contra

Linguistics, like mathematics and music, deals with patterns. Look at this ancient pattern:

From in ‘in,’ Latin created intra, which meant ‘on the inside, within, within the limits of.’

From ex ‘out, out of,’ Latin created extra, which meant ‘on the outside’ and by extension also ‘except, besides,’ and ‘additional.’

Some would argue that two instances are hardly enough to infer a pattern. Can we include contra, which in Spanish, like Latin, means ‘against’? Is contra really based on con? That would be strange, because Spanish con means ‘with,’ which runs counter to the meaning of contra. But strange things do happen, and Latin did indeed make contra from com, the Old Latin predecessor of the Latin cum that evolved to Spanish con.

English makes clear that the semantics aren’t as contrary as might first seem to be the case. Suppose there are two people, X and Y, whom you don’t know. If I tell you that X fought with Y but give you no further details, you can’t know if X and Y, like fellow soldiers in an army company, fought together in a common cause, or if X and Y had a falling out and turned against each other. For most of history, in order for one person to fight against another, the two had to come together with each other to engage in combat.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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  1. Trackback: contralateral « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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