Remembering subvenir

The infrequently encountered Spanish verb subvenir, borrowed from Latin, means ‘to come to the aid of, to support.’ The word is a compound of Latin sub, in its sense of ‘up from under,’ and venīre, the forerunner of Spanish venir ‘to come.’ Most native English speakers would say there’s no such English verb as subvene. There is, but it’s uncommon, and not a lot of current English dictionaries include it. One that does is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which notes the verb is rare and defines it as ‘to happen or come, so as to help.’ A little more common is the derived noun subvención/subvention; that’s the ‘subsidy’ that one entity, usually a government, gives to another to support it. (Notice again the ‘up from under’ sense conveyed by sub- in the subsidy and support that prop something up.)

The French development of Latin subvenīre is the verb souvenir, in which something comes up from the storehouse of our mind into our consciousness; in other words, souvenir means ‘to remember.’ As a noun, a souvenir is something we take or buy in order to remember a place. Like English, Spanish has borrowed the French noun souvenir, but normally Spanish speakers use the native recuerdo, which is etymologically ‘something that brings a person or place back (re-) into our heart (cor[azón].’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Sep 23, 2016 @ 07:53:48

    Another word that came to mind is ‘contravene,’ which seems to have combined contra with venīre. I run across it now and then. Just for fun, I entered ‘subvene’ and ‘contravene’ in the Ngram viewer. ‘Contravene’ seems relatively common, but ‘subvene’ pretty much flatlines, except for the period between 1800 and 1820, where it had a little bounce.

    I just now realized what you were doing with the title of this post. I was going to point out that, when little tokens are given out on occasions like weddings, or anniversaries, or boat christenings, they’re very often referred to as ‘remembrances’ rather than as ‘souvenirs.’ In those cases, the Spanish seems to capture the meaning more accurately.

    Speaking of Spanish-English connections, for two days my search terms list has been filled with phrases including the word escoda. When I finally did a little exploring, I discovered that Josefa Llanes Escoda, the founder of the Philippine Girl Scouts, was born on September 20. Girl Scout Week, which surrounds her birthday, is filled with memorials, and it was the search for Escoda Memorial Day which was bringing people to my entry about our Memorial Day.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Sep 24, 2016 @ 13:55:54

      I’ve long been fascinated by the gaps in compounds of basic verbs. To make up a hypothetical example: basic verb A might take pro- and sub- but not in-, while basic verb B might take in- and pro- but not sub-. Re- isn’t native English (it’s from Latin), but we allow it to attach to many of our native (or at least Germanic) verbs, as in retake, rethink, redo, recall. Other verbs don’t allow it: *rebe, *rego, *recome, *rehave. And then there are compounds that don’t (at least to me) seem out of the question but aren’t quite normal either. British English allows you to resit an exam, but that sounds strange here. Saying resit down sounds strange yo me, as do refeel and resee.

      I didn’t recognize escoda as a Spanish word, but then in the next line in your comment I saw that it was a name. How curious that a search for Escoda Memorial Day should have led to your instance of Memorial Day without the Escoda.


  2. shoreacres
    Sep 24, 2016 @ 21:18:36

    I’m fairly certain one of my early experiences of word-as-human-construction involved ‘remember.’ I looked at it one day and realized that re-membering the past was the act of putting it back together, much as one would reconstruct a body after it had been dismembered.

    My next post has ‘reconsidering’ in the title, and another in the pipeline involves souvenirs, so this all has been very helpful.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Sep 24, 2016 @ 22:22:40

      I’m sorry to dismember your supposition, but I remember the adage that not all that glitters is gold. Another way of saying it in this case is that there is no member in remember, at least not etymologically. The way a word ends up looking at some point in its evolution may coincidentally match the way some unrelated word has ended up looking at the same time. For instance, the bear that means ‘endure’ has no connection to the bear that is a big mammal; in earlier ages the two words weren’t identical, but phonetic changes eventually leveled the differences. Dismember really is a compound of dis- and member. In contrast, remember goes back to Latin rememorārī, from re- and the memor that meant ‘mindful’ (and is the root in memory). As the Latin verb evolved into Old French, the o dropped out, leaving the m bumping up against the r. The intrusive b arose in people’s speech as a way to smooth the transition between those dissimilar sounds. Ah, the joys of etymology.


      • shoreacres
        Sep 25, 2016 @ 05:17:26

        You’re right, of course. But in certain circles, the use of ‘re-member’ as a way to signify making whole that which has been broken is common, as with this group. Over the years, I’ve heard the word used this way so often, I don’t give it a second thought when I use it myself.

        On the other hand, there’s one place where re-membering does have a meaning related to limbs: at doll hospitals. Places like The Doll Hospital in Old Town Spring have specialists who re-member dolls that have lost their arms or legs, or both. In that very specialized field, I’d say the word fits.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Sep 25, 2016 @ 07:32:26

          I haven’t encountered re-member, which is an excellent example of how a hyphen can distinguish between two unrelated words that are otherwise identical in appearance. Another example is re-creation versus recreation (which started out meaning re-creation). My favorite illustration of the need for that kind of hyphen is a sign I saw some years ago outside a restaurant. The sign said something like “4 SHRIMP DINNERS $9.95.” What the restaurant owner meant was a dinner with four shrimp in it. I’m sorry I didn’t go in, plunk down my $10, and ask for four of those dinners.


  3. navasolanature
    Sep 28, 2016 @ 08:10:55

    Thanks, now I can see how recuerdos is the preferred word and get the gist of subvenciones when I see it in newspapers.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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