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