Two recent posts have dealt with offshoots of the Latin root spec- ‘to look at.’ One was about auspicious and the other about the double doublets species and spice (in English) and especie and especia (in Spanish). As mentioned in that last post, the Latin noun speciēs had many meanings: ‘a seeing, sight, look, view; the outward appearance, outside, exterior; shape, form, figure; a seeming, semblance, pretense, cloak, color, pretext; a likeness, image; a particular sort, kind, or quality, a species.’ Based on that noun, Latin created the adjective specilis, whose original meaning was ‘having to do with a certain species of thing,’ therefore ‘not general’ but rather ‘individual, particular.’ We might also say, using a related word, ‘específico/specific.’ While específico/specific has retained the senses ‘individual, particular,’ the meaning of special drifted to ‘different from others’ and now primarily ‘different in a good way, uncommonly good, exceptional.’ Spanish especial, as defined in the DRAE, shows a similar spread of meanings:
1. adj. Singular o particular, que se diferencia de lo común o general.
2. adj. Muy adecuado o propio para algún efecto.
3. adj. Que está destinado a un fin concreto y esporádico.
From especial/special we have the noun especialidad/specialty, and from específico/specific the verb especificar/specify and the noun especificación/specification.
In addition to special, English has the alternate form especial, taken from Old French (which, like Spanish, added an epenthetic e- in front of the initial clusters sp-, st-, and sc-). This alternate form is especially common in the derived adverb especially.
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman