hipopótamo

The previous posting about hippocracy mentioned that Greek hippos meant ‘horse.’ English hippo is an informal shortening of hippopotamus, a Latin word that Spanish has carried over as hipopótamo. The Romans borrowed their compound word from Greek, where the second element meant ‘rushing water, river.’ As a result, a hipopótamo/hippopotamus is figuratively ‘a river horse.’ People don’t race hippos but they do race horses, and a hipódromo/hippodrome is, particularly with reference to Greek and Roman times, ‘a racetrack for horses.’ The word can also mean ‘an arena for equestrian performances,’ and even more generally ‘a performance hall.’ From 1905 to 1939 the New York Hippodrome was a famous theater; it was there in 1918 that the magician Harry Houdini made not a hippo but an elephant disappear from the stage in front of an astonished audience.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

stridulation

In my other blog I recently showed a close-up photograph of a cricket, and a commenter said that I should have added some etymology to the entomology by bringing in the word stridulation, which Spanish shares in the expected form estridulación. The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary gives two definitions:

1. Characterized by or making a shrill grating sound or noise.
2. Relating to or characterized by stridor.

 That second definition makes us aware that there’s a related noun stridor, which also has a two-part English definition:

1. A harsh, shrill, grating, or creaking sound.
2. Medicine  A harsh, high-pitched sound in inhalation or exhalation.

The DRAE defines the Spanish counterpart estridor as ‘Sonido agudo, desapacible y chirriante,’ which is about the same as the English definition.

Both forms of the noun go back to Latin strīdēre, an imitative verb that meant ‘to make harsh sounds.’ From that verb Latin created the adjective strīdulus, which we’ve borrowed as estriduloso/stridulous, and which is the basis for the modern verb estridular/stridulate and the noun that we began with, estridulación/stridulation.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

lagarto

On my other blog today I featured a green anole, which is a type of lizard found across the southeastern United States. Spanish lagarto and English lizard are indeed cognates, with both of them ultimately going back to Latin lacertus, which existed in the feminine form lacerta as well. Curiously, there was also a Latin lacertus that meant ‘the muscular part of the arm, from the shoulder to the elbow.’ Whether those two Latin nouns were the same word isn’t clear. Perhaps certain lizards reminded the Romans of the musculature of an arm—or vice versa—and so the word ended up with an extended meaning.

When the Latin word evolved to Old French, the c before e gradually came to represent the expected s sound, as we see in Old French lesarde. That consonant ultimately added the voicing of the surrounding vowels, resulting in modern French lézarde. English borrowed its version of the word from Old French, not modern French, but the English form likewise now shows the change from s to z.

The Spanish form lagarto is puzzling until we learn that it developed not from Latin lacertus but from Vulgar Latin *lacartus. That starting point explains why the k sound of the c didn’t become an s sound the way it did in Old French. Spanish retained the guttural quality of the consonant, which eventually picked up the voicing of the vowels that flanked it and became a g sound.

Although this blog focuses mostly on Spanish and English, I’ll add that French has formed a reflexive verb from its noun lézard: with reference to something like a painted wall, se lézarder means ‘to crack and peel so as to end up looking like the skin of a lizard.’ We can propose a Spanish verb lagartarse with that meaning, but will anyone use it? My Harper Collins Spanish Unabridged Dictionary does list an informal verb lagartear, which it says is used in the Cono Sur to mean ‘to pin down, to pinion,’ presumably from the way some lizards press their bodies down.’

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

cedazo y cetáceo

Spanish cedazo means ‘an instrument consisting of a cylinder with a cloth stretched across the bottom of it that serves as a sieve.’ The word evolved from Latin saetaceum ‘a sieve, strainer.’ That was based on saeta or seta ‘a thick, stiff hair; a bristle,’ so it’s clear that the Romans used animal hair to make the screens in some of their sieves. Biology has borrowed seta in its Latin sense but has also extended it to ‘the stalk of a moss capsule.’ The English adjective setaceous means ‘made of or having bristles.’

In contrast, and spelled with an initial c-, yet still based on the same Latin original, the adjective cetáceo/cetaceous designates ‘any of the mammals in the group that includes whales and porpoises,’ from the fact that some of those animals have sieve-like structures in their mouths to get food by filtering tiny creatures out of the water they swim through.

Darwin used the word in his 1839 book The Voyage of the Beagle, when he spoke of the strange fact that such enormous mammals subsist on such small organisms: “If we suppose the case of the discovery of a skeleton of a Greenland whale in a fossil state, not a single cetaceous animal being known to exist, what naturalist would have ventured conjecture on the possibility of a carcass so gigantic being supported on the minute crustacea and mollusca living in the frozen seas of the extreme North?”

Readers wishing more information about this group of marine mammals can turn to Wikipedia articles in Spanish and English.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

mariposa

The previous post connected Spanish mariquita ‘ladybug’ to Mary, whom Catholics refer to as Our Lady. Mary is also connected to a larger and even prettier insect, the butterfly, which Spanish calls a mariposa. That word was apparently created by combining María and the imperative of posar ‘to set down, place, pose, alight.’ Guido Gómez de Silva suggests that María may be a stand-in for ‘woman’ in general, and for support he points to babochka, the Russian word for ‘butterfly,’ which is a diminutive of the baba that means ‘woman.’

If we switch over to the botanical world, at least as English describes it, we have marigold. Old English called the flower just golde, based on the yellow-orange of the flowers. The reference to Mary was added in the Middle Ages.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

mariquita

I remember the beginning of the well-known Mexican song by Marcos A. Jiménez:

Adiós, Mariquita linda,
ya me voy porque tú ya no me quieres
como yo te quiero a ti.

Goodbye, pretty little Marica,
I’m going away now because you no longer love me
As much as I love you.

Written with a capital letter, Mariquita is the diminutive of Marica, which itself is a pet form of María (as is Maruca). But with a small letter, mariquita is the Spanish word for what English variously calls a ladybug, a ladybird, or now increasingly and with biological accuracy a lady beetle. That the Spanish name for the insect should be linked to María may seem strange, but in Catholic countries, of which Spain is one, María understandably has strong positive connotations. This is the María/Mary to whom people, including Paul McCartney, find themselves appealing in times of trouble. And appealing to our eyes is the bright red covering of the ladybug—note how the English term likewise refers to Mary, though using not her name but her title, [Our] Lady. Esthetics aside, farmers and agronomists have found the ladybug to be beneficial because it eats various types of smaller insects that can damage crops, and that beneficial nature is apparently the common quality that originally linked the ladybug to Our Lady.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

P.S.  Readers who’d like to supplement these words with a picture can turn to my recently launched nature photography blog to see a photograph of a lady beetle in a colony of wild sunflowers.

Here today, gone tomorrow

In a post dated May 3, 2011, entitled “Night Owls and Early Birds,” Lexie Kahn wrote:

Ian Tattersal coined the term cathemeral in 1979 to describe an animal whose activity is ‘evenly throughout the 24 h of the daily cycle,’ from the Greek words “κατα” (through) and  “ἡμέρα” [hɛːméraː] (the day, read as the 24-hour daily cycle).

I don’t find cathemeral in any of my regular dictionaries (and for what it’s worth, my spell checker, a slave to foolish consistency, underlines cathemeral each time I type it), but the word has a relative that is in all but the simplest of dictionaries. The ancient Greeks created the original of that more common relative by using as a first element not kata but epi, a preposition with many senses. The resulting Greek ephemeros, literally ‘[lasting only] for a day,’ is the source of our efímero/ephemeral, which can mean the same as its Greek ancestor but also more loosely ‘of brief duration, short-lived.’

The ancient Greeks used ephemeron, the neuter of ephemeros, as a name for the mayfly, an insect whose adult stage lasts just a day or so. For entomologists, whose technical vocabulary forces them to be etymologists whether they’re so inclined or not, an ephemerid is ‘an insect of the mayfly family.’ Spanish calls that type of insect an efímera (though the vernacular name is cachipolla). In the world of botany, Spanish efémero serves as a name for the plant it also calls lirio hediondo, a type of lily whose foul-smelling flowers presumably don’t last long. And astronomers, who look up at the heavens and sometimes down on biologists as mere cataloguers, look to an efemérides/ephemeris, which used to mean ‘a diary,’ when they need ‘a book that tabulates the apparent positions of stars and planets throughout the year.’ Note that the Spanish form efemérides corresponds to a Greek plural; in addition to the singular ephemeris, English can also say ephemerides, but it still treats that formal plural as a singular, just as it does with Greek-derived abstract nouns like mathematics, ethics, physics, and politics.

Learned English uses the Greek noun ephemeron, with plural ephemera, for ‘a short-lived thing.’ In particular, collectors have adopted the term ephemera to designate printed matter like tickets, playbills, and posters, that were originally meant to be used for a short time and then discarded. And coming full circle, English speakers have to wonder whether the word with which this post began will catch on, or whether cathemeral will be ephemeral.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

ranunculus

Yesterday’s posting dealt with rana ‘frog’ and a couple of its diminutives. Another Latin diminutive of rana had been ranunculus, which could refer to ‘a little frog’ or ‘a tadpole.’ Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary adds that the Romans used the word humorously to refer to ‘an inhabitant of Ulubrae,’ a village that was some 30 miles from Rome at the edge of the Pontine Marshes and therefore close to lots of frogs. Although that joking reference is lost to all but Latin scholars (and now readers of this blog), botanists have carried over another sense of ranunculus: the Romans used the word to designate ‘a certain medicinal plant,’ presumably because it or some part of it resembled a little frog, or perhaps because the plant was found in the same environment as frogs. Spanish has altered the word slightly to ranúnculo, and the unchanged Latin Ranunculus now serves as the genus name for the type of plant with yellow flowers that English knows as a ‘buttercup.’

A flower in the genus Ranunculus

 

Not to be outdone by biolgists, mathematicians have added the suffix -oid, which means ‘looking like, resembling,’ to create ranunculoid as the name of a certain five-lobed closed curve whose shape is like that of a buttercup’s flower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

rana

The Latin word for ‘frog’ was rana, which the American Heritage Dictionary notes may have been of imitative origin; compare the way English speakers say rivet or ribbit for the sound a frog makes. Spanish has imitated Latin by carrying over rana as its own word for ‘frog,’ and zoology has followed suit by adopting Rana as the name for the genus that includes many familiar types of frogs. The Spanish rana spawned ranacuajo, now usually renacuajo, which means ‘tadpole.’ The word has added the slang sense ‘a runt,’ or as English says by switching to a different sort of little animal, ‘a shrimp.’ Spanish ranilla, literally ‘a small frog,’ can also mean what English has called a frog or frush, which is ‘the triangular prominence of the hoof, in the middle of the sole of the foot of the horse.’

One Latin diminutive of rana was ranula, literally ‘a little frog.’ The Romans extended the word metaphorically to mean ‘a small swelling on the tongue of cattle’ that must have looked to them like a little frog. The resemblance was apparently convincing enough that we’ve borrowed ránula/ranula in its figurative Latin sense; in addition, doctors use the term for ‘a cyst on the underside of the tongue caused by the blockage of a duct in a gland.’ Based on the location of such a cyst, two of the blood vessels on the underside of the human tongue have been named the vena ranina/ranine vein and the arteria ranina/ranine artery.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

hipopótamo

Yesterday’s posting about hippocracy mentioned that Greek hippos meant ‘horse.’ English hippo is an informal shortening of hippopotamus, a Latin word that Spanish has carried over as hipopótamo. The Romans borrowed their compound word from Greek, where the second element meant ‘rushing water, river.’ As a result, a hippopotamus/hipopótamo is figuratively ‘a river horse.’ People don’t race hippos but they do race horses, and a hipódromo/hippodrome is, particularly with reference to Greek and Roman times, ‘a racetrack for horses.’ The word can also mean ‘an arena for equestrian performances,’ and even more generally ‘a performance hall.’ From 1905 to 1939 the New York Hippodrome was a famous theater; there in 1918 the magician Harry Houdini made not a hippo but an elephant disappear from the stage in front of an astonished audience.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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