In the recent Halloween entry in my other blog I used the word reticulated to describe a portion of a leaf that had deteriorated to the point that only a net of fibers remained. Spanish speakers shouldn’t be surprised by that usage because their similar noun retículo is defined in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española as ‘Tejido en forma de red. Se toma generalmente por la estructura filamentosa de las plantas.’ Spanish retículo is a barely altered borrowing of reticulum, a Latin word that English has adopted outright to mean, in the words of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, ‘a netlike pattern or structure; network.’ In biology, it’s ‘any network or netlike structure, as the weblike structure found in the protoplasm of many cells.’
In the DRAE definition of retículo, note the appearance of red, the Spanish word for ‘net’ and also ‘network.’ That basic word evolved from Latin rete ‘net,’ of which reticulum was a diminutive. From reticulum Latin formed the adjective reticulatus ‘made like a net, net-like,’ from which English has made reticulate; as an adjective it means the same as Latin reticulatus, and as a verb reticulate means ‘to turn into a network’ and ‘to mark with a network of lines.’ Because reticulate can be a verb, the past participle reticulated means about the same as the one-letter-shorter adjective reticulate. An English speaker encountering Spanish reticular can be forgiven for thinking it’s a verb corresponding to the English verb reticulate, but reticular is actually an adjective* that is more or less a synonym of the English adjective reticulate. A bit confusing, isn’t it? Perhaps even more than it might seem, because English also uses the adjective reticular, which once again means about the same as the adjectives reticulate and reticulated.
* Just because Spanish reticular is an adjective doesn’t mean that some online verb conjugators won’t make up all the non-existent forms that reticular would have if only it were—contrary to reality—a verb.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman