Latin trans, which meant ‘across, over, beyond, on the farther side of,’ appears as a prefix in many words that Spanish and English have borrowed from Latin or created from Latin roots. Some examples are transmisión/transmission, transportar/transport, transición/transition, and transmutar/transmute.

Latin trans survives in Spanish as a freestanding word in the phonetically simplified form tras, which now has the senses ‘behind, after.’ The easier-to-pronounce tras also often appears in place of trans in compounds, so that alongside transportar Spanish has trasportar.

Sometimes Spanish allows only the phonetically simpler form: there is no *transpasar, only traspasar, whose meanings include ‘to go through, pass over, pierce, cross, transfer, go beyond, transgress.’ Those last two senses match English trespass, which entered the language from the Old French cognate trespasser. Someone who trespasses on a property ‘passes beyond’ the point allowed by the landowner. Curiously, where English has restricted the sense of the word to boundaries of land, modern French narrowed the meaning of its verb trépasser, which was left with only the metaphorical sense ‘to pass beyond the boundary of this life,’ i.e. ‘to die.’ The lesson from this is that we can’t predict whether, and if so how, a word will see its meaning narrowed or expanded. In the case of traspasar, Spanish didn’t narrow the verb’s meanings; French and English did, but in different ways. That said, English allows for the expansion of trespass from a physical dimension to a temporal one. For example, here’s how Henry Fielding concluded the third chapter of his 1749 novel Tom Jones: “But I must remember on what subject I am writing, and not trespass too far on the patience of a good-natured critic. Here, therefore, I put an end to the chapter.” And I shan’t (oh, British English!) trespass further on your time, dear readers, but end this entry here.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Just A Smidgen
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 17:08:46

    I have trespassed into your world here and love it:) I shall have to trespass further still…


  2. shoreacres
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 14:34:18

    And such a shame it is (though not a sin, I suppose) that the old language has disappeared: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

    I was rather surprised how quickly the words came to mind while reading your post – and amused to see you’d gotten there already.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 30, 2011 @ 15:03:25

      If it’s true that

      Birds of a feather
      Flock together,

      then perhaps it’s equally true that

      Persons of a certain age
      Have read from the same page.

      I’m all for preserving some of the old usages, like strove and throve as past tenses of strive and thrive.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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