Something can be called high only with respect to something else that’s lower. Something can be called big only with respect to something else that’s smaller. Something can be called good only with respect to something else that’s worse. Those are examples of what I’ve come to call the Duality Principle. The little English word up exemplifies that principle, as etymology makes clear. Up has cognates in the Germanic languages (for example Norwegian opp, Icelandic upp, Danish op, German auf). Going back a good deal further, we find that the Indo-European original was *upo, which could mean—are you ready for a hefty dose of the Duality Principle?—not only ‘under’ and its opposite ‘over,’ but even ‘up from under.’

A variant form of the Indo-European root with an initial s- gave rise to Latin sub, which largely inherited the ‘under’ sense of its ancestor, as we see in many compounds taken from Latin. A few examples are submarino/submarine, subterráneo/subterranean, and sumergir/submerge. Nevertheless, in the familiar Spanish compound subir, which is sub+ir, the sense is ‘to go up [from under].’ If you’d like to read more about subir, you can check out a post from the first year of this blog.

Only an advanced foreign student of Spanish is likely to encounter the inherited (as opposed to borrowed) descendant of Latin sub, which is so. It’s no longer a living word but still appears in set phrases like so pena de ‘under pain of, at the risk of,’ and so color de and so pretexto de, both of which mean ‘on the pretext of.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim R
    May 10, 2017 @ 07:47:56

    I give you a thumb up on this one.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 10, 2017 @ 08:11:39

      I appreciate that. It’s much better than having you thumb your nose at me.


    • Playamart - Zeebra Designs
      May 10, 2017 @ 16:12:08

      Make that two thumbs up! The link to the older post /subir was also appreciated!

      the internet has been cantankerous and was working just long enough to reload, and now it’s down again….

      hours later – the connection is painfully slow- we’ll see if it will send this … thanks, also, for the link to all of those thistle images.. the internet signal dropped about the time i selected, ‘view older posts..’


      • Steve Schwartzman
        May 10, 2017 @ 16:18:49

        I wish I could say your Internet connect is up, but I’m afraid “up, up, and away” describes it better, with emphasis on “away.” In any case, thanks for the two thumbs up.


  2. shoreacres
    May 10, 2017 @ 18:15:08

    And don’t forget the Swedes. The father of a different kind of duality — binomial nomenclature — studied and taught at the university in Uppsala.

    I thought as well of Richard Fariña’s book: Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up to Me. That’s an especially apt example for this post, since Fariña himself was a result of a sort of a Spanish-English connection: his father was Cuban, his mother, Irish.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 10, 2017 @ 22:16:38

      I’ve tried to find out whether the first part of the name Uppsala really contains a version of the word up but I still don’t know. I did better with the second half, about which one website says this: “Sala comes from the word sal, which has (or had, at least) a couple of meanings. One was hall, as in a great hall, and the other was a small building with one room. Chances are that places like Uppsala are referencing the former, a place where a ceremonial hall may have stood.”

      I read Richard Fariña’s book about 50 years ago. I no longer have it, bu I still have the old 33 record album “Reflections in a Crystal Wind” by Richard and Mimi Fariña.


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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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