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

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

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

buckaroo

A friend of mine once wrote in an e-mail: “Will do, buckaroo.” Spanish speakers may recognize that the colloquial buckaroo, which entered English in the 1800s, is just an Anglicized version of vaquero ‘cowboy,’ with the b of buckaroo doing a good job in representing the Spanish pronunciation of v. Although Spanish vaquero (from vaca) and English cowboy both refer to the cattle that the workers herded, the men actually rode horses. That may explain the reshaping of the first part of vaquero to English buck, which is what an unbroken horse often does when a cowboy first tries to ride it. We also note that the middle-syllable stress of the Spanish original has been bucked onto the last syllable of the English version.

The use of buck as a verb, which comes from the noun buck that means ‘a male animal,’ also goes back to the cowboy days of the 1800s. Writing to you from Texas, I can’t resist quoting what Farmer and Henley said about that usage in their famous Slang and Its Analogues, whose seven volumes gradually got published from 1890 to 1904:

“This term, as applied to horses, consists in plunging forward and throwing the head to the ground in an effort to unseat the rider—a motion of which probably no domesticated beast is capable, aside from the Texan miserable and treacherous species of horse. A raw hand thus relates his experience:—‘When I was told how hard he could buck, I only laughed, my impression being that no pony standing on four legs could throw me off. I mounted my new horse, and waving my brand new hat about my head, galloped away in a dignified style. Suddenly the horse stopped. His ears went back, and his hind legs went between his front. The motion was a curious one. But I did not fall. Realizing that the man on his back could ride a little bit, the pony got right down to business. My stomach seemed to fly up into my mouth and millions of stars floated about my head. I am not prepared to state what kind of hold the pony got on me, but I went sprawling on the ground, my nose making an irrigating ditch. It was all done not more than one hundred yards from where my girl was standing. I stuck on well, however, as the saddle, blanket, gun and bridle came off with me. The wild yell that greeted my exploit nearly drove me mad. While I spit the dirt and curses out of my mouth, I thought that if I had that pony back I’d break him in or break my head. It ran out on the prairie and joined the Government herd. When an old-timer tried to fix things for me in front of my girl by saying, “It’s no disgrace, pardner, that horse can buck off a porous plaster,” I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.’”

© 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

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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