Some etymological interference

Or say more specifically some etymological interference from French. A friend recently forwarded to me an e-mail with some interesting facts about French words, like the longest French palindrome (ressasser) and the curiosity of squelette being the only masculine word ending in -ette. The introduction to the list of curiosities said it was intended “pour les férus de la langue française,” meaning “for those people who are passionate about (literally ‘smitten with’) the French language.” I recognized féru as the past participle of a verb that has otherwise almost disappeared from French, férir, meaning ‘to strike,’ and coming from Latin ferīre ‘to knock, strike, kill.’ And there lies the connection to Spanish, because Latin ferīre evolved to Spanish herir, with the characteristic phonetic shift from f- to h-, and in this case with a shift in meaning to ‘to wound.’ In addition, the Spanish feminine past participle herida has come to function as a noun meaning ‘a wound.’

But this is a blog about the connections between Spanish and English, so on to the English—but not without returning to French again. Old French ferir entered into the compound s’entreferer ‘to strike one another, to trade blows.’ That passed away in French, but not before passing into English as interfere, (which, I’ll add “pour les férus de la langue française,” French later reimported as interférer).

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 07:50:22

    Forwarded to my sister who used to be smitten…she even has a MS in French.


  2. Maria F.
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 09:10:17

    How interesting the relationship with French. You mean to say then that at first “ferre” (which means to “interfere with or “entrometerse” in Spanish) was not used in French, instead they used “férir” as “entreferer” (which means “wounded”) for some time, and that this word influenced English. I suppose it also influenced the Spanish, because they mean the same thing now. So what you’re saying is that “férir” changed to “herida”; yet it also appears to have changed to “ferre” for interference or interferencia, which is the one used today.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 12, 2015 @ 09:25:03

      I don’t believe the entry for interferir in is correct. I pulled out my copy of Joan Corominas’s Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana (Editorial Gredos, Madrid, 1983) and looked at the entry for interferencia. Corominas says Spanish took interferencia from English, and he goes on to give the same etymology for English interfere that I’ve cited in this post. Corominas concludes with this bit of editorializing: “El verbo interferir en cast. es feo y muy reciente anglicismo.”

      In contrast to interferir, the Spanish verbs transferir and diferir do go back to Latin ferre, which meant ‘to bring, to carry.’


  3. Maria F.
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 09:31:24

    I sure do believe it when you say “Corominas concludes with this bit of editorializing: “El verbo interferir en cast. es feo y muy reciente anglicismo.” Spanish is flooded with anglicisms, even when “interferir” is accepted by the DRAE, it’s not an old word.


  4. shoreacres
    Jun 14, 2015 @ 08:00:43

    And for a practical application of interference, we have interferons:

    “…a group of signaling proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, or tumor cells. In a typical scenario, a virus-infected cell will release interferons, causing nearby cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses.

    [They are] named for their ability to “interfere” with viral replication by protecting cells from virus infections.”


  5. Maria F.
    Jun 14, 2015 @ 17:48:27

    Steve, I just thought of “intervenir”, very similar to “intervene”, which is also used instead of “interfere.”


  6. navasolanature
    Jun 21, 2015 @ 10:05:28

    Strange to come across your post on language! We live near the village of Fuenteheridos and I always thought it meant something to do with wounds but it seems it was spelt wrong and should have been feridos but is to do with finding so many sources of water, 12 springs under the village! Thanks for your insights!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 21, 2015 @ 11:04:32

      (What can I say except that I have multiple interests?) In looking up the name of that village near you, I discovered a website called Huelvapedia (!) that at

      gives the following information about the origin of the name:

      “La Fuente de los Doce Caños dió lugar al asentamiento humano primitivo y también el nombre del pueblo. Aunque existen muchas tesis acerca del origen del nombre del pueblo todo nos lleva a pensar que primero se puso el nombre a la fuente, Fuente Heridos, la palabra Heridos en le nombre de la fuente puede hacer referencia a las sangraduras que sufrái el agua al brotar en el manantial principal. Y de este nombre tomó luego el pueblo el suyo llevando el nombre de una fuente: Fuente Heridos. Como nombre del pueblo aparece desde un principio escrito en dos palabras que era la forma de escribirse hasta que ya entrado el siglo XX se fijó su ortografía en la foma ‘Fuenteheridos’ en una sola palabra.”


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