asurar

I assure you there’s no connection between Spanish asurar and English assure. When I recently encountered asurar for the first time, my mind leapt to make that connection, even though I knew assure and sure came into English from French, where those words had followed a phonological development Spanish didn’t share. Not even knowing the meaning of asurar when I came across it, I turned to the DRAE, where I learned that it occurs primarily in cooking and agriculture. In cooking, this transitive verb means ‘to burn,’ as when cooking with insufficient water burns the food in a pot on the stove. In agriculture, the ‘burning, parching’ is what the sun does to crops that don’t get enough water.

The DRAE traces asurar back to the Latin noun arsūra, whose first r, later lost in Spanish, gives English speakers a clue to a connection. According to the DRAE, Latin arsūra meant ‘heat, burning.’ I couldn’t verify the existence of such a Latin noun, even in my large Latin dictionary. Hmm. In any case, the connection still holds, because the Latin verb ārdēre, which meant ‘to burn,’ had ārsura as its feminine future participle. Late Latin created the noun ārsiō, with stem ārsiōn-, which led, via Anglo Norman, to the English word arson. The classical Latin verb ārdēre has given Spanish arder ‘to burn,’ from whose old present participle Spanish has the adjective ardiente. Paralleling that, English has ardent, from the Latin present participle. Spanish also has the interesting compound aguardiente, literally ‘burning water,’ but figuratively and actually ‘liquor’ in general and ‘brandy’ in particular.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 25, 2017 @ 23:03:39

    When I came to the ‘burning water,’ my first thought was of ‘fire water,’ which also refers to liquor. I couldn’t find much about that, apart from a reference that suggested the North American phrase developed from the Iroquoian or Algonquian languages. Is there such a thing as convergent evolution in languages, too? Or does the process of words with similar meaning developing in different cultures go by a different term?

    Another related English word that came to mind is ‘ardor’.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 26, 2017 @ 00:30:11

      I haven’t heard of the term convergent evolution applied to languages. There’s something called loan translation that may apply here. I assume some Indians began to refer to liquor in their own language with words that meant literally ‘fire water.’ Americans would then have translated that into the familiar English phrase.

      As you found, ardor is indeed another relative of ardent and arson.

      Reply

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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