Only an advanced learner of Spanish is likely to know the noun hito, which has various meanings: ‘a milestone or boundary post; a landmark; something or someone that is key or fundamental; a target; the game of quoits.’ Some of those things seem related, but English speakers will have a hard time thinking of any related words in their language.  The first clue to the origin of hito is the initial h-, which we know often resulted from an initial f- in Latin, and indeed that was the case here. In fact hito evolved from Latin fictus, an old past participle of the verb fīgere, in whose whose later past participle fixus we recognize fijo/fixed. A milestone and a boundary post are fixed in the ground, as is the post in the game of quoits, as were simple posts that people used as targets to shoot at. A landmark and something key are extended senses of ‘being fixed’ and therefore ‘stable, secure.’

Speaking of extended senses, the English verb fix originally meant (and still means) ‘to place securely,’ but from the fact that broken things are often repaired by reattaching and fastening loose parts, fix has taken on in American English the primary meaning ‘to repair.’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman



19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Apr 26, 2015 @ 13:19:09

    I never expected to be thinking of Japanese emperor Hirohito today, but there he was, coming right to mind when I read “hito.”

    I was reminded of your posts on “posts,” too. It occurred to me the blogosphere is filled with “simple posts that people [use] as targets to shoot at.”

    Can you believe I didn’t know “quoits”? I learned it and played it as horseshoes, and see from the wiki that horseshoes were the original tossed object: until the opening was closed and the thrown object became a ring.

    Out in the country, we played a variant called “washers,” where the ring (a metal washer) was tossed into a tin can that had been buried with its opening flush to the ground, making it an equally fixed object.

    Of course, that brings us to another sort of phrase, such as “As soon as I take Fido to be fixed, I’ll be fixin’ to fix dinner.” There’s an interesting page here that includes quotations from the OED, showing how the term evolved. I thought the suggestion that the movement from “fixed” to “fixin’ to” was related to hunting was especially interesting.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 26, 2015 @ 15:39:47

      During my research into hito I never once thought of Hirohito, but that’s because my mind was fixed on Spanish, English, and Latin.

      I don’t think I ever heard anyone say fixing to until I moved to the South. There’s also a phonetically reduced version of it that sounds to my Northern brain like fin tuh.

      The last sense of fix that you mentioned reminds me that some people have heard the past tense spayed and from it incorrectly inferred the verb to spade. Once that became established in their minds, it acquired the normal inflections of any English verb, so those people will say things like “The vet spaded my dog last week.” We have to hope the vet used a scalpel and not a spade.

      I can believe you didn’t know about quoits. It’s hardly a common word, and while I’d heard of it, without looking it up again for this post I wouldn’t have been able to define it. You can balance the score, though, because your childhood game of washers is new to me.


  2. Maria F.
    Apr 26, 2015 @ 13:19:13

    Can you believe I haven’t heard it being used around here at all? I still think most prefer to use “letrero” (sign) or “marca” (spot), “señal” (a sign telling you to turn right or left ahead”, even when “hito” is the appropriate word for the “kilometer” boundary which is always in stone, people still say “letrero” or “la señal del kilometro”; e.g., “En que kilometro estamos?”, “Pues la señal indica que estamos en el 45”. Amazing, but true.


    • Maria F.
      Apr 26, 2015 @ 14:16:11

      The problem is with me, however, I know university students and scholars know what it is. I just went to college in the U.S. and then started going back and forth to the U.S., so I assimilated more of the American culture for circumstantial reasons. So you are more updated than me in this language matter; although I still like to dissect words, no matter their true origin.


      • Steve Schwartzman
        Apr 26, 2015 @ 15:46:11

        Yes, going to school in more than one country, which is to say in this case more than one language, can be confusing and can lead to gaps in one’s knowledge. On the whole, though, I think it must lead to more knowledge.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 26, 2015 @ 15:43:43

      I believe it, Maria. I don’t know that I ever heard or read the word hito during my two years in Honduras. And of course even after a lifetime as a native speaker of English, I’m still learning new English words.


  3. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Apr 27, 2015 @ 00:26:15

    well i was baffled as well.. i use a small ‘notebook’ so the text is often small.. i first thought the post was titled, ‘hijo,’ and then i saw ‘hito,’ and i thought, ‘What?”

    thanks for the lesson! z


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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
%d bloggers like this: