The English verb allow is unusual in that it comes from the merging of two verbs in Old French, neither of which meant ‘allow.’ One source was Old French alouer, which developed from Latin allaudāre, a compound of the laudāre that meant ‘to praise’ and that English has borrowed as laud. Latin laudāre evolved naturally in Spanish to loar.

The other contributor to Old French alouer was the Medieval Latin verb allocāre, which meant ‘to assign,’ and which English has acquired as allocate. The Latin verb was based on the noun locus ‘place,’ which served as the root for Spanish lugar.

Putting those two tracks together: somehow the notions of assigning and praising led in the Middle Ages to the sense of permitting that English allow took on and has retained.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    May 30, 2018 @ 07:50:57

    Sometimes, there’s very little that can be said to be praiseworthy about a traveling companion who thinks allocating even a half-hour to a prairie is excessive. But she allowed an hour at Diamond Grove without grumping, and I allowed a visit to the Walmart Museum and Five and Dime Store, so we’re more or less even. Onward!


  2. Maria
    May 31, 2018 @ 00:54:06

    French also used ‘locus’ as place. A real nice word is ‘lieu’: which is from Latin locum (nominative locus) “a place” (as locus) usually as part of the phrase in lieu of ‘in the place of,’ from Old French lieu, lou “place, position, situation, rank”. At least for me it is more similar to Spanish ‘lugar’.


  3. Maria
    May 31, 2018 @ 01:01:50

    I just found out that ‘loar’ is actually from Old Portuguese, but still from Latin laudāre, present active infinitive of laudō (“I praise”), from laus (“praise”). No wonder I never heard of it. I do know ‘elogiar’ and ‘alabar’, however.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 31, 2018 @ 06:12:15

      Wikcionario has a different take on the etymology of loar, deriving it directly from Latin:

      I had the sense that loar isn’t used much in Spanish, with alabar being more common.


      • Maria
        Jun 02, 2018 @ 08:12:44

        Spanish seems to have both Portuguese and Arabic influence. I found a really interesting article from Wikipedia itself with a good list of Spanish-Arabic influenced words, some of which persist in English also:

        alcohol: From Arabic al-kuhul
        almanaque: almanac
        azúcar: Sugar. From Arabic sukkar

        I suppose that at that point they depart from Latin. Some of them persist in French also.

        Here’s the article:

        I’d like to become more familiar with these words because it ‘demystifies’ the idea that it has to have ‘Latin’ in order to be a Romance language. Spanish is full of them, more so than any of the other Romance tongues, even with the Portuguese mix it also has.


        • Maria
          Jun 02, 2018 @ 08:45:59

          This is of course, as you know, because of the Arab invasion in 711-1492. The Muslims finally lost all power in Spain in 1492. The history is rather complicated but an undeniable part of Spain’s heritage.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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