Antojo and anteojo

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a language in possession of a future will develop in an unpredictable way. Take the Spanish compound antojo, made from ante ‘before, in front of’ and ojo ‘eye’. There was a time when antojo meant ‘telescope,’ a device that you literally put in front of an eye. In the plural, antojos meant ‘binoculars’ or ‘eyeglasses’. To keep conveying those optical senses, Spanish eventually recast the word as anteojo in the singular and anteojos in the plural. The reason for the recasting wasn’t just to make clear that the first element of the compound is ante. No, the reason was to distinguish the optical meanings from others that antojo had unpredictably developed. In Spanish, ‘something in front of your eyes’ became ‘something that catches your attention’ and then ‘something you’d suddenly like to have.’ Two common English translations for antojo are ‘whim’ and ‘craving’. While anyone can have a whim, antojo added as one of its senses ‘the particular kind of craving pregnant women feel for a certain food or combination of foods’. Then antojo went on to add the meaning ‘birthmark’. If that puzzles you, you’re probably not aware of the folk (and faux) belief that birthmarks result from pregnant women’s unfulfilled cravings.

While English speakers no doubt once shared the same folk belief about birthmarks, the English language didn’t share any of the developments just discussed. English doesn’t call a telescope, much less a craving, a *fore-eye or *foreye (though since the 1970s eye candy has made its way into popular parlance). English has, however, acquired the Latin-derived prefix ante- in compounds like anterior, antecedent, and antedate. English also uses ante by itself as a noun to mean ‘money that a player in a card game has to be put forth before being allowed to play or keep playing’.

As for Spanish ojo, it developed from the synonymous Latin oculus, which bears a diminutive ending. The main part of the Latin word goes back to the Indo-European root *okw, which also produced the Old English ēage that has become modern English eye. Architectural English has borrowed Latin oculus to designate ‘a round aperture or window’.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim R
    Jan 28, 2018 @ 08:15:40

    This morning, my antojo allowed me to view through the ocular the planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.


  2. shoreacres
    Jan 28, 2018 @ 23:42:34

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a language in possession of a future will develop in an unpredictable way.”

    However little known the history of such emerging words may be on first entering the lexicon, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of etymologists that such development is considered as the natural extension of some one or other of their word-roots.

    (Somewhere, Jane Austen is laughing. And it was fun to be reminded of James Turrell’s Skyspace installation at Crystal Bridges, with its use of an oculus to create its effects.)


  3. Yong Huang
    Jan 29, 2018 @ 13:54:01

    “ogle” is an easier example than “oculus” as an architectural term. They both can be traced back to the same PIE origin.


  4. James Davis
    Feb 06, 2018 @ 11:58:27

    Maybe it’s because I’m 89 and James grew up in Houston, but the first “ante” word to flash into my head was antebellum: before the Civil War.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 06, 2018 @ 13:33:48

      That’s a good and appropriate word for someone who grew up in what was once a part of the old South. Whenever I see 89 I think about the Fibonacci numbers, which start with 1 and another 1, then progress by adding the last two numbers to get the next:

      1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…


  5. Maria
    Feb 09, 2018 @ 07:52:26

    In P.R.‘anteojo’ (used for eyeglasses) was known but not used. Instead, ‘espejuelos’ is what was used. ‘Antojo’, however, is widely used.
    I’m investigating ‘espejuelos’ now because the DRAE has an entirely different meaning, although at the bottom it clarifies it can also mean: ‘anteojos (‖ gafas)’
    So it leads me to believe that ‘espejuelos’ (espe-juelos) could be a compounded word of unknown origin, since ‘lentes’ is what’s apparently mostly used in Latin America.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 09, 2018 @ 08:06:39

      I believe espejuelo is a diminutive of espejo. Etymologically speaking, espejo was already a diminutive that evolved from Latin speculum, so espejuelo is a double diminutive.


    • Maria
      Feb 09, 2018 @ 08:06:45

      I read it again (this same link) and it says that ‘espejuelos’ can also mean: ‘cristales que se ponen en los anteojos’, yet in P.R. it is used as meaning the whole pair of glasses. So it may have been an adopted term.


  6. Maria
    Feb 09, 2018 @ 08:10:03

    Yes, it must be that they adopted the diminutive form.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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