The last post talked about lentejas de agua ‘duckweed,’ but without tracing the origin of the obviously related Spanish lenteja and English lentil. The Spanish form goes back to Late Latin lenticula, a diminutive of lent-, the stem of the Latin noun for this legume. Late Latin lenticula evolved to French lentille, the source of English lentil.

The Spanish description of ‘water lentil’ for the diminutive duckweed is a good one, even if English doesn’t follow it, but English has borrowed another lentil-based metaphor shared by many European languages. During the Renaissance, optical scientists turned to lens, the nominative form of the Latin word for ‘lentil,’ when they needed a name for what English has since then called a lens. Early biconvex lenses did have the shape, if not the tiny size, of lentils. For its counterpart, lente, Spanish opted for a form based on the stem of the Latin word. Spanish and English both use a word coined from the Late Latin diminutive lenticula: lenticular is an adjective that means ‘having to do with or shaped like a lens.’ Spanish also uses lenticular as an anatomical term to designate ‘a knob at the tip of the incus bone in the ear of mammals.’ English calls that the lenticular process (where process retains its original sense of ‘something that comes forward’).

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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  1. Trackback: yunque « Spanish-English Word Connections

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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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