This morning I came across the unfamiliar—to me, at least—Spanish word desavenencia. Spanish des- usually corresponds to English dis-, which in Latin conveyed the notion ‘separated from,’ as in distancia/distance. By extension, des-/dis- can mean ‘the opposite of,’ as in desaparecer/disappear. So desavenencia is the opposite of or the lack of avenencia, but what is that? Although Spanish -encia often corresponds to English -ence or –ency, there’s no English word *avenience or *aveniency to offer a clue. Words with -ven- can have to do with coming, like the basic Spanish verb venir and an English compound like convene ‘to come together,’ but English doesn’t have an *avene.

It turns out that the -ven- in avenencia is indeed from the verb for ‘to come.’ The prefix a- has its usual meaning ‘to,’ and Spanish avenir means ‘to come to [an agreement], to be in accord with, to reconcile.’ The noun avenencia is therefore ‘harmony, agreement, concord.’ It appears in the rhyming Spanish proverb

Más vale mala avenencia
Que buena sentencia,

which my worn but treasured copy of the 1857 book A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs translates as “A bad compromise is better than a successful [law]suit.” But not everyone is willing to compromise, and those who stick to their principles may end up with desavenencia, which is to say ‘disagreement, discord, friction, tension, quarreling.’

Henry G. Bohn, the compiler of A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs, writing about the translations of those foreign proverbs into English, said in his preface: “I have, however, been very forbearing towards some pleasant bits of doggerel and alliteration found in early volumes, and have occasionally indulged in similar playfulness of my own. One so deeply immersed in Proverb-lore may, perhaps, be forgiven for having imbibed such a tendency.”

And I, who have imbibed my share of etymology-lore, may perhaps be forgiven for this questioning bit of doggerel:

Would it be too much of an inconvenience
For English to adopt the word disavenience?

© 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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