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

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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

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

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

Rancho

I drove past a lot of ranches on a recent trip that took me as far north as Wyoming. With that in mind, here’s an updated version of a post from four years ago.

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Allá en el rancho grande,
allá donde vivía,
había una rancherita
que alegre me decía,
que alegre me decía:
“Te voy a hacer tus calzones
como los que usan los rancheros.
Los comienzo de lana
y los acabo de cuero.”

(Out there on the big ranch,
out there where I was living,
there was a little rancher gal
who used to say to me cheerfully,
who used to say to me cheerfully:
“I’m going to turn your shorts [or pants]
into the kind that the rancher men wear.
I’ll start them out in wool
and finish them up in leather.”)

El rancho, los rancheros, la rancherita: we can picture the romantic scene described in that popular song, and what could be more quintessentially Spanish or Mexican? But there’s a surprise in store allá en el rancho: in terms of word origins, rancho should conjure up images of quiche rather than quesadillas, of pâté and not paella, of tartelettes rather than tortillas or tacos. Mais oui, Spanish rancho comes from French! And, à vrai dire, to tell the truth, the word actually traces even farther back, to Germanic. From Frankish, a Germanic language that gave France its name, Old French had borrowed ranc, a noun that meant ‘line, row.’ Old French ranc (which passed into English to join its native relative ring by becoming rank) led to the modern French verb ranger, whose meaning is clear from the borrowed English verb arrange. The French reflexive verb se ranger took on the sense, with respect to troops, ‘to arrange themselves on a campground’ and more generally ‘to set up camp.’ Spanish carried that reflexive French verb over as ranchearse, and the derived noun rancho came to mean ‘an encampment.’ Spanish speakers in the New World eventually extended the meaning to what we now think of as a rancho/ranch. English originally used the Spanish form rancho, but by the early part of the 20th century the Anglicized ranch won out.

We began with the first part of a song in Spanish, so let’s give equal time to English and conclude with the refrain of another song:

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Note that English range, borrowed from French, is etymologically the same as Spanish rancho, though the meanings of the two words, like the buffalo that once inhabited the plains, have roamed.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

ladrar

Ladrar, the Spanish word meaning ‘to bark,’ is little changed from the synonymous Latin verb lātrāre. While no ordinary English relative comes to mind, the adjective latrant*, derived from the present participle of the Latin verb, exists. It means, not surprisingly, ‘barking, snarling,’ although the Merriam-Webster Dictionary marks the word archaic, and the Collins English Dictionary literary. Back in 1845, when the word might have had a little more life in it than it does now, the Encyclopædia Metropolitana gave two examples from poetry:

Thy care be first the various gifts to trace,
The minds and genius of the latrant race.
—Tickell, “On Hunting”

Whose latrant stomachs oft protest
The deep-laid plans their dreams suggest.
— Green, “The Spleen”

When it comes to things zoological, we note that the scientific name of the coyote is Canis latrans, even if related species could equally well be described as ‘barking.’

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* The first syllable rhymes with that of matron.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Up

Something can be called high only with respect to something else that’s lower. Something can be called big only with respect to something else that’s smaller. Something can be called good only with respect to something else that’s worse. Those are examples of what I’ve come to call the Duality Principle. The little English word up exemplifies that principle, as etymology makes clear. Up has cognates in the Germanic languages (for example Norwegian opp, Icelandic upp, Danish op, German auf). Going back a good deal further, we find that the Indo-European original was *upo, which could mean—are you ready for a hefty dose of the Duality Principle?—not only ‘under’ and its opposite ‘over,’ but even ‘up from under.’

A variant form of the Indo-European root with an initial s- gave rise to Latin sub, which largely inherited the ‘under’ sense of its ancestor, as we see in many compounds taken from Latin. A few examples are submarino/submarine, subterráneo/subterranean, and sumergir/submerge. Nevertheless, in the familiar Spanish compound subir, which is sub+ir, the sense is ‘to go up [from under].’ If you’d like to read more about subir, you can check out a post from the first year of this blog.

Only an advanced foreign student of Spanish is likely to encounter the inherited (as opposed to borrowed) descendant of Latin sub, which is so. It’s no longer a living word but still appears in set phrases like so pena de ‘under pain of, at the risk of,’ and so color de and so pretexto de, both of which mean ‘on the pretext of.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

scient

One morning not long ago I was watching the news on television when all of a sudden—I don’t know why—I wondered whether English had ever used the adjective scient. If the noun convenience corresponds to the adjective convenient, and reliance to reliant, why not science to scient? When I did a search at the dictionary site onelook.com I found that English had indeed once accepted scient as an adjective meaning ‘knowing, skillful.’ The word was formed from Latin scient-, the stem of the present participle of the verb scīre that meant ‘to know.’ From scient- also came the abstract Latin noun scientia, whose meanings were ‘a knowing or being skilled in any thing; knowledge; skill, expertness,’ and ultimately ‘science,’ which Spanish has respelled ciencia. Science as we know it today didn’t exist in ancient times, so modern European languages had to create a new corresponding adjective. For Spanish and English that took the respective forms científico and scientific, with the Spanish adjective doubling as a noun corresponding to English scientist.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

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

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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