lunicide

The word lunicidio/lunicide means ‘a killing of the moon’—or at least that’s what it would mean if it existed. Spanish speakers recognize that luna is ‘the moon,’ just as it had been in Latin, and even English speakers are familiar with luna from astronomy and from the adjective lunar, which Spanish shares. Several posts here in the first year of this blog dealt with luna.

The suffix -cidio/-cide—familiar from compounds like suicidio/suicide, fratricidio/fratricide, and homicidio/homicide—derives from the Latin verb caedere that meant ‘to strike, cut, cut down down,’ and often ‘to kill.’ The ‘strike’ sense led, starting with the Latin past participle caesus, adding a suffix, and evolving through Old French, to English chisel. From the past participle of a Latin compound we have the kind of tooth called an incisivo/incisor; a surgical cut is an incisión/incision. The Latin compound praecīdere ‘to shorten’ has given us preciso/precise.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

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estiércol

Estiércol, the Spanish word for ‘fertilizer,’ traces back to Latin stercus, with stem stercor-, which meant ‘dung, excrement,’ and also, based on the use to which that was put, ‘fertilizer.’ The ancient Romans created gods for lots of things, and one of those deities was Stercutus, the god of manuring. He seems to have been more important than you might have expected because he was also known as Sterculus and Sterculinus.

While Latin stercus left the ground of common English vocabulary infertile, it did lead to some fancy technical words in English. One keeps us in the realm of the gods: In Christian theology, stercoranism is ‘the belief that the consecrated Eucharistic elements, the bread and wine, are subject to decay and pass through the body like other ingested things.’

In the sciences, we have stercolith, ‘a hard mass of fecal matter.” Stercoraceous means ‘relating to, being, or containing feces.’ Botanists created a plant family called Sterculiaceae, a name chosen because of the smell given off by some of the plants in that family. Will it spoil your enjoyment to learn that chocolate is in that family? Oh well, you can mask any unpleasantness by telling people that the kind of chocolate you’re offering them is sterculiaceous and letting it go at that.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

nimbyish

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article in The Economist and came across the word nimbyish for the first time. Despite never having seen the word before, I understood that it was an adjective formed from nimby (also Nimby or NIMBY), an acronym for not in my back yard. Merriam-Webster defines nimby as ‘opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable (such as a prison or incinerator) in one’s neighborhood.’ The definition in the Oxford Living Dictionaries is ‘A person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous in their own neighborhood, such as a landfill or hazardous waste facility, especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere.‘ As you can see in those two definitions, some dictionaries apply nimby to the objection and others to the person doing the objecting.

As far as I can tell, Spanish doesn’t have a counterpart to nimby. Span¡shD!ict offers up an explanation rather than a Spanish translation: ‘persona que se opone a la ubicación de cualquier tipo de construcción o proyecto problemático en su vecindario‘ and ‘de oposición a la ubicación de cualquier tipo de construcción o proyecto problemático en un vecindario concreto.’ Given this nimsdy (not in my Spanish dictionary yet) situation, let’s look at each individual word in the original English phrase and see if it has a Spanish cognate.

1) not — Spanish no, from Latin nōn, is obviously a cognate. All three go back to the Indo-European negative, ne.

2) in — This is obviously the cognate of Spanish en, which evolved from the Latin in that had come from Indo-European en. Talk about flip-flopping.

3 my — Here we have a shortened form of mine, from Old English mīn. The obvious Spanish cognate mi evolved from Latin meus. All these words came from Indo-European me-, the form of the first person singular personal pronoun used for cases other than the nominative.

4) back — Spanish has no cognate in this case. English back goes back to Anglo-Saxon bæc.

5) yard — Speakers of Tex-Mex have carried over the English word as yarda, but that’s not standard Spanish. The English word evolved from Anglo-Saxon geard, based on the Indo-European root gher- that meant ‘to enclose, to grasp.’ Another descendant of that root was Old North French gart, which has passed into English as garden. The French cognate is jardin, which Spanish borrowed in Old French times as jardín.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

ardido

Spanish has two words ardido. One is the past participle of arder ‘to burn.’ English speakers recognize it in the adjective ardent, which has a figurative sense. A similar metaphor has led Spanish ardido to be used in some countries to mean ‘burning with anger,’ in other words ‘angry, enraged.’ The present participle ardiente that corresponds to English ardent also appears in a figurative sense in aguardiente, literally ‘burning water,’ but actually ‘brandy.’ Compare the firewater that arose in the vocabulary of the Algonquian Indians once they were exposed to Europeans’ alcoholic beverages.

The other Spanish ardido means ‘brave, bold, daring,’ and not because the person being described that way has drunk too much firewater. No, this ardido came into Spanish from a word in a Germanic language related to native English hard. The ‘bold’ sense is clearer in English hardy. Perhaps surprisingly, given how similar-looking hard and hardy are, the latter is not native English but was borrowed from Old French, which had taken the word from a Germanic source. Closely related to this Spanish ardido is the noun ardid, which originally meant ‘a risky venture’ but now has the sense of ‘a ruse, a trick.’

Going back to the ‘burning’ ardido, we note that Spanish arder ‘to burn’ developed from the synonymous Latin ārdēre. The root of the past participle ārsus led to the Late Latin noun ārsiōn-, which via Anglo-Norman has become English arson. If there ever was a cognate of that in Spanish, it has apparently long since burned out.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

flébil

Spanish flébil is a literary word that means the same as its Latin source flēbilis lamentable, deplorable, mournful,’ which had come from the verb flēre ‘to weep.’ If no English relative comes to mind, it’s in part because the first l dropped out of flēbilis as the adjective evolved into the Old French feble that passed into English and has taken on the modern form feeble. Note that the shift in meaning is another reason English-speaking students of Latin wouldn’t make a connection to an English descendant of flēbilis. Once we accept feeble, we can pretty easily see that it has a doublet, foible. That’s the form that made it into early modern French but is now obsolete in that language. What had started out as an adjective came to be used as a noun to designate ‘the weaker part of a sword blade.’ Semantic expansion led to the modern sense ‘a minor weakness or peculiarity in someone’s character or behavior.’ Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gave this definition: “A particular moral weakness; a failing. When we speak of a man’s foible in the singular, which is also called his weak side, we refer to a predominant failing. We use also the plural, foibles, to denote moral failings or defects. It is wise in every man to know his own foibles.”

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

pauta

I remember that when I lived in Honduras a long time ago I had a hard time making sense of the Spanish word pauta. Looking now at Span¡shD!ct, I see that English translations include ‘norm, standard, guideline, pattern, model, example.’ In medicine, a pauta is ‘a schedule for dosing or treatment.’ In addition to those non-tangible senses, the noun can also mean ‘a line on a piece of paper’ and ‘the set of lines used in musical notation,’ which is to say ‘a staff.’

I think one reason pauta seemed troublesome to me half a century ago is that there’s no obvious English cognate to tie it to. Etymology shows that one exists, and to understand it we have to go back to the Latin noun pactum, which meant what our borrowed pacto/pact still means. According to Joan Corominas, in the Middle Ages pacta, the plural of pactum, took on the senses ‘legal text, law.’ Eventually, as so often happened, that neuter plural ending in -a got taken for a feminine singular, and by the early 1600s the resulting Spanish pauta meant ‘dispositivo que ayuda a dar dirección horizontal a los renglones de un escrito,’ which is to say ‘a device to keep lines of writing horizontal [i.e. straight and parallel].’ From the Medieval Latin meaning came the more-abstract modern Spanish senses ‘norm, standard, guideline, pattern, model, example.’ The 17th-century Spanish meaning of pauta has persisted in the senses ‘line on a piece of paper’ and ‘staff.’

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

allow

The English verb allow is unusual in that it comes from the merging of two verbs in Old French, neither of which meant ‘allow.’ One source was Old French alouer, which developed from Latin allaudāre, a compound of the laudāre that meant ‘to praise’ and that English has borrowed as laud. Latin laudāre evolved naturally in Spanish to loar.

The other contributor to Old French alouer was the Medieval Latin verb allocāre, which meant ‘to assign,’ and which English has acquired as allocate. The Latin verb was based on the noun locus ‘place,’ which served as the root for Spanish lugar.

Putting those two tracks together: somehow the notions of assigning and praising led in the Middle Ages to the sense of permitting that English allow took on and has retained.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

braise

The English verb braise means, in the definition of Merriam-Webster, ‘to cook slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a closed pot.’ English acquired the word from the similar French verb braiser, which comes from the noun braise that means ‘glowing ember.’ People have used coal and charcoal as heat sources to cook in various ways, so it’s not clear how braiser came to designate only one method. In any case, Spanish speakers will recognize French braise as the cognate of the synonymous Spanish brasa. The French and Spanish nouns are ultimately of Germanic origin. Beyond that, the American Heritage Dictionary follows the trail back to the prolific Indo-European root bhreu- that meant ‘to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn’ and that had derivatives referring, somewhat paradoxically, to both cooking and brewing.

From brasa Spanish has the brasero that the DRAE defines as a ‘ recipiente de metal, ancho y hondo, ordinariamente circular, con borde, en el cual se echan o se hacen brasas para calentarse.’ English calls that a brazier or brasier.

©2018 Steven Schwartzman

nival

Spanish and English share the adjective nival, which they naturally pronounce differently. The word means ‘having to do with snow’; it has also taken on a biological sense: ‘growing in or under, or living on snow cover.’ Spanish speakers have the advantage over English speakers because nival resembles nieve ‘snow.’ On the other hand, English speakers may take a clue from an American state with a Spanish name, Nevada, meaning ‘snow-covered.’

Nival comes from Latin nivālis, the adjective corresponding to the word for snow, nix, with stem niv-. That noun evolved from the Indo-European root *sneigwh-. While the initial s- has melted away in Latin, it has remained frozen onto the beginning of the native English cognate snow.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Today is Easter

Today is Easter. Foreign students of English may wonder, as native speakers rarely seem to, whether there’s a connection between Easter and east. There is. Modern English east is descended from the identically spelled Old English east. (The word had two syllables, e-ast. The vowels were pronounced as in Spanish, and the first vowel was long, meaning that it was held for a longer time than the second vowel.) Old English east developed from the Indo-European root *aus- ‘to shine,’ so that in etymological terms east is the direction from which the sun shines forth at dawn.

English Easter [Sun]day traces back to Old English Easterdæg. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica explained the first part of that compound (which was pronounced E-ast-er or E-ast-re, with the first vowel long): “The name Easter (Ger. Ostern), like the names of the days of the week, is a survival from the old Teutonic [i.e. Germanic] mythology. According to Bede (De Temp. Rat. c. xv.) it is derived from Eostre, or Ostdra, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated. This month, Bede says, was the same as the mensis paschalis, ‘when the old festival was observed with the gladness of a new solemnity.'” We can add that Anglo-Saxon Easter (or Eastre or Eostre or Ostdra) probably arose as a goddess of the dawn that brightens the eastern [from Old English easterne] horizon at the beginning of each day; and that the spring, of which Easter was a goddess, is the season in which the amount of sunshine gradually increases. Spring is metaphorically the dawning of the new year.

English east and the synonymous Spanish este are clearly related, but only scholars are likely to know that Spanish took este (originally leste, with the definite article attached, as still in Portuguese) from French est, and that French est had come from Middle English est. It’s curious that the word started out as east in Old English, became est in Middle English, and is now back to east (though with a different pronunciation). It’s also curious that both French and Spanish should have borrowed the word, directly or indirectly, from English.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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