A couple of months ago I concluded the post about advectitious with the word adjetivo/adjective, so I though I’d look at that word this time. It comes from Late Latin adiectivus, based on Latin adiectus, the past participle of adi(i)cere. That was a compound of ad ‘to,’ the predecessor of Spanish a, and the verb iacere ‘to throw,’ from whose past participle iactus ultimately came the synonymous Spanish verb echar. As a result, Latin adi(i)cere meant literally ‘to throw at, to throw towards.’ Extended meanings included ‘to attach’ and ‘to add on,’ so that an adjetivo/adjective was conceived as a word that got ‘added on to’ a noun to provide some important or relevant characteristic of that noun.

Mathematics tells us—as if common sense didn’t already tell us—that addition is commutative: 2 + 5 = 5 + 2. Applying that principle to language, we see that there’s no inherent reason to prefer adding an adjective to the left side of a noun rather than the right side, but the Romance languages (of which Spanish is one) usually now put an adjective to the right of a noun, and the Germanic languages (of which English is one) usually to the left of a noun.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TBM
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 02:43:57

    Thanks! I didn’t know that Germanic languages put them on the left. I learned something today. Can I go back to bed now 🙂


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 05:39:12

    Happy bedtime!


  3. lexiekahn
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 23:09:26

    Oops! I forgot to inject “adjective” in my discussion of “-ject” words:
    Should I feel dejected?


  4. Steve Schwartzman
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 06:40:42

    The omission may have put you in a state of abject misery, but I won’t reject you.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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