The Return of the Native

If Spanish Navidad ‘Christmas’ came from natividad ‘birth,’ and natividad from Latin natus ‘born,’ there was an intervening step: from natus Latin created the adjective nativus, which meant ‘that has arisen from or by birth.’ We’ve carried that adjective over, of course, as nativo/native. In English that has given birth to the noun nativism, which the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defined as ‘the disposition to favor the native inhabitants of a country, in preference to immigrants from foreign countries.’ The word, whose Spanish equivalent is nativismo, also has a philosophical definition: ‘the doctrine of innate ideas, or that the mind possesses forms of thought independent of sensation.’ The corresponding adjective is nativista/nativist.

In French, Latin nativus evolved to naïf, which English has borrowed as a doublet alongside native. Here’s how The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia defined naïf: “Ingenuous; artless; natural [which is another relative]: the masculine form, naïve being the corresponding feminine, but used also, in English, without regard to gender….’ In that dictionary’s separate entry for naïve we find: ‘Simple; unsophisticated; ingenuous; artless.’ The usage example the dictionary gave came from Frederick Marryatt’s strangely named 1837 novel Snarleyyow, or the Dog Fiend: “Little Lilly . . . would listen to his conversation and remarks, which were almost as naïve and unsophisticated as her own.”

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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