Más sobre magis

The previous post pointed out that Spanish más and mas are both descended from Latin magis ‘more.’ Where Spanish has used más to form demás and además, the Romans used magis as the base of magister, which, with its -ter ending, was actually a double comparative that meant ‘chief, head, superior, director, president, leader, commander, conductor.’ From it we have magistrado/magistrate, magisterio/magisterial, and most directly of all maestro/master, with the English form coming from Old French.

As Spanish más and mas are just two developments of a single word, English master has a doublet at well: it’s Mister, which has become a rather mild title of respect even for a man who, unlike a magistrate, has no authority over us; the word is often abbreviated to Mr. The feminine mistress is ambiguous because it can mean ‘woman in charge,’ as in the mistress of a household, or ‘the woman who commands a man’s affections or desires in an illicit relationship.’ It is the first of those senses that, as a title of respect, applies to the doublet missis or missus, usually written Mrs., and to the shortened miss. Egalitarians prefer Ms.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TBM
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 09:43:34

    I’m always amazed by all the info you know.

    Reply

  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 13:12:27

    Thanks, but I couldn’t write these articles without some excellent dictionaries and other language books.

    Reply

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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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