Three posts back we learned 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.’ The post following that one showed the close etymological connection to Spanish fuera ‘out, outside.’ Next we saw the connection to Spanish forastero and English forest and foreign.
Now it is English’s turn. To make that connection we have to go farther back than Latin, and we recall that Latin descended from what linguists conventionally call Indo-European. One quirk in that descent to Latin is that an original Indo-European dh- typically became a Latin f-, so we can trace forum back to the Indo-European root *dhwer- that meant ‘door[way].’ And now forward into English, where that Indo-European root led ultimately to door. The English word preserves the original meaning of a door as a physical object, but it also retains something of the ‘way’ sense, as when English says metaphorically that a training program is a door to a new career. Note that English outdoors is similar to Spanish afuera, in both of which a preposition has been prefixed to the shared root.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman