I was recently reading an article in the July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic and noticed that it contained the word recidivism, the abstract noun associated with recidivist ‘a person who, after being released from prison, commits another crime.’ English took the word from French récidiviste, from the stem of the verb récidiver. That had come from Medieval Latin recidivare, based on Latin recidivus, an adjective that meant ‘falling back.’ So a recidivist is ‘a person who “falls back” into a life of crime.’

The connection to Spanish isn’t hard to see: Latin recidivus was derived from the verb recidere ‘to fall back.’ The basic Latin verb for ‘to fall’ was cadere, the ancestor of Spanish caer. Spanish recaer, however, is a modern compound not directly inherited from Latin recidere. Spanish doesn’t have *recidivista or *recidivismo, but it does have the noun recidiva, which is a medical term for ‘an illness that reoccurs in a person who got over (or seemed to get over) a first bout with the malady.’ Similarly, one meaning of Spanish recaer is ‘to suffer a new occurrence of an illness.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A falling out « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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