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

Advertisements

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

bajada

Last week in a blog post about rocks on the coast of Cornwall I came across the word bajada. I’d never seen it used in English, so I checked and found that sure enough, some English dictionaries do include it. For example, dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary, defines the term as ‘an alluvial plain formed at the base of a mountain by the coalescing of several alluvial fans.’ That dictionary even gives a good etymology: “1865-70, Americanism; < Spanish: slope, swoop, orig. feminine past participle of bajar to descend < Vulgar Latin *bassiāre, derivative of Late Latin bassus short, low. The adjective bassus led not only to Spanish bajo but also, via Old French, to English base in the senses ‘of low morals; of low quality.’ In addition, Late Latin bassus is the source of the English bass that means ‘having a low pitch or deep tone.’ A conjecture basing the English and Spanish noun base ‘the lowest part’ on the same Late Latin bassus turns out to be false; that base goes back to Greek basis.

© 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

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.

–   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

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

Previous Older Entries

If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
%d bloggers like this: