An English learner of Spanish might come across salto, treat it as a false friend, and translate it as ‘salt,’ but of course the noun salto means ‘a leap, a jump,’ just as saltar means ‘to leap, to jump.’ The Spanish verb developed from the synonymous Latin saltāre, a frequentative form based on saltus, the past participle of the verb salīre, the meaning of whose Spanish descendant salir has jumped to ‘to go out.’
The Latin noun saltātiō, with stem saltātiōn-, meant the kind of jumping around that we call ‘dancing,’ and that is one meaning of saltación, the form in which Spanish has borrowed the Latin word. The DRAE gives another sense as ‘Arte de saltar.‘ English has also turned to the Latin original, carrying it over as saltation. The American Heritage Dictionary gives three meanings:
1. The act of leaping, jumping, or dancing.
2. Discontinuous movement, transition, or development; advancement by leaps.
3. Genetics A single mutation that drastically alters the phenotype.
Geologists have also appropriated the word. According to a Wikipedia article
, it “is a specific type of particle transport by fluids such as wind or water. It occurs when loose material is removed from a bed and carried by the fluid, before being transported back to the surface. Examples include pebble transport by rivers, sand drift over desert surfaces, soil blowing over fields, or even snow drift over smooth surfaces such as those in the Arctic or Canadian Prairies.” For more on saltation
, specifically as it applies to sand dunes, you can read a paragraph from the Great Sand Dunes website
. And if you’d like to see a couple of examples of saltation, you can check out two recent posts on my other blog:
© 2014 Steven Schwartzman