I was playing around the other day with the French word étoilé ‘starry’ and noticed that by swapping the middle two letters I could make étiolé, which means the same as English etiolated. That’s hardly a common word, so here’s the definition of the verb etiolate that appeared in the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary: ‘to become white or whiter; to be whitened or blanched by excluding the light of the sun, as, plants.’ By extension, medical rather than botanical English uses the verb to mean ‘to become pale through disease or absence of light.’

Etiolate is one of those words that English took from French following a development in that language that Spanish didn’t share. French étioler was based on Norman French étieuler ‘to grow into a stalk,’ from Old French esteule ‘stalk,’ from Vulgar Latin *stupula, an alteration of Latin stipula. That’s a word that Spanish did borrow, and the Diccionario Real de la Academia Española tells us that an estípula is an ‘apéndice foliáceo colocado en los lados del pecíolo o en el ángulo que este forma con el tallo.’ The Webster’s definition of the equivalent English stipule is ‘an appendage at the base of petioles or leaves, usually somewhat resembling a small leaf in texture and appearance.’ The botanical English adjective stipulate—as opposed to the apparently unrelated verb estipular/stipulate—means ‘possessing stipules.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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