A drop in the gutta

In a blog post in March, in connection with two photographs of fungi, nature photographer Steve Gingold introduced the biological term guttation, which he explained as ‘sweat-like moisture.’ Based on the context and the root of that fancy word, Spanish speakers may well make the connection to gota ‘drop,’ and they would be right to do so. Spanish gota derives from Latin gutta, which also meant ‘drop,’ and which architects have fancifully borrowed to mean (in the definition of the American Heritage Dictionary) ‘one of a series of small ornaments in the shape of truncated cones used on a Doric entablature.’ Pharmacists also use gutta, this time literally—they can’t afford to mess around when preparing medicines, can they?—to mean ‘a drop.’

For English speakers who drop an r at the end of a syllable, Latin gutta sounds a lot like English gutter, and it should. English acquired the word from Old French gotier, based on gote (modern French goutte): a gutter is a trough to channel drops of rain coming off a roof.

Turning back to Spanish, we note that gotear means ‘to drip,’ a goteo is ‘a dripping,’ and a gotera is ‘a leak, drip, trickle.’ Less obviously related semantically, at least until the connection gets pointed out, is the verb agotar ‘to exhaust, use up, run out of.’ The etymological sense, as should be clear now, is ‘to drip away.’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 04.11.2015 Spring melt | Stephen Gingold Nature Photography Blog
  2. shoreacres
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 16:42:30

    My first thought was of gutta-percha, the rigid latex sap from trees of the genus Palaquium. According to the wiki, the term comes from the plant’s name in Malay: getah perca, or “percha sap.” A nice summary of its discovery and uses is here. It’s not etymologically related, of course. On the other hand, if gutta-percha was harvested as rubber was in Liberia, it would indeed fill the buckets drop by drop, so there’s that.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 11, 2015 @ 21:27:07

      I think I once toyed with the idea of gutta-percha being related, but this is one of those cases where a conjecture doesn’t pan out and a resemblance, as they say in movie disclaimers, is purely coincidental.


  3. Maria F.
    Apr 12, 2015 @ 20:30:00

    The connection of agotar to “exhaust or run out”, might be due to adding the “a” before the “gotar”, and taking out the “e” out form the leaking “gotear”. So they created “agotar” to mean “run out” or “exhaust”; e.g.: “Yo estoy “agotada” hoy por que pinté toda la casa.” (I’m exhausted because I painted the whole house today”)
    “Agotar” can also be used: “La pasta de diente se agotó” (The toothpaste ran out) “Agotar” is another one that needs the pronoun “se” agotó; just like “se fugó”, remember?


    • Maria F.
      Apr 12, 2015 @ 21:18:38

      Now I realize that what we’ve been talking about with “agotar” and “fugar” is that they are both in “past participle” when used this way:
      “El ha comido” (He has eaten)
      “El se ha agotado” (He has been exhausted)
      “El ha dormido” (He has slept)
      “El se le ha olvidado su lápiz” (He has forgotten the pencil)
      “El se ha fugado” (He has fled (or He has escaped)


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 12, 2015 @ 22:21:51

      Actually agotar developed from Vulgar Latin *eguttāre, where the prefix e- was a short form of ex-, meaning ‘out, out of.’ Gotear was created later and independently from gota by adding to the root of the noun the familiar verbal ending -ear, in the same way that pasear was formed from paso, telefonear from teléfono and cliquear from clic.


      • Maria F.
        Apr 12, 2015 @ 22:25:13

        Yes, but Spanish switched the “e” to an “a”.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Apr 12, 2015 @ 22:41:19

          It’s not common that an e- in Latin became an a- in Spanish, but it occasionally happened. Another example is Latin eccum + ille ending up as Spanish aquel.


        • Maria F.
          Apr 12, 2015 @ 22:42:59

          Note that “paseo” y “pasear” are noun and verb, and the “-ear” was added to denote present and past participles. “El ha estado paseando” vs. “El ha paseado”. How confusing; yet I’m sure these “-ear” endings were added for present and past participles (participio pasado or participio pasivo) or (participio presente).


          • Maria F.
            Apr 12, 2015 @ 22:49:44

            It’s incredible I can remember at least a little bit of this usage. Brilliant example of Latin eccum + ille ending up as Spanish “aquel”.


          • Steve Schwartzman
            Apr 13, 2015 @ 04:56:10

            I’m afraid not, Maria. Every Spanish verb, no matter what its infinitive ending is, has a present participle and a past participle, e.g.:

            pasar, pasando, pasado
            pasear, paseando, paseado
            cambiar, cambiando, cambiado
            venir, viniendo, venido
            vender, vendiendo, vendido


            • Maria F.
              Apr 13, 2015 @ 06:28:31

              That is precisely what I just said.


              • Maria F.
                Apr 13, 2015 @ 06:55:51

                The noun (and both in Spanish and English) cannot be in participle (or pasivo), it has to be conjugated with a pronoun in order to be “pasivo”.
                “El “agotamiento” fue increible (agotar used as noun)- (The exhaustion was incredible)
                “El hombre se ha agotado” -(The man has been exhausted) Present participle

                Paseo (as noun)- “El paseo fue agradable”
                Pasear (inf. verb)- “El ha paseado” (He has traveled) present participle


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