A few months ago in my other blog I showed a picture of a dragonfly whose scientific name is Libellula luctuosa. I explained that the second part of that name is a Latin adjective based on the noun luctus, which meant ‘sorrow, mourning, grief, affliction, distress, and lamentation, especially over the loss of something dear to one.’ Spanish speakers will recognize that Latin word as the predecessor of luto, which means the same thing. From luto Spanish has made the verb enlutar, which means literally ‘to go into mourning, to dress in mourning’ and ‘to cover with a veil.’ By extension the verb has taken on the figurative meaning ‘to cast a shadow over.’

While luto is a living Spanish word, the only directly related English borrowings I’ve been able to find that seem ever to have actually been used, however little, are the rare adjectives luctuous and luctual, which the Century Dictionary defined as ‘relating to or producing grief.’ Spanish likewise has the Latinate adjective luctuoso.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 30, 2012 @ 09:59:59

    I didn’t remember the reference to mourning garb until I went back to look at the dragonfly. When I read the definition of luctus there, and then again here, it finally clicked. My Latin is more than rusty, but Google Translate confirmed my suspicion about the connection between a dragonfly and the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which Matthew saw as the fulfillment of prophecy:

    “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

    “Vox in excelso audita est lamentationis fletus et luctus. Rachel plorans filios suos et nolentis consolari super filiis suis, quia non sunt “.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 30, 2012 @ 10:30:11

      It’s great that you remembered that connection, which I’d forgotten about. It’s especially good that you remembered it in Latin. (By the way, I find church Latin much easier to decipher than classical Latin because church Latin is closer to the Romance languages that classical Latin was turning, or had already turned, into.)


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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