va

A perceptive follower of Spanish-English Word Connections who read yesterday’s posting about vaivén may have wondered if the word’s first element, the va that means ‘goes,’ has any connection to English. Before I answer that, let me point out something that is obvious to people who are first learning Spanish as a foreign language: the present-tense v- forms of the Spanish verb don’t match the infinitive ir. This is a case of what linguists call suppletion, in which certain forms of one verb get replaced by the corresponding forms of another. Coincidentally, the unrelated English go is also suppletive: young children learning to speak English as a native language occasionally say things like “He goed away,” but the rest of us say “He went away.”

So what is the other verb that gave Spanish ir its v- forms? It no longer exists by itself in Spanish, but its Latin ancestor was vadere ‘to go, walk, proceed rapidly, rush.’ Curiously, the Romans used vadere almost exclusively in the present tense, and that’s the tense of ir whose historical forms were ousted by what are now voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, and van.

The fourth of those provides a connection to English. As early as the 1830s, English converted vamos, used as an imperative meaning ‘let’s go,’ into the colloquial vamoose. Although Americans may think of vamoose in connection with the Southwest, where English speakers often mingled with Spanish speakers, the word was in use in European as well as American English. For example, in 1860 Dublin University Magazine featured an unsigned story called “The Wooing and the Winning of Amy O’Neill, which included the line: “…and now you’ve done the utmost mischief you can, just please to vamoose!” The author must have felt that some readers wouldn’t be familiar with the word, because the next sentence offered an explanation: “But the young lady evidently meant to do anything rather than ‘vamoose,’ or vanish….”

And on that happy note, I’ll be vamoosing for today—but not before pointing out that at Dictionarist you can see how to conjugate the verb and how to translate vamoose into thirteen languages. Though vamoose came into English from Spanish, the Spanish translations that are offered include no form of ir: ‘dejar de repente; salir al trote; poner pies en polvorosa.’

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bythefirelight
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 18:55:14

    Have you seen Google’s new word graphing tool? You can do Spanish and English. I wonder how some of your words would map.

    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/finding-needles-in-googles-500-billion-word-haystack/?partner=rss&emc=rss

    Reply

  2. wordconnections
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 19:44:19

    Thanks. I read about it for the first time yesterday but haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: evadir « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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