The last two posts have dealt with punto/point and other words based on Vulgar Latin *punctum, the past participle of pungere ‘to prick.’ The result of pricking an object is a puntura/puncture. Often that’s unintentional, but in the case of acupuntura/acupuncture it’s on purpose; practitioners believe that putting fine needles into certain points in the human body can ameliorate maladies. (The acu- in acupuntura/acupuncture is from Latin acus ‘needle,’ which has also given us agudo/acute and, from a diminutive, Spanish aguja). Not surprisingly, venipuntura/venipuncture is, in the definition of the online Collins English Dictionary, ‘the puncturing of a vein, esp[ecially] to take a sample of venous blood or inject a drug.’ Curiously, although some medical procedures involve puncturing an artery, there doesn’t seem to be a word *arteripuntura/*arteri[o]puncture.
From punto Spanish created the diminutive puntillo ‘a fine point.’ English renders that punctilio, a version of the Latinized punctiglio that Italian created from the Spanish word. A punctilio is ‘a fine—or petty—point of etiquette, conduct, or procedure.’ Someone who is puntilloso/punctilious ‘pays attention to all the fine points, to every little detail, of a subject or procedure.’
Late Latin compunctio, with stem compunction-, was created to mean ‘the “puncture” of conscience that a person feels after doing something wrong.’ We’ve carried that over as compunción/compunction, which can include anxiety, grief, shame, and guilt. Spanish has added, perhaps due to influence from the similar word compasión, the generalized sense ‘the feeling caused by other people’s suffering.’
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman