cavilar/cavil

Spanish cavilar and English cavil both trace back to Latin cavillārī, whose meanings Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary gives as: ‘to practise jeering or mocking; to censure, criticise; to satirize in jest or earnest, to jest, etc.’ That dictionary then adds the extended senses that are the only ones English has borrowed: ‘to reason captiously, to use sophisms, to quibble.’ By contrast, in Spanish cavilar the meaning has turned positive: ‘to think about something intently or profoundly.’ It no longer matches any of the original Latin senses, but we won’t cavil about that turn toward the positive.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

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surco

The Spanish noun surco means ‘furrow.’ Try as I would, no English relative came to mind, so I looked up the etymology of surco and found it developed from the synonymous Latin sulcus, from the same root as in the verb sulcāre that meant ‘to plow.’ Once I saw that the original had an l rather than an r, there was no more need to sulk: I searched again and found that in the technical vocabulary of anatomy, sulcus is used to mean ‘any of the narrow grooves in an organ or tissue, especially those that mark the convolutions on the surface of the brain.’ A sulculus is ‘a small sulcus.’ The adjective sulcal means ‘of or relating to a sulcus.’ Sulciform obviously means ‘having the form of a sulcus,’ while sulcate means more generally ‘having deep narrow furrows or grooves.’ With reference to a foot or hoof, bisulcate or bisulcous is ‘cloven.’ In botany, something trisulcate ‘has three grooves or furrows,’ while in zoology the word means ‘having three digits.’ Anything ‘with many grooves or furrows’ is multisulcate.

Returning to Spanish, the verb surcar can have the literal sense ‘to make furrows in the ground’ or the extended sense ‘to create marks or structures that look like furrows.’ The synonymous Latinate verb asulcar exists but has fallen out of use.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

The vocabularily delicious “advectitious”

Several times in this column I’ve talked about the vagaries of Internet searches. One close encounter occurred when I went to books.google.com, typed in advectitious, and was asked whether I really meant adventitious. I’ve got nothing against adventitious—some of my most treasured finds on the Internet and elsewhere are adventicios/adventitious—but I really did mean advectitious, a word I’d just come across for the first time.

The root is vect-, from the past participle of the Latin verb vehere that meant ‘to carry, to bring.’ Related words are vector, literally ‘a carrier’; and convección/convection, which is ‘a process of transfer or transmission, as of heat or electricity, by means of currents in liquids or gases,’ e.g. in a convection oven.

The prefix in advectitious is the Latin ad that meant ‘to,’ just like its Spanish descendant a (which also can have the same sense as its native English cognate at). With reference to a location or system or style under discussion, something advectitious has been ‘carried to’ or ‘brought to’ it from a place where it is normally found; the advectitious thing is usually considered inappropriate in the new location. For example, writing in 1904, American architect Joy Wheeler Dow said in her book American Renaissance:

In my own very limited scope of usefulness, I am quite willing to confess that I have never bothered about style, and do not consider that I have any worth mentioning; although, I suppose, an occasional architect is annoyed past endurance by somebody who comes with an illustration of a particular piece of my work which has appeared in the magazines, requesting that my style be copied. Of course, it is not my style that is desired, but the expression of Anglo-Saxon home feeling as opposed to whatever is advectitious—out of place there—however correct academically, and according to the rules of harmony, good form or anything else you choose to call it.

Spanish speakers seem to have avoided importing *advecticioso into their language, where it might well be advectitious. Although advectitious has existed in English, it certainly isn’t common now. It’s one of those words that turn up in large dictionaries but rarely make their way outside them, like the rhyming deglutitious, satellitious, and even—tra la!—tralatitious.

While Spanish lacks the adjective *advecticioso, it does have the noun advección, which means ‘the action or effect of carrying or dragging something.’ In particular, as science uses the word, advección/advection is ‘the [usually horizontal] movement of a mass of fluid.’ Local weather, for example, changes after the advection of warm or cold air into the region. Corresponding to that noun is advectivo/advective, which we can’t help noticing is an adjetivo/adjective.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Regale

It would be easy to assume that the English verb regale is related to the one-letter-shorter adjective regal, so that regale could be taken to mean ‘to treat like a king.’ That’s not the case, however. English acquired regale, as Spanish apparently did regalar ‘to give as a gift,’ from French régaler, which came from the Old French noun regal that meant ‘feast’ and that was based on the verb galer ‘to make merry.’ From the Old French noun gale ‘rejoicing, merrymaking’ came Spanish and English (and Italian) gala.

The present participle of Old French galer, galant, is the source of galante/gallant. Going farther back, we find that the verb galer was of Germanic origin, a descendant of the Indo-European root *wel- that meant ‘to wish, to will.’ Naturally I wish you’re happy to have been regaled with these latest facts from the gallant world of etymology.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Tú and thou

The Spanish second-person-singular familiar subject pronoun has as its native English cognate thou. The object forms of the pronoun match up as well: te in Spanish, thee in English. The corresponding possessive adjectives are Spanish tu and English thy. All the English forms are obsolete but survive in old versions of the Bible and in other literature and documents that people still read. Or maybe “obsolete” is too strong a word because modern writers sometimes resort to the old forms to give their words an archaic feel. For example, Leonard Cohen’s song “Bird on the Wire,” written in the 1960s, includes the lines “I have saved all my ribbons for thee” and “I will make it all up to thee.”

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

From ancient Greece through the American Revolution to the beginning of the American Civil War

Based on the Greek verb sassein (also sattein) that meant ‘to arm, to pack,’ the noun sagma (with stem sagmat-) meant ‘cargo, munitions,’ and by association also the ‘packsaddle’ used to transport cargo. The Romans, always great importers from Greece, packed sagma over into Latin with the sense ‘packsaddle.’ Spanish ultimately altered that to salma, which took on the specific sense of ‘a ton’ (sorry, pack animals). Latin sagma also passed through Hispanic Arabic and Mozárabe to become Spanish enjalma, which retains the ‘packsaddle’ sense that salma also once had but lost.

From sagma Late Latin created the adjective sagmārius ‘pertaining to a packsaddle or packhorse.’ That evolved in Spanish to somera, with a shift in meaning to ‘cada una de las dos piezas fuertes de madera en que se apoya todo el juego de la máquina antigua de imprimir’ [each of the two heavy wooden beams that supported the entire apparatus of an ancient printing press’]. The change in meaning was a metaphorical one, with the two timbers doing the sort of holding up of weight that a beast of burden does.

Most English speakers will be surprised to learn that in addition to the summer that’s a season there’s another summer that means, in the definitions of the American Heritage Dictionary: ‘a heavy horizontal timber that serves as a supporting beam, especially for the floor above; a lintel; a large, heavy stone usually set on the top of a column or pilaster to support an arch or lintel.’ This less-well-known summer came into English from sumer, the Anglo-Norman development of the *saumārius that Vulgar Latin had created from sagmārius.

In another line of development, Vulgar Latin *saumārius became Old French sommier ‘beast of burden.’ By metaphorical extension to something inanimate, the primary meaning in modern French has become ‘box spring; base of a bed.’ Spanish borrowed the word, along with those meanings, as somier. Old French sommier also gave rise to the alternate form *sommerier, which in turn led to the altered sommelier that meant ‘officer in charge of provisions, pack-animal driver.’ Over time the meaning shifted to something a bit more exalted; the Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines it as ‘a waiter, as in a club or restaurant, who is in charge of wines.’ That’s the sense in which English has borrowed the French word. Spanish borrowed it too, in the form sumiller, which could also mean ‘Jefe o superior en algunas oficinas y ministerios de palacio.’

In addition to *saumārius, Vulgar Latin created the longer *saumatārius; it evolved to the Old French sometier that meant ‘driver of a packhorse.’ Middle English carried that over as sumpter. Eventually the noun added the sense given in the 1828 version of Noah Webster’s dictionary: ‘a horse that carries clothes or furniture; a baggage-horse; usually called a pack-horse.’ Earlier, though, in the way that words for occupations like fisher, brewer, carpenter, hunter, and farmer became family names, so did sumpter. In the alternate spelling Sumter, the name came down to Thomas Sumter of South Carolina, who rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Revolutionary War. He it was for whom the American military named Fort Sumter, which in 1861 saw the first battle in the American Civil War.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Skink

The verb skink has largely disappeared from English. Here it is in Chaucer: “Bacchus the wine them skinketh all about.” In a play in the 1600s James Shirley wrote of “Such wine as Ganymede doth skink to Jove.” Those two examples appeared in the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary, which gave this definition: ‘To draw or serve, as drink.’ The word seems to have survived in Scottish English, with the Online Scots Dictionary defining the verb as: ‘To pour liquid from one vessel or from a spoon or ladle into another in small quantities, to mix liquids in that way.’ Here’s the etymology given in Wiktionary: ‘From Old English scencan or Old Norse skenkja, from Proto-Germanic *skankijaną. Cognate with German schenken (“to give as a present”), Dutch schenken (“to pour, give as a present”).’ The skink that is a type of lizard is an unrelated word.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the connection to Spanish could be. It turns out that the Gothic cognate of the verb, *skankjan, got borrowed into Spanish as escanciar, which the DRAE defines as: ‘Echar o servir una bebida, especialmente vino, sidra u otro licor’ [‘to pour or serve a drink, especially wine, cider, or other alcoholic beverage’]. A person who performs that function is an escanciador (and formerly an escanciano). The abstract noun escancia designates the ‘acción y efecto de escanciar.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Putting up with throwing down the etymological gauntlet

A gauntlet (also spelled gantlet) is literally ‘a small glove,’ though the sense in English was originally (and still historically) ‘a part of a suit of armor that covers the forearm.’ In modern English a gauntlet can be any sort of ‘protective glove.’ English took the word from Old French gantelet, a diminutive of gant. That noun, along with the synonymous Spanish guante, ultimately traces back to a Frankish original presumed to have been *want. We should mention that Spanish also borrowed from French the guantelete that designates part of a suit of armor. We should point out in addition that the English gauntlet that appears in the phrase run the gauntlet is an unrelated word.

My guess is that even native Spanish speakers probably don’t connect guante with the aguantar that means ‘to put up with, to bear,’ yet there is a connection. Spanish borrowed aguantar from Italian agguantare, a verb coined to express the notion of grabbing on to something while wearing gloves for protection. The semantics then shifted metaphorically through ‘get a hold of’ and ‘deal with’ to the current senses of ‘bear, put up with.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

escudriñar

The Spanish verb escudriñar means ‘to examine carefully.’ Based on that definition and the sound of escudriñar, an English speaker can probably figure out that the related English word is scrutinize. The Spanish and English verbs are based on the Latin noun scrūtinium, which meant ‘a search, inquiry, investigation.’ That noun had been created from the verb scrūtārī ‘to search, examine.’ It in turn had been based on the noun scrūta, which surprisingly meant ‘old or broken stuff, trash.’ In ancient times, poor people picked through trash, just as poor people still do today, looking for usable things. The trash is long gone, etymologically speaking, and only the notion of looking carefully has survived in escudriñar/scrutinize. And speaking of surviving, notice that the original order of the Latin consonants persists in English scrutinize, while Spanish escudriñar shows a metathesis of the r.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Descendants of Latin virga

The Latin noun virga meant, as defined in Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary, ‘a slender green branch, a twig, sprout, switch, rod.’ From the Latin word came Spanish verga, which is little changed in form and which retains the already mentioned meanings of the Latin word. The Romans metaphorically applied virga to ‘a streak, stripe in the heavens; a water-gall.’ I’d not heard of a water-gall, but it apparently means the same thing that virga does in the use that modern climatologists have put it to, and that the American Heritage Dictionary defines as ‘wisps of precipitation streaming from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground.’

A Latin Dictionary is a work of the Victorian period, so its authors were squeamish about glossing another sense the Romans had transferred to virga; Lewis and Short defined that meaning of the Latin noun by using more Latin: ‘Genitalium, = membrum virile.’ Not only has Spanish retained the anatomical sense in verga, but the DRAE even lists it first among the meanings it gives. Through the word’s French cognate, English has acquired verge, whose meanings include: ‘a rod, wand, or staff carried as an emblem of authority or office; the spindle of a balance wheel in a clock or watch, especially such a spindle in a clock with vertical escapement; the male organ of copulation in certain mollusks.’ In case you’re wondering whether this is the same verge that English uses in the expression on the verge of, it is; the original ‘slender rod’ was taken metaphorically as a dividing line between one condition and another.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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