In a post on my other blog today I showed a picture of a butterfly with the scientific name Chioides catillus. People in the United States call it a white-striped longtail, both of which characteristics the photograph in that other post clearly reveals. When I did a little research on the butterfly, which I don’t think I’d ever seen till this spring, I learned that Central Texas, where I am, is in the northern fringe of the butterfly’s territory. More surprising to me was that the butterfly ranges all the way south to Argentina. That got me wondering about the Spanish name for the species, so I did some searching and found a site from Argentina that refers to it as coludo chaqeuño, whose second word is a reference to el Gran Chaco, a region that includes parts of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. In a Mexican book I found the butterfly called coluda catillus, a combination of a common name and a scientific name. What the Argentinian and Mexican names share is coludo ‘having a tail, tailed,’ the adjective formed from cola ‘tail.’ (The feminine coluda in the Mexican book agrees with the implied noun mariposa ‘butterfly,’ but I don’t know what masculine noun the Argentinian coludo implicitly refers to.)

Spanish cola—and this where entomology leaves off and etymology begins—developed from the synonymous Latin cauda, later coda, with a change from d to l along the way. (That consonant transformation isn’t unusual, and a good Spanish example in the opposite direction is dejar, which started out as Latin laxare). From the New Latin adjective corresponding to cauda, caudalis, Spanish and English have caudal ‘forming or relating to a tail.’

Latin coda passed unchanged into Italian, where musicians began to use the term metaphorically to designate ‘the “tail end,” i.e. final section, of a piece of music.’ Spanish and English have borrowed Italian coda in that sense. Along another line of development, Latin coda evolved to Old French cue, which lives on in English as a name for ‘the stick used to hit a ball in billiards and pool.’ Such a stick must have reminded people of a long, straight, slender tail. Old French cue developed to modern French queue, which still has the literal meaning ‘tail.’ In the 1700s English began using French queue to mean ‘a pony tail.’ In the 1800s, and even farther removed metaphorically, English queue came to refer to ‘a “tail,”, i.e. line, of people waiting for something.’

Where English has borrowed heavily from French, Spanish has occasionally borrowed from Catalan. One example is capicúa, which contains another descendant of Latin coda. As a coda to today’s post, you can queue up to read more details about that word in a post from the early days of this blog.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Apr 28, 2013 @ 11:55:54

    My first introduction to “caudal” was in medicine, specifically the use of a caudal block as anesthesia.

    I was surprised to hear of el Gran Chaco. One of my favorite places in the American Southwest is Chaco Canyon . I went looking and found this page with some possible explanations for Chaco Canyon’s name.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 28, 2013 @ 20:57:30

      I similarly knew the word caudal from its anatomical usage.

      As for chaco, the South American word appears to be from Quechua, an indigenous language. The chaco of Chaco Canyon, as the article you linked to points out, is of uncertain origin. Sometimes the Spaniards adopted a word from a native language in one region and began using the borrowed word elsewhere; other times they borrowed differently in different regions. For example, in North America the Spanish word for avocado is aguacate, which comes from Aztec, but in large parts of South America the word is palta, which is of Quechuan origin.


  2. kathryningrid
    May 14, 2013 @ 13:40:22

    What a surprising chain of linguistic connectivity.


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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
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