Spanish and English share the adjective nival, which they naturally pronounce differently. The word means ‘having to do with snow’; it has also taken on a biological sense: ‘growing in or under, or living on snow cover.’ Spanish speakers have the advantage over English speakers because nival resembles nieve ‘snow.’ On the other hand, English speakers may take a clue from an American state with a Spanish name, Nevada, meaning ‘snow-covered.’

Nival comes from Latin nivālis, the adjective corresponding to the word for snow, nix, with stem niv-. That noun evolved from the Indo-European root *sneigwh-. While the initial s- has melted away in Latin, it has remained frozen onto the beginning of the native English cognate snow.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria
    Apr 20, 2018 @ 09:11:25

    ‘Nival’ is new to me. It’s one of those words that I learn in this blog.

    I looked up ‘dis-frutar’ in DRAE but concentrated on just the prefix ‘dis’ and I found:
    Del lat. dis-.
    1. pref. Indica negación o contrariedad. Discordancia, disculpa, disconformidad.
    2. pref. Denota separación. Distraer.
    3. pref. Indica distinción. Discernir, distinguir.

    So in the case of ‘disfrutar’, the ‘dis’ seems to apply in the #3 sense “Discernir, distinguir.” ‘Frutar’ is the same. ‘Frutar’ is similar in English but ‘disfrutar’ is not.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 20, 2018 @ 10:05:32

      I was surprised to learn just now that French has the cognate verb défruiter. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at never having seen that verb because from what I can tell it’s not common. The meaning is ‘to remove the fruit taste from,’ and in the example that I found the verb is applied to olive oil. Spanish seems to be alone in the semantic shift of disfrutar to ‘enjoy.’

      As for dis- (as well as ex-), I’ve sometimes found it difficult to account for the sense that the prefix imparts to the verb it’s applied to. There are general patterns, like the three you listed, but specific verbs sometimes seem not to fit any of the general cases.


  2. shoreacres
    Apr 20, 2018 @ 21:17:00

    I can’t think of my grandmother without thinking of her cobalt jar of Nivea skin cream. There was an entire line of skin care products manufactured in Germany under that name. The cream itself was snow white, and the name was chosen to suggest that using the stuff would result in a lightened, porcelain-like complexion. I don’t know about that, but I do remember it having a pleasant scent.

    Somehow I missed knowing that Nevada means snow-covered. It certainly is appropriate.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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