Eyeing some other descendants of Latin rete

After the previous entry about Latin reticulum, Spanish retículo, English reticulate, and related words, Teleri commented that the post reminded her “of the old-fashioned word (which I remember from Jane Austen novels) ‘reticule’ – a small bag, presumably netted or reticulate.” A good observation. I’ll follow up on that and say that in addition to reticule, English has the one-letter-shorter reticle, a technical term that means ‘a system of wires or lines in the focus of a telescope or other instrument’; that also happens to be one of the meanings of the Spanish noun retículo, which exists in the feminine version retícula as well. To add to this profusion of confusing words, reticle has also been spelled reticule. Although that last fact may not by itself seem ridiculous, an English speaker (or a Spanish speaker, for that matter) might well find it strange that the Spanish version of the ‘netted purse’ word is ridículo, which coincidentally but unrelatedly means ‘ridiculous.’

The first word in the title of today’s post is my entrée to another derivative of rete, the basic Latin word for ‘net.’ From that noun, scholars in the Middle Ages created retina as a name for ‘the membrane comprising the rear, inner surface of the eyeball,’ because of the network of blood vessels found there. Retina is one of those words that have the identical spelling and meaning in Spanish and English, but the two languages diverge when it comes to the adjective that corresponds to retina: Spanish has retiniano, while English has retinal. One last bit of confusion: English retinal is another name for retineno/retinene, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as ‘Either of two yellow to red retinal pigments, formed by oxidation of vitamin A alcohols.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Just A Smidgen
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 14:39:05

    Wow, it’s so cool how language evolves and yet remains the same over time. I love your blog:)


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 14:57:09

    Gracias and thank you. I’ve been fascinated for decades by the ways words change. I’m glad you are too.



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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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