How appropriate, with the northern hemisphere about to enter winter, that I recently learned the Spanish verb arrecirse, which means ‘to become numb, swollen, or stiff with cold.’ While a first glance probably doesn’t suggest any connection to English, the DRAE traces arrecir to Latin *arrigescere, an inchoative version of the Classical Latin verb arrigere ‘to set up, raise, erect.’ The underlying Indo-European root is the *reg- ‘to move in a straight line’ that underlies so many words in Spanish and English, e.g. corregir/correct, dirigir/direct, regente/regent, and native English right.

Etymology aside, arrecir is one of 16 Spanish verbs (plus compounds) whose present tenses share the peculiarity that they have forms only for the first and second person plural. In this case, that means nosotros nos arrecimos and vosotros os arrecís. Strange, huh? We get numb with cold but I by myself don’t. Of course, where there’s a chill there’s a way, and when the action is happening now rather than being put forth as habitual, we can use a circumlocution like me estoy arreciendo. If you’d like, you can click to see the 15 other verbs that follow this curious pattern.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Dec 20, 2016 @ 06:46:25

    Oh my; not before cafe!

    There are days when it all ‘clicks’ and there are days when it’s like trying to get that square peg to fit in the round hole! My right brain must be playing the dominant role this morning!

    Have you any ideas why some grasp languages quickly, and others advance poco a poco? I followed the link then followed the links and found so much info that it overwhelmed me totally! For example, the word ” abolir” – I predicted had soemthing to do with a tree and was curious to confirm or be sent back to Kindergarten! I scanned for an English clue and found none to help decipher the words …. and then I marveled at how adept I am in the maths and in drawing skills, and how I love the syntax patterns of the English language, yet how difficult it is to do the same with a foreign language. Sometimes I think it’s because learning this new skill came at an older age, so the brain has to unlearn how the letters are pronounced in English.. but it’s more than that….

    And then there are the Eureka! moments, and wow, I find myself soaring!

    Maybe it goes back to the first thought.. cafe first….


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 20, 2016 @ 09:22:53

      The square peg easily fits into the round hole if the round hole is big enough. How to get our adult minds big enough for a foreign language to fit in is an age-old problem. It’s pretty well agreed that very few people who don’t learn a language as a child ever really master it in the way that a native does. As with any ability, people have it in varying degrees. I’ve got a knack for languages and math but not for music or sports. Many times I’ve wished I’d been brought up speaking the two foreign languages that existed in my family (Russian and Yiddish), but that didn’t happen. Whenever I encounter foreigners who are raising children in America, I make a point of telling the parents to make their children speak the original language.

      I suspect the root of abolir reminded you of árbol and that’s why you thought of a tree. It so happens abolir is the same in Spanish as French, where I already knew it, so I never had any doubt that it’s the English word abolish. In fact the English preserves a trace of the French first-person plural present-tense endings: nous finissons, vous finissez, ils finissent. The s sound became sh in English.

      You’re hardly alone in needing some morning café to get started: other commenters have mentioned it in my two blogs from time to time. On the other hand, throughout my life I’ve sometimes awoken with good phrases or ideas already in my mind.


  2. shoreacres
    Dec 23, 2016 @ 09:03:31

    Given the number of hours you’ve spent tracking frostweed, it’s no wonder this word caught your attention, or stayed in mind. It occurred to me that the word could be applied to the plant as well as to the photographer: swollen with cold certainly would apply to the first stage(s) of its transformation. Let’s just hope the photographer, also cold and numb, doesn’t split, but splits for the car.

    “Where there’s a chill there’s a way” made me laugh. And your comment about waking with ideas or phrases in mind reminded me of Jonah Lehrer’s interesting article about the phenomenon. Even though Mr. Lehrer was discredited and has faded away, much in the article’s been confirmed elsewhere. It’s true to my own experience. If I’m knotted up over something at night — a title, a word, a structure — I’ve learned to let it go, and see what morning brings. Often, what I need is in mind as soon as I’m awake. I like to think of it as my brain working the night shift.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 23, 2016 @ 10:17:51

      What a great way to put it: “my brain working the night shift.” Even before seeing fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) mentioned in the article you linked, I wondered whether that or other modern technology will eventually lead to an understanding of why letting go of a problem temporarily so often leads to a solution.

      Because this is a blog about etymology, I’ll add that Lehrer means ‘teacher’ in German and is related to the English verb learn. There’s some irony in that in this case. After looking up Jonathan Lehrer on the Internet, I remembered hearing about the made-up Bob Dylan quotations and other “irregularities.”

      As for cold, I found on Monday morning that after I endured the just-under-freezing temperature long enough my body finally got acclimatized and I no longer felt cold in my hands and feet. I doubt I’d have gotten used to a much colder temperature, however.


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