Except for the en- at the beginning of enhance, the English verb doesn’t bring to mind any obvious connection to Spanish, but that’s largely because the h and the second n in enhance are accretions that obscure the word’s origins. It had come into Middle English as enhauncen (note the infinitive ending that English verbs still had), from Anglo-Norman enhauncer, a nasalized variant of Old French enhaucier. That, along with its non-original h, had developed from Vulgar Latin *inaltire, from Late Latin inaltre. At that stage the word was still transparent, its three parts being 1) Latin in-, serving as a causative prefix  2) the root of Latin altus ‘high,’ which has become Spanish alto  3) an infinitive ending. Originally, then, the sense of enhance was ‘to make higher, to raise,’ but because movement upward suggests progress and betterment, enhance came to mean ‘to improve, augment, make more attractive.’

In another connection to Spanish, notice that if we remove the prefix from Vulgar Latin *inaltire we have *altire, which evolved to the Spanish verb alzar ‘to raise.’

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    May 17, 2014 @ 17:02:13

    You’ve raised my understanding of another word. Thanks.


  2. shoreacres
    May 18, 2014 @ 09:44:13

    It’s interesting that alto finds a place in one of the largest areas of the world — the altiplano, or Andean high plain — and Port Alto, Texas, where the latest listed population is 45. I’ve not been to the altiplano,, but I’ve been to Port Alto, and can report that the little community there is at least a couple of feet higher than the bay.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 18, 2014 @ 09:49:38

      Sounds like Port Alto is enhancing, via its name, what few advantages it has. Here’s what I found out about it from the New Handbook of Texas, which you seem to have checked too: “Port Alto, on the west shore of Carancahua Bay in northeastern Calhoun County, was known as Persimmon Point before its subdivision in 1939. Throughout its early history the community reported about ten permanent residents and one store. Vacationers and retirees increased the summer population to 205 in 1961, but the settlement was destroyed in September of that year by Hurricane Carla (see HURRICANES). The community was rebuilt by 1966, and the summer population numbered 185 that year. In 1970 the Port Alto telephone exchange had 170 listings, indicating a probable increase in total population, both permanent and seasonal. In the 1970s Port Alto had a row of dwellings along the beachfront. Port Alto was still listed as a community in 1990. In 2000 the population was forty-five.”


  3. Maria F.
    May 18, 2014 @ 14:19:30

    I see now “enhance” is quite different from “realzar”. “Realzar” is more related to “altiāre”


  4. Steve Schwartzman
    May 18, 2014 @ 17:02:09

    Yes, the meaning of enhance has shifted from its original sense, but etymologically both it and realzar are descendents of *altiāre.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

%d bloggers like this: