The Spanish noun esguince means ‘a sprain,’ but a couple of other senses are ‘a twisting that a person does to avoid a blow or to keep from falling’ and ‘a facial gesture or bodily movement by which someone expresses disgust or disdain.’ The Spanish word traces back to the Vulgar Latin verb *exquīntiāre ‘to tear, rip, rend,’ a compound of the familiar prefix ex-, used here as an intensifier,’ and the root of the ordinal number quintus ‘fifth.’ The original meaning, then, would have been ‘to tear into five parts,’ but eventually the specifics of the arithmetic got lost (as is happening now with the English verb decimate, which for many speakers has lost its connection to the original sense ‘destroy a tenth of’).
Spanish has inherited Latin quintus as quinto ‘fifth.’ From quintus and the Latin element that meant ‘folded’ we have quíntuple/quintuple ‘fivefold.’ A quintillizo/quintuplet is ‘one of five siblings born at the same time.’ The Romans used Quintus as a name and English has followed suit: Patrick Hanks and Patricia Hodges report that in the 19th century, when Quintus was most popular, parents chose it to name a fifth son or a fifth child that happened to be male. The English name Quincy also traces back to Latin Quintus. So does Quentin, which reminds us that the American president John Adams chose Quincy as a middle name for his son (who later became the country’s sixth rather than fifth president), while Theodore Roosevelt chose Quentin as a first name for his last son.
The Romans named the fifth month in their calendar Quintīlis (later bumped to seventh place and ultimately renamed Iūlius), but now in statistics a quintil/quintile is ‘any one of the groups that results when a frequency distribution is divided into five equal parts.’
© 2015 Steven Schwartzman