light-writing

Those who know me or have seen the other blog I recently started know that I often engage in light-writing (and English can make the play-on-words contrast with light writing, which is to say writing of a type that is humorous or not of much substance). And those who have done some etymologizing may guess that by light-writing I mean photography, a term made up in 1839 by the English scientist Sir John Herschel, based on Greek phot- ‘light’ and graphe ‘writing.’ Many other languages quickly borrowed the English word, with Spanish rendering it fotografía. But Spanish fotografía also has a closely related sense that English differentiates with photograph, a term that Herschel also used in 1839. The word for ‘an individual representation created by using photography’ frequently comes in Spanish with an indefinite article, una fotografía, often shortened to una foto (making foto one of those uncommon Spanish words ending in -o that are feminine). English speakers learning Spanish may be tempted to think that fotógrafo means ‘photograph,’ when in fact it means ‘a person who creates a photograph,’ for which English says photographer. Corresponding to the abstract noun fotografía/photography is the adjective fotográfico/photographic.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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