The September 10 posting about nada explained that the Latin phrase res nata meant ‘a born thing.’ Someone who knows Spanish may wonder if there’s any connection to the Spanish res that means ‘animal, beast, head of cattle.’ The two words are one and the same. Just as Spanish ganado, which means literally ‘earned,’ has come to refer to cattle, the change in meaning of Spanish res from ‘thing’ to ‘animal’ reveals the monetary value that cultures have traditionally placed on cattle. For the Romans, the res publica or ‘public thing’ meant their ‘state, government,’ or what we now call a república/republic. The Latin adjective corresponding to res was realis, from which we have real, which means literally ‘having the quality of an actual thing.’ The fancy verb reificar/reify means ‘to treat an abstraction as if it is a real, i.e. physical, thing.’ Still in the realm of abstraction, the Latin phrase in re means ‘in the matter [of]’; that re is the source of the Re: that e-mail programs automatically place at the beginning of the subject line when we reply to someone’s message. And English uses rebus, the form of the Latin noun that means ‘by means of things,’ for ‘a type of riddle in which a phrase is represented by means of pictures and letters.’

©2010 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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