On the morning of January 26 I awoke and remembered a dream I’d been having: in it, a little girl used the word propinquity, and my dream self was impressed that someone so young would know such a fancy word. (Well, that’s the sort of dream you’d expect from someone who writes about words, right?) Spanish has the similar propincuidad, but that language does English one better by also having the one-syllable-shorter propincuo, an adjective that means ‘close’ and that was taken from the synonymous Latin propinquus. Even in Latin that adjective might have been a bit on the fancy side, especially when the simpler adverb prope ‘near’ already existed. And if we keep whittling off endings, we find ourselves at the Latin pro that meant ‘for, forward, in front of,’ and is the cognate of native English for. The underlying Indo-European root is the highly prolific *per-, which had the same senses as Latin pro. Running forward in time, the trail in Spanish is Indo-European *per- > Latin prope > Latin  propinquus > Spanish propincuo. As for the word that started this post, propincuidad/propinquity, it comes straight from propinquitas, the noun that the Romans based on propinquus.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 09:31:43

    One thing your blog does so well is highlight words and phrases that are commonly used, but in an almost intuitive way.

    “Pro” is a perfect example. Phrases like pro bono, pro forma, pro tem(pore) and such are familiar enough that folks outside the fields where they’re working vocabulary often have a fairly accurate but still vague sense of their precise meaning. Asked for a definition, others sometimes end up being so close, and yet so far!


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 10:21:30

    Thanks, Linda. And I like your conclusion-in-kind: “so close, and yet so far!”


  3. kathryningrid
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 21:30:27

    A pro-found journey!


  4. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 22:39:28

    And an a-pro-pos comment!


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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