Espeso, the Spanish word for ‘thick,’ comes from the synonymous Latin adjective spissus. I was surprised recently to find that English had transformed the Latin word to spiss, which once meant ‘thick, crowded, compact, dense,’ but the word has become obsolete. Here’s an example of usage from the periodical Philosophical Transactions on October 10, 1670:

It is true, that to supply in some sort this defect, they have a little Chrystalline in the middle of the great one, and this little Chrystalline being of a more spiss consistence then [sic] the great one, its refraction is also more strong, and makes the rayes, which come from one point in the Axis and pass near the Center of the Chrystalline to refract more then [sic] it there had been but one Chrystalline.

Another borrowing based on Latin spissus, though not common, has remained in English: it’s the verb inspissate, which means ‘to thicken,’ both transitively and intransitively. The corresponding Spanish verb is espesar, whose senses include ‘to thicken, condense, coagulate, mass.’ In addition, Spanish has the noun espesar, which the DRAE defines as ‘Parte de monte más poblada de matas o árboles que las demás.’ English would call that a thicket.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    May 05, 2014 @ 20:27:15

    To my knowledge, I’ve never heard or read the word “inspissate.” I went looking for some examples, and found these two great sentences from Dr. Johnson’s dictionary.

    ” Sugar doth inspissate the spirits of the wine, and maketh them not so easy to resolve into vapour.” Bacon’s Nat. Hist.

    “This oil farther inspissated by evaporation, turns by degrees into balm.” Arbuthnot on Aliments.

    It does seem more used today in chemistry labs than in kitchens.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 05, 2014 @ 22:55:23

      I don’t think I’ve ever run across the word inspissate either. Thanks for those good examples and also for your alliterative phrase “more… in chemistry labs than in kitchens.”


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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