(in)eluctable

Earlier this year I watched a British television show that dealt with Moorish architecture in Spain. When the show’s narrator talked about the religious symbolism of numbers in Islamic art, he said: “The seven and the four lead ineluctably to the One.” Arithmetic and mysticism aside, my attention was caught by the word ineluctably, the adverbial form of ineluctable, which Spanish and English share. The word is the negative of eluctable, which has three parts: e + luct + able. The last of those is the familiar adjectival ending that means ‘able [to be], capable of [being],’ and the initial e is the simplified version of Latin ex ‘out of.’ At the center is the root of Latin luctari ‘to wrestle,’ so when something is eluctable you can wrestle your way out of it, so to speak. As sometimes happens with positive and negative versions of a word, people use the negative ineluctable more frequently than the positive eluctable, at least in English.

Spanish speakers who learn that Latin luctari meant ‘to wrestle’ will come to the ineluctable conclusion that the Latin verb is the source of their own luchar. The Spanish verb can mean, like its Latin ancestor, ‘to wrestle,’ but also more generally ‘to struggle, strive, contend, fight.’ The noun lucha retains the original sense of ‘wrestling’ and also has the extended meanings ‘struggle, fight, combat.’ As a noun, a luchador is ‘a fighter, a wrestler,’ and as an adjective luchador means ‘capable of fighting or likely to fight for something.’

I’m reluctant to end this post without pointing out that our adjective reluctante/reluctant comes from another compound of Latin luctari, reluctari, which meant ‘to fight back against.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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