Spanish foro is the little-changed version of a Latin word that English preserves in its original form: forum. Most people would probably be surprised to see that the first definition of forum in Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary is ‘what is out of doors, an outside space or place; in partic[ular], as opp[osed to] the house, a public place, a market-place, market.’ That dictionary goes on to mention some specific fora (the plural of forum). The forum boarium (think Spanish buey and English bovine) was ‘a cattle market.’ The forum olitorium was ‘a vegetable market,’ and the dictionary adds that it probably included the forum coquinum (think Spanish cocer and English cook), “in which professional cooks offered their services in preparing special entertainments.” The forum piscarium (think Spanish pez) was ‘a fish market.’ The forum cuppedinis (think Spanish codicia and English covet) was ‘a market for delicacies.’

But enough of comestibles. A Latin Dictionary finally gets to the definition of forum that interests us: ‘the principal place of meeting, where public affairs were discussed, courts of justice held, money transactions carried on.’ Because of that, we now use foro/forum for ‘any sort of tribunal or place for discussion,’ and in recent years the term has even been extended to Internet discussion groups. Corresponding to forum was the Latin adjective forensis, which meant ‘having to do with a market or forum,’ and therefore ‘public.’ In particular, because of the legal function of the Roman forum, we now use forense/forensic in the sense ‘involving courts, debate, and public discussion.’ Many court cases deal with crimes, so forensic has added the sense ‘using scientific methods to solve crimes.’ In Spanish, a médico forense is ‘a doctor who evaluates medical evidence gathered in connection with a crime.’ English refers to the corresponding abstract noun as forensic medicine.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. scribbla
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 01:05:13

    Most interesting, yet again.


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 07:30:44

    I’m glad you’re enjoying this forum on Spanish and English. I think of it as one door to enter the world of etymology.


  3. Trackback: fuera « Spanish-English Word Connections
  4. Trackback: A doorway to English « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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