly whose scientific name is Libellula luctuosa. I explained that the second part of that name is a Latin adjective based on the noun luctus, which meant ‘sorrow, mourning, grief, affliction, distress, and lamentation, especially over the loss of something dear to one.’ Spanish speakers will recognize that Latin word as the predecessor of luto, which means the same thing. From luto Spanish has made the verb enlutar, which means literally ‘to go into mourning, to dress in mourning’ and ‘to cover with a veil.’ By extension the verb has taken on the figurative meaning ‘to cast a shadow over.’
While luto is a living Spanish word, the only directly related English borrowings I’ve been able to find that seem ever to have actually been used, however little, are the rare adjectives luctuous and luctual, which the Century Dictionary defined as ‘relating to or producing grief.’ Spanish likewise has the Latinate adjective luctuoso.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman