Sí and she

Who would’ve thought that Spanish and English she, similar in sound but so far apart in their meanings, are etymologically related? In spite of your skepticism, así es, that’s the way it is.

To see the connection, we go back, as is often the case in these articles, to Indo-European. In particular, we start with the Indo-European root *so-, meaning ‘this’ or ‘that’ and serving as the base for nominative-case forms of the demonstrative pronoun. A suffixed variant of that root gave rise to Latin sīc, a little word for which Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary gave a lot of translations: ‘so, thus, in this or that manner, in such a manner, in the same way or manner, in like manner, likewise, to this or that extent or degree, to such a degree, in this or that state or condition, in such a condition .’ As Latin evolved to Spanish, sīc lost its final consonant and became , the etymological sense of which is ‘[it’s] so.’ We’ve borrowed the Latin adverb in formal writing to indicate that something we’re quoting that has a mistake in it was that way in the original. For instance, if I were to quote a recent headline from the Austin American-Statesman, I’d write: “Texas has so far failed to elect a Hispanic women [sic] to Congress.”

The Indo-European demonstrative *so- also gave rise to Old English sēo, the source of modern English she, which is therefore indeed a relative of Spanish . From that basic Spanish adverb comes the compound así ‘so, thus, in this way,’ which not coincidentally appeared in this article’s second sentence.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yong
    Mar 29, 2016 @ 08:55:42

    Reply

  2. Yong Huang
    Mar 29, 2016 @ 08:56:40

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 29, 2016 @ 09:18:16

      I appreciate your comment. It’s true that etymologists sometimes disagree on a derivation, as you’ve pointed out. I’ve been relying on the Indo-European etymologies provided in the American Heritage Dictionary. You can see the entry for she at

      https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=she

      and you can follow that to the Appendix of Indo-European roots at

      https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/indoeurop.html#IR094600

      Over the 25 years or so that I’ve been consulting successive editions of that resource, I have noticed some changes. Of course Indo-European wasn’t written down, but at least for more-recent languages like Anglo-Saxon we do have historical documents, and new ones are occasionally discovered.

      Reply

  3. shoreacres
    Mar 29, 2016 @ 22:38:04

    Even though I’m neither a programmer nor a webmaster, I first read sēo not as the source for she, but as an initialism: SEO, or “seach engine optimization.” It’s interesting, the way we pick up such things.

    The juxtaposition of asi with “so” in its definition brought to mind the expression, “Ah, so.” They’re not etymologically related, of course, but this article was interesting for its explanation of the way the phrase functions in communication.

    What really tickled me was the Indo-European root meaning “this” or “that.” On my way to the San Bernard refuge last weekend, I drove through Lake Jackson. On one side of town, I saw a street marked “This Way.” Sure enough, on the other side of town, there was another street, named “That Way.” Someone over there has a sense of humor.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 30, 2016 @ 07:10:31

      I think when I was younger I assumed that the “Ah, so” spoken by Japanese characters in American movies was really our English words “Ah” and “so” because they made sense. It’s a good example of cross-language coincidences.

      Your mention of Lake Jackson’s This Way and That Way reminds me that I recently suggested some state should create two new towns called Hither and Yon.

      Being more attuned to language than to computer stuff, I might treat SEO as an acronym rather than an initialism and pronounce it like the Old English pronoun.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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