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