The last post mentioned that English Easter and east developed from the Indo-European root *aus- ‘to shine,’ so that in etymological terms east is the direction from which the sun shines forth at dawn. The Spanish word for ‘dawn’ is aurora, which was the same in Latin; that was no coincidence, because Old Spanish borrowed aurora directly from Latin in the first part of the 1200s. In Old Latin the first r in aurora had been an s, and the initial *aus- of the old form shows that the word was another descendant of the Indo-European root that gave rise to English east and Easter.

Not only did Latin aurora mean ‘dawn,’ but in Roman mythology Aurora was a goddess of the dawn, just as the etymologically related Germanic Eastre was. English uses Aurora as the historical name of the Roman goddess, and parents in our own time have occasionally given the name Aurora to a newborn girl who, though perhaps destined to be no goddess, nevertheless brought light into their lives. The 19th-century French writer who used the pseudonym George Sand had been born Armandine-Aurore-Lucille Dudevant Dupin, and she went by the name Aurore, the French cognate of Aurora.

In the guise of a town or city, an Aurora enlightens—we hope—the American states of Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah. There’s an Aurora in the Canadian province of Ontario, too. And apropos that cold country that shares such a long border with the United States yet has such a short share of daylight during its winter months, Spanish and English use the lower-case aurora to mean ‘a certain type of luminous atmospheric phenomenon,’ as in the aurora borealis of the northern polar regions and the aurora australis of their southern counterpart.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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  1. Trackback: eos « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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