After preparing the last post I happened to visit Anne Jutras’s French-language blog and came across a post that began with this sentence: “Quand j’étais petite, j’étais obnubilée par les couchers de soleil.” That translates to: “When I was little, I was X by sunsets,” where I’ve substituted X for the feminine past participle obnubilée. I wasn’t sure what the verb obnubiler meant, so I looked it up and found its French meanings include ‘to obscure, obstruct, obsess, hypnotize,’ the last two of which make sense for X. From the first meaning, ‘to obscure,’ I could tell that the verb was based on the Latin word for ‘cloud,’ nūbēs, which we saw last time is the ancestor of Spanish nube. The etymological sense of French obnubiler is therefore ‘to becloud.’

But this is a blog about English and Spanish, so the next thing I did was check to see if the Latinate French verb has the expected English counterpart obnubilate, and sure enough it does. The Oxford Dictionaries give this definition: ‘Darken, dim, or cover with or as if with a cloud; obscure.‘ Finally I checked the DRAE and found obnubilar similarly defined. Notice that English obnubilate and Spanish obnubilar have not taken on the extended ‘obsess, hypnotize‘ senses of the French cognate that led me to the word in the first place.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria F.
    Jul 28, 2014 @ 22:13:34

    It’s a beautiful word, one that also has a meaning in the medical field:
    Obnubilación: “El paciente [the patient] se encuentra desorientado en el tiempo (no sabe la fecha) o en el espacio (no reconoce el lugar donde se encuentra); indiferente al medio ambiente (reacciona escasamente frente a ruidos intensos o situaciones inesperadas y está indiferente a su enfermedad). Es capaz de responder preguntas simples.”-http://goo.gl/tKvy
    There’s even a Wikipedia article on it: http://goo.gl/P5t2Z


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 28, 2014 @ 22:56:19

      Thanks, Maria, for that additional information about obnubilación as a medical term. I see that English similarly has obnubilation as a medical term meaning ‘the clouding of consciousness.’


  2. shoreacres
    Jul 29, 2014 @ 21:11:03

    Another beautiful word, leading to a very interesting post. I was intrigued by Maria’s comment, and followed up on the English “obnubilation.” In fact, it describes the same condition that’s known more colloquially today as “brain fog.” I think it’s considered a condition more than a disease or disorder, but it covers a lot of territory: feeling tired, confused, forgetful, or having difficulty focusing or completing tasks.

    One of the causes can be long-term dehydration. If I don’t keep myself hydrated through the summer, I can find writing almost impossible. I’ll sit and stare at the computer, unable to string a sentence together. If I get back into my routine, and make sure to drink water morning, noon and night, the problem disappears.

    Who knew? Writer’s block may be nothing more than obnubilation!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 30, 2014 @ 07:40:31

      That’s an interesting tie-in you’ve found between hydration, or rather the lack of it, and obnubilation (down, WordPress, down, obnubilation really is a word). After two or three or even four hours out photographing in the heat and humidity of our Texas summer, I typically get exhausted and end up drinking lots of liquid while driving home and then more upon arrival and later. That’s true even if I drank l something before heading out in the first place. Still, I’m not aware that my mind is affected, although that not being aware of any effect could itself be a symptom.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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