Today I attended some sessions of the Texas Book Festival, which is held around this time each year at the Capitol in Austin. Spanish and English share the word festival, which has one more suffix than the adjective festivo/festive, which has one more suffix than the synonymous Latin festus it was based on.
Unlike Spanish, Latin had three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The neuter plural of festus was festa, but because that ended in -a, Vulgar Latin mistook it for a feminine singular and began using festa as a feminine noun. That has evolved to Spanish fiesta and, through Old French, to English feast. Since the mid-1800s English has also been using the Spanish form. In addition, for a century before that, English had been using (and still uses) fete, borrowed from the modern French cognate. As a result, English feast, fiesta and fete form a set of etymological triplets, the first to appear in this column. We should hold a feast, fiesta and fete to honor the triplets, just as the birth of human triplets would be feted by their festive parents.
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman