Dum spiro spero

The word-playing Latin motto Dum spīro spēro means “As long as I breathe, I hope.” Spanish speakers have only to add a prothetic e- to that last verb to convert it to its modern descendant espero, the first-person singular present-tense form of esperar ‘to hope.’ The corresponding modern Spanish noun is esperanza, created with a suffix, in contrast to the simple Latin noun spēs.

The opposite of Spanish esperar is desesperar, which finds its counterpart in English despair, taken from Old French. Spanish also used to have the shorter desperar, which survives in its past participle desperado, which English has borrowed alongside the more common doublet desperate, borrowed from Latin dēspērātus.

Back on the positive side, Latin prosperāre ‘to cause a thing to succeed’ has given us prosperar/prosper and the corresponding adjective próspero/prosperous. And therein lies a clue to a native English connection that few people would suspect, primarily because of a semantic change. The Indo-European root underlying all these words of ultimately Latin origin was *spē-, which meant ‘to thrive, prosper.’ That root gave rise to Old English spēd ‘success,’ the forerunner of the modern form speed. Even in Old English one sense of the word had been ‘swiftness,’ presumably because people who are quick to follow up on opportunities or who work rapidly are more likely to succeed. One survivor of that sense of speed is the compound interjection Godspeed, meaning ‘may God allow (you) to prosper.’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 20, 2016 @ 20:04:42

    Thinking of Godspeed, I remembered a companion ship of the Mayflower: the Speedwell. From what you’ve written, it certainly seems as though its name was rooted in the same Old English spēd.

    Just for grins, I gave the translators a whirl, and came up with la esperanza es cosa con plumas. It sounds as nice in Spanish as in English.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 20, 2016 @ 22:52:30

      I think you’re right about the ship’s name meaning “succeed well,” although there’s a semantic overlap in the fact that a ship which arrives speedily at its destination is indeed a successful ship.

      I’m glad you got a good translation to offset some of the terrible ones the robotic translators offer.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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