Hardly a common word, tizón means ‘a burning piece of wood, a firebrand.’ The Latin original, titio, with stem tition-, was limited to that sense, but Spanish has extended the meaning; by analogy with the charred remains left by a burning piece of wood, tizón can now also be ‘a stain on someone’s reputation.’ And by a more literal analogy, tizón has the botanical sense ‘smut,’ which is to say ‘any of various types of fungus, particularly those that infest cereal grasses.’

Corresponding to tizón is the verb tizonear (formerly tizonar), meaning ‘to stir up a fire; to arrange wood or coals for lighting a fire.’ The older tizonar generated a variant, tiznar, that is still in use. The online sensagent dictionary gives surprisingly many English translations: ‘to blacken, smudge, foul, smirch, dirty, soil, begrime, grime, colly, bemire, dirt, melanize, melanise, nigrify, black, smear, blur, smutch.’ The corresponding noun is tizna ‘dirt, filth, grime, soil, stain, grease, grunge.’

Spanish also has the verb atizar; with respect to a fire it means literally ‘to stoke, stir up,’ while figuratively it has the sense ‘to stir up passions or emotions.’

The connection of all those Spanish words to English is conjectural but enticing. Vulgar Latin would have used titio to create the verb *intitiare, meaning ‘to set on fire.’ That would have evolved to Old French enticier, whose meaning was figurative, ‘to instigate.’ Middle English borrowed the Old French verb as enticen (yes, Middle English verbs still had their infinitive ending, but not for much longer), and that has become modern English entice.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgettesullins
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 06:48:40

    …Tizón or Tizona was the name of El Cid’s sword.


  2. shoreacres
    Sep 04, 2013 @ 07:22:08

    There are a lot of interesting words here. Before the arrival of grunge bands, “grungy” used to be common as a descriptor for folks who’d put in a day at dirty work. It’s interesting to see “melanise” and “nigrify”, too. I’ve always known “melanin” and “nigra”, but these forms are new.

    Titio made me wonder if the familiar name of Tiziano Vecellio – Titian – might be rooted there. Most of the sources I found say no, that the Italian form of the Roman Titianus was derived from the Roman Titus.

    Still, the color known as titian is that lovely reddish-gold – a color that sometimes does have the appearance of having been set on fire.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Sep 04, 2013 @ 11:36:21

      Some of those forms were new to me, too, though all are understandable.

      As for Titianus, an authoritative book I checked makes it a derivative of Titus, as you mentioned. You’re still free to fantasize a fiery connection to Titian and to a color named after him, which I’ll confess I also wasn’t familiar with.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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