My friend Don Levesque e-mailed me recently to say he’d found out that the English verb concatenate exists in Spanish, too, where it takes the expected form concatenar. Daniel Webster defined the English version in 1828 as: ‘To link together; to unite in a successive series or chain, as things depending on each other.’ The current Spanish definition given in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española is similar: ‘Unir o enlazar unas cosas con otras.’

Both versions are borrowings of the similar Latin verb concatenare, a compound based on con- ‘together’ and catena ‘chain,’ which Spanish speakers have no trouble recognizing in their little-changed descendant cadena. The phonetics changed more in Old French, where Latin catena had evolved to chaine, the source of the English cognate. English chain serves not only as a noun but also as a verb, for which Spanish has encadenar. For the antonym, English has unchain, with a single prefix, while Spanish uses two in desencadenar. (But languages are frequently inconsistent: notice that in disenchant English has the same two prefixes that Spanish does in desencantar.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 13:30:25

    Good one, Steve. I had not made the connection between concatenate and cadena.


  2. shoreacres
    Aug 30, 2012 @ 07:11:10

    When you posted this, I read the word as “concantenation. I was surprised to discover this was a different word. Then, I was doubly surprised to find it’s not a word at all. Finally, last night, I had the time to do some poking around. Sure enough – my word doesn’t exist.

    I’ve been happily using it for years. I know what it means – to sing together – and etymologically, of course, it involves the prefix “con” and “cantare”. Except it does’t. I have no idea where it came from. It may have been a misspelling I added a meaning to, or I may simply have read “concatenation” wrongly in the deep, dim past.

    In any event, it’s nice to learn “concatenar”. I’ve got room for it now that I’ve tossed out “concantenate”. I do wish I could stop hearing the song “Unchain My Heart” playing in my head, though.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 30, 2012 @ 07:37:28

      The book Nadja, by André Breton, was the first I ever encountered that talked about the way we sometimes misread a word or phrase. I remember an example from my childhood when I confused the words county and country.

      Because people often sing together, it’s surprising that we don’t have a word like conchant or concant or your concantenate. I see that the lack isn’t even new: my Oxford Latin Dictionary has no verb *concantare. Strange. You’ll have to get some friends together and concantenate “Unchain My Heart.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
%d bloggers like this: