entender

Anyone who has studied French and Spanish soon comes to learn that entendre and entender are faux amis (amigos falsos/false friends). The two verbs are etymologically the same, yet the primary French sense is ‘to hear’ while the primary Spanish sense is ‘to understand.’ Let’s go back to Latin to see how the words developed. The main element was Latin tendere, the source of Spanish tender and English tend. Also from that root, by the way, is tienda/tent, in which some sort of material is stretched out over a rigid frame. That makes sense, you see, because Latin tendere had as its basic meanings ‘to stretch, stretch out, distend, extend.’ Notice that those last two English definitions likewise come from compounds of tendere.

Yet another Latin compound was intendere, where the prefix in meant not its usual ‘in’ but rather ‘to’ or towards.’ Definitions of intendere in Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary include ‘to stretch out, stretch forth, extend; to strain towards; to turn towards, direct towards.’ In particular, the phrase intendere animum meant ‘to direct one’s thoughts or attention to.’ Often the purpose of directing one’s thoughts or attention to something is to understand it, and so Spanish entender took on the meaning ‘to understand.’ French entendre also once had the sense ‘to understand,’ but eventually a particular way of directing one’s attention came to dominate the verb’s meaning, namely to pay attention by listening. That semantic drift was aided by the fact that French ouïr, the cognate of Spanish oír ‘to hear,’ gradually fell out of use, and entendre filled the gap.

Even so, in some French expressions the verb entendre retains the sense ‘understand.’ For example, a malentendu is ‘a misunderstanding.’ Joan Corominas points out that in the 1800s Spanish copied malentendido from the French noun, and he notes that the word was originally looked down on as a Gallicism. English did its own related borrowing from French with double entendre, which is ‘a phrase that can be understood in two ways, one of them often being risqué.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

clangor

The not-so-common word clangor exists in Spanish and English because both languages borrowed it directly from Latin. The similarly uncommon Latin noun had been based on the stem of the verb clangere, which the Romans had created to imitate the action it represented, namely ‘to clang, to sound.’

Spanish uses clangor for ‘the sound of a trumpet or bugle,’ while the English clangor means ‘a clanging; a racket, a din.’ Notice that the first part of the English definition is circular because it assumes you know what the related clang means. Short, consonant-heavy words like that are usually native English, but in this case English appears to have formed clang from Latin clangere. As far as I can tell, Spanish doesn’t have a verb that’s a descendant of clangere but if it ever creates one we’ll certainly raise a clangor to mark the event.

Speaking of events, it occurred to me that the city of Bangor, Maine, might well have held some sort of festival called The Clangor in Bangor. An Internet search failed to turn anything up, however, so the folks on the Bangor City Council might want to get cracking.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

lore

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Click the photograph for more information about this bird.

Two unrelated English words have ended up as lore. The more common one, which means ‘a traditional body of knowledge,’ appears in the second line of Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

The other lore is a biological term. It refers to something you probably didn’t know there was a word for: ‘the region between a bird’s eye and its bill.’ That region is typically strap-shaped (see photo above), and in fact lore was borrowed from the Latin noun lōrum that meant ‘strap, thong.’ Botanical Spanish uses the adjective lorado to mean ‘strap-shaped,’ but ornithological Spanish doesn’t appear to have borrowed the noun *loro (perhaps because it would get confused with the loro that means ‘parrot’).
From the root of lōrum the Romans seem to have created Latin lōrīca, which designated a leather cuirass, a corselet of thongs.’ English uses that word as a historical term, and by analogy biologists have extended the definition of lorica to a ‘protective external shell or case, as of a rotifer or any of certain other microscopic organisms.’
© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

lid

The title of today’s post isn’t the English lid that means ‘cover’ but the Spanish lid that means ‘contention, controversy, argument, disputation.’ Probably no English relative will come to mind until you learn that the Spanish noun evolved from the Latin stem līt whose meanings included ‘strife, dispute, quarrel; charge, accusation, lawsuit.’ In that last sense, the Romans combined līt– with the verb agere ‘to do, make’ (think agente/agent) to create the compound lītigāre that we’ve borrowed as litigar/litigate.

From lid Spanish has made the verb lidiar that means basically ‘to struggle, fight,’ particularly against a bull. A derivative sense is ‘to get along, cope, get by, make out, make do, deal with, manage.’ English doesn’t seem to have any simple descendant of līt– the way Spanish does, but English law uses the Latin phrase ad lītem “to refer to the appointment by a court of one party… to act in a lawsuit on behalf of another party such as a child or an incapacitated adult, who is deemed incapable of representing himself.”

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

What’s good for the goose is good for the ganso.

If English goose and Spanish ganso mean the same thing and look alike, it’s no coincidence. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Spanish acquired ganso from a Germanic source akin to Old High German gans, a cognate of English goose. The English word used to have an n in it, and still does in the masculine version, gander.

Long after Spanish borrowed ganso from Germanic, the borrowing may have gone the other way. It’s conjectured that the slang English term gonzo ultimately traces back to ganso following the semantic line that allows English to refer to someone as a silly goose. If you’re not familiar with gonzo, the Collins English Dictionary defines it as:

1. wild or crazy
2. (of journalism) explicitly including the writer’s feelings at the time of witnessing the events or undergoing the experiences written about.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

samphire

In learning about the native plant that botanists categorize as Sarcocornia (previously Salicornia) pacifica recently, I noticed that a couple of its vernacular names are Pacific swampfire and Pacific samphire. The plant grows in saline marshes, so that accounted for the “swamp.” Some parts of the plant turn reddish, so I figured that color metaphorically became the “fire.” As I imagined it, samphire would have arisen as a faster, simpler pronunciation of swampfire.

So much for hypotheses: once I investigated, I found I had things backwards, because swampfire arose as a folk-etymological recasting of the opaque samphire. I had gotten it partly right, though, because samphire did come about as a phonetically recast English version of the French name Saint Pierre. The American Heritage Dictionary explains that the name, which originally applied to a Eurasian plant (hence the qualifier Pacific swampfire), came “from French (herbe de) Saint Pierre, (herb of) Saint Peter, after Saint Pierre, Saint Peter, a patron saint of fisherman (the plant being so called because it grows on rocks near the sea, the name perhaps also being influenced by French pierre, rock).”

The connections to Spanish, of course, are that French saint is Spanish santo (both from Latin sanctus ‘holy’), and French pierre is Spanish piedra (both from Latin petra, taken from Greek petrā ‘cliff, rock’). Relatives of the former include santificar/sanctify and santurrón/sanctimonious. Relatives of the latter include petrificar/petrify and petróleo/petroleum (literally ‘rock oil’).

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Two haves that look like have-nots

Just about everyone recognizes the first part of the English word malady. It comes from Latin male, which meant the same as its Spanish descendant mal ‘badly.’ The second part of malady, which English took from Old French, remains opaque. If we trace the compound back to Latin, we find it began as the two-word phrase male habitus ‘badly held,’ whose second element is the past participle of habēre, the ancestor of Spanish haber ‘to have.’

In the case of the English adjective able, but the loss of an initial h- in Old French, which is where English acquired the word, ended up concealing the word’s origin in Latin habilis, whose meanings were ‘that may be easily handled or managed, manageable, suitable, fit, proper, apt, expert, light, nimble, swift.’ The ‘handled’ sense shows that the Romans created habilis from habēre ‘to have, hold, possess, handle.’ In another instance of Seeing Isn’t Believing, the Latin adjective suffix -abilis is unrelated.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

To give is to receive

The previous post talked about some words derived from the Latin verb habitāre that meant ‘inhabit, dwell.’ If we go farther back, we find habitāre itself was a frequentative verb that the Romans created from the stem of habitus, the past participle of the important verb habēre ‘to possess, have, hold’ that became Spanish haber but that in spite of the striking coincidence in form and meaning is completely unrelated to English have. No kidding. If you’d like more information about English have and its origins, you can check out a post that appeared here in 2014.

If we push even further back, we find that Latin habēre descended from the Indo-European root *ghabh- (or *ghebh-), which, as a good example of the duality principle, could mean both ‘to receive’ and ‘to give.’ There can be no receiving if someone isn’t simultaneously giving. The ‘receiving’ end of the spectrum came down into Latin habēre. Then there was a further shift in semantics: after you’ve received something, you have it. At the other end of the spectrum, the ‘giving’ sense of Indo-European *ghebh- is apparent in native English give and the corresponding noun gift, which came from Old Norse. There’s also forgive, a compound of give.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

A Spanish word is an English word is a Latin word as a verb becomes a noun

I was recently looking at the website for the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation in Ecuador and noticed these words: “Trabajamos en la conservación del hábitat….” What jumped out at me was the word hábitat, which I took to be borrowed directly from English, even to the accent indicating the same stress as in the English word. I may or may not be right about Spanish taking the word from English; English took it directly from Latin, where habitat is the third-person singular present-tense form of the verb habitāre that we’ve carried over as habitar/inhabit. Starting several centuries ago, Latin biological descriptions included the word habitat in statements telling which places various species inhabit. Eventually modern European languages adopted habitat as a noun designating a biologically inhabited place. From the same Latin root we have hábito/habit, which is a routine that has metaphorically inhabited a person.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

arrecirse

How appropriate, with the northern hemisphere about to enter winter, that I recently learned the Spanish verb arrecirse, which means ‘to become numb, swollen, or stiff with cold.’ While a first glance probably doesn’t suggest any connection to English, the DRAE traces arrecir to Latin *arrigescere, an inchoative version of the Classical Latin verb arrigere ‘to set up, raise, erect.’ The underlying Indo-European root is the *reg- ‘to move in a straight line’ that underlies so many words in Spanish and English, e.g. corregir/correct, dirigir/direct, regente/regent, and native English right.

Etymology aside, arrecir is one of 16 Spanish verbs (plus compounds) whose present tenses share the peculiarity that they have forms only for the first and second person plural. In this case, that means nosotros nos arrecimos and vosotros os arrecís. Strange, huh? We get numb with cold but I by myself don’t. Of course, where there’s a chill there’s a way, and when the action is happening now rather than being put forth as habitual, we can use a circumlocution like me estoy arreciendo. If you’d like, you can click to see the 15 other verbs that follow this curious pattern.

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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