Thursday, May 25, 2017

Infectious diseases, Part 5: Shingles

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 32 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


In Chapter 3 of Part II, §3.4.3, we saw the Latin noun cingulum, which is the same in both nominative and accusative cases and which meant ‘girdle which encircles the hips; zone, belt; sword-belt; sash’. This noun is derived from the root cĭng‑ of the verb cĭngĕre (cĭng‑ĕ‑re > cĭng‑ŭl‑um), a verb that meant ‘to surround, encircle; to gird on’. We saw that a patrimonial descendant of cĭngŭlum in Spanish is cincho, a word that is rare nowadays and that means ‘belt’ or ‘hoop’.

In English, we saw that there is a word cingulum which is a New Latin medical term in English that has different meanings depending on the context. In anatomy, refers to ‘a curved bundle of nerve fibers in the brain’ (Sp. giro cingulado). In dentistry, cingulum refers to ‘a ridge of enamel on the crown of a tooth’ (COED).

A variant of Lat. cĭngŭlum in Medieval Latin, namely cĭngŭlus, is the source of the English word shingles in English for a disease that results in ‘an acute painful inflammation of nerve endings, with a skin eruption often forming a girdle around the body, caused by the varicella zoster virus’ (COED). The word is first attested in the late 14th century. Because it became a common word its phonetic shape (sound) and its spelling changed much more than if it had remained a learned word of the books. The Medieval Latin word cĭngŭlus that Eng. shingles comes from was a translation or a calque of the Gk. ζωστήρ‎ (zōstḗr), which meant ‘girdle’ and ‘waist-belt for men’ and which was used as the name for the disease in Greek. As we shall se, the word zoster is the technical name of the virus in both English and Spanish.

Figure 116: Images of two cases of shingles, on one side of the torso and on one side of the face[i]

Some words related to this disease

As we saw, shingles results in a skin eruption (Sp. erupción cutánea) which is consists of a painful skin rash (Sp. sarpullido, erupción cutánea) with blisters (Sp. ampolla). Let us look at the origin of some of these words. Let us start with the word rash /ˈɹæʃ/ in English, a word that refers primarily to ‘an area of redness and spots on the skin’ (COED). The word is presumably (but not for sure) a loanword from Old French rache or rasche ‘scurf, eruptive sores’ (cf. It. raschia ‘itch’). It first appears in English in the early 18th century. The final source of this word is thought to be the Vulgar Latin verb *rasicare ‘to scrape’, which is the source of Sp. rascar ‘to scrape, scratch’. This Vulgar Latin verb is derived from Lat. rāsus ‘scraped’, passive participle of the verb rādĕre ‘to scrape, scratch, etc.’.[1] Thus, interestingly, Eng. rash and Sp. rascar are cognate words since they share the same root.

Next, let us look at the Spanish noun ampolla ‘blister’. It comes from Lat. ampŭlla, which meant ‘bottle, jar, flask for holding liquids, traditionally with two handles’. There are two theories about the origin of this word. One is that it contains the prefix ambi- ‘both, on both sides’ (from the Latin determiner ambō ‘both’) plus olla ‘pot, jar’, cf. Sp. olla ‘pot’. Another theory is that it is an irregular diminutive of the word amphora, ‘a large oblong vessel for liquids, with a handle on each side’, a loanword from Gk. ἀμφορεύς (amphoreús), a shortened form of from ἀµϕιϕορεύς ‘vased shaped ornament with a narrow neck’, from ἀμφί (amphí) ‘(on) both (sides)’ and  ϕορεύς ‘bearer, carrier’, from the verb ϕέρειν ‘to bear’.

The word ampolla can also mean ‘small bottle’ in Spanish, as well as ‘ampoule, vial’. In this last sense, we just saw a cognate of this word in English, namely ampoule, a French loan for ‘a small glass vial that is sealed after filling and used chiefly as a container for a hypodermic injection solution’ (AHD). In English, there is also a word ampulla, borrowed directly from Latin, for ‘a Roman two-handed round vessel used for wine, oil, or perfume’. This word also translates into Spanish as ampolla. The word ampulla is also used in various scientific, anatomical contexts in English to refer to ‘a dilated segment in a tubular structure’ or ‘the dilated end of a duct’. These senses also translate as ampolla in Spanish. There are cognates of this word in other languages. Thus, Catalan ampolla means bottle’ and Italian ampulla can mean ‘cruet’, ‘ampulla’, or ‘bulb’ (such as a light bulb).

The cognates Eng. eruption ~ Sp. erupción are learned loanwords from Latin. Besides meaning ‘the act of erupting’, as in a volcano, this noun can also mean in both languages ‘the breaking out of a rash on the skin or mucous membrane’ (MWC). These words come from the Latin noun ēruptiō ‘eruption, outburst, onrush’ derived from the passive participle stem ērupt‑ of the verb ērŭmpĕre ‘to break out, burst out, rush out’ formed from the prefix ex‑ ‘out’ and the verb rŭmpĕre ‘to break, burst’, the source of patrimonial Sp. romper ‘to break’ (cf. Chapter 37, §37.3).

As for the Spanish word sarpullido for a skin rash, it is derived from an earlier, attested word sarpullo, which some think goes back to Late Latin serpusculus ‘crawling rash’, a noun derived from the verb serpĕre ‘to creep, crawl’. Another theory is that it goes back to Latin serpullum ‘thyme, wild-thyme’, a loanword from Gk. ἑρπυλλον (hérpullon), with the initial h replaced by s under the influence of the verb serpĕre ‘to creep, crawl’.[2] By the way, some think that the word serpusculus is the source of the very popular Portuguese dish sarrabulho or serrabulho made with coagulated pig’s blood, chicken, pork, ham, sausage, and other ingredients.

More about shingles

The eruptions in this disease can occur on either side of the body, but they never go fully around the body as a belt does, which is what the name implies. The eruptions can happen in the head, the neck, or any part of the torso. Very often they take place around (half of) the chest, which is why the disease was given this name. The eruptions are accompanied by intense pain and itching, though the pain may appear days before the eruptions.

The medical name of the disease commonly known as shingles is herpes zoster (HZ), after the name of the virus, varicella zoster virus (VZV) (Sp. virus varicela-zóster, or VVZ), one of the nine herpes viruses that infect humans (cf. §32.3.16 above). This is the same virus that resides in nerve cells and causes chickenpox, also known as varicella in English (Sp. varicela; cf. §32.3.56 below). When a person has chickenpox, usually as a child, and recovers from it, the virus does not go away but rather remains dormant in the nerve cells of the spinal cord. If at a later time the virus reawakens, it travels along the nerves that go from the spinal cord around both sides of the body, causing shingles. In other words, one must have had chickenpox in order to have shingles at a later time.

The reawakening of the VZV in adults is due to a lowering of the immunity to this virus due to of aging or immunosuppression. Children do not get chickenpox as much nowadays as in earlier times because there has been a vaccine available since the 1980s and, as a result, adults are not re-exposed to the virus in the environment as much as they were in the past, something which allowed the immunities to be strengthened as they aged. This is thought to account for the higher prevalence of shingles nowadays.

Unlike chickenpox, shingles is not contagious unless there is direct contact with the liquid inside the shingles pustules. (Chickenpox is very contagious through the air.) If that were to happen, the infected person would get chickenpox, not shingles, assuming they did not have the immunity. Chickenpox is not a serious disease in children, but it can be more serious in adults since adults are more likely than children to die or to have serious complications from this infection.

The varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox may lie dormant for many decades before reappearing to cause shingles. Older people, who have a weaker immune system, are more likely to get it. Stress, which also depresses one’s immune system, is also associated with the appearance of shingles. Also, the older one is, the more severe the aftermath of the disease, which may result in postherpetic neuralgia (PHN, Sp. neuralgia posherpética), damage of the nerves, which may take months or years to be repaired.

In Spanish, nowadays the disease is known primarily by its technical name, namely herpes zóster. An earlier, popular name for it was culebrilla, a word that is a diminutive form of the noun culebra ‘snake’ (< V.Lat. colọ́bra < Lat. cŏlŭbra, same meaning). Obviously, the source of this name has something in common to the name herpes which, was we saw earlier, comes from a word that means ‘to crawl’.

Shingles affects approximately one million individuals in the US each year. Of those, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent develop postherpetic neuralgia. The older a person is, the more likely they will develop postherpetic neuralgia. Less than 10% of those under 60 do, whereas about 40% of those over 60 do. That is why it is recommended that people over 60 take the shingles vaccine, available since 2006. The vaccine is not perfect, however. According to the CDC, it reduces the chances of getting shingles by half and of getting postherpetic neuralgia by two thirds.

The other words shingle in English

We should mention that the word shingles is not related to the noun shingle (pl. shingles) that means ‘a rectangular wooden tile used on walls or roofs’ (COED) (Sp. tablilla or teja plana). This noun is thought to come from Late Latin scindula, a variant of Lat. scandula, a diminutive meaning ‘roof-tile, shingle’ and derived from the Latin verb scandĕre ‘to climb, ascend, mount; clamber’. Its passive participle form was scānsum. This verb has not made it into Spanish or English, but several derived ones have, resulting in a number of cognates that are actually semi-false friends (or semi-friends):
  • Eng. ascend /ə.ˈsɛnd/ ~ Sp. ascender /as.θen.ˈd̪eɾ/, from Lat. ascendĕre ‘to go up to, climb up to’, from ad ‘to’ and scandĕre ‘to climb’; nouns derived from this verb are the semi-friends Eng. ascent ‘subida, ascension, ascenso’ ~ Sp. ascenso ‘rise, ascent, promotion’
  • Eng. descend /dɪ.ˈsɛnd/ ~ Sp. descender /d̪es.θen.ˈd̪eɾ/, from Lat. dēscendĕre ‘to come down, etc.’, from dē‑ ‘down’ and scandĕre ‘to climb’; nouns derived from this verb are the semi-friends Eng. descent ‘descenso, bajada; ascendencia; etc’ ~ Sp. descenso ‘fall, drop; descent, etc.’
  • Eng. transcend /tɹæn.'sɛnd/ ‘ir más allá de, superar’ ~ Sp. trascender /tɾas.θen.ˈd̪eɾ/ ‘to become known, spread, etc.’, from Lat. transcendĕre ‘to climb over, step over, surpass, transcend’, from trans ‘over’ and scandĕre ‘to climb’; there are no nouns associated with this verb nowadays in English or Spanish, though a noun *transcent was used in the early 17th century with the meaning ‘the act of passing over or crossing’ (OED)

Other English words that go back to words derived from the verb scandĕre are scale (the noun that means ‘ladder’ for instance, not its homonym that means ‘weighing instrument’), and the derived verb to scale that means ‘to climb’, as well as the noun escalator. In Spanish, we find escala ‘ladder’, escalar ‘to climb, scale’, and escalera, which means ‘ladder’ as well as ‘staircase’. The derived noun escalón means ‘step, stair; rung; (mil.) echelon’. Eng. echelon is a cognate of Sp. escalón and it is recent (late 18th century) loanword from from French echelon ‘level, echelon’, from Old French eschelon, a word derived from eschiele ‘ladder’.

It seems that the original word scandula was changed to scindula under the mistaken thought that the word was related to the verb scindĕre ‘to split up; to cleave’, which has given us Sp. escindir ‘to split, divide’ and the derived noun escisión ‘split, division’ (< Lat. scissiōn‑), as well as the derived verbs such as Eng. rescind ~ Sp. rescindir. Although we did not mention that the verb escindir has a cognate in English, it seems that it does. The verb scind has been used in English before, but of all the common dictionaries, it is only mentioned in the OED, which mentions that it is rare, but not archaic or obsolete. By the way, Lat. scindĕre is cognate with Gk. σχίζω ‎(skhízō), a verb whose root is found in New Latin words such as Eng. squizophrenic ~ Sp. esquizofrénico.

We should finally note that there is a second word shingle in English (in addition to the word shingles), a homonym of the word we just saw. This word shingle is not as common as the other one and it means ‘mass of small rounded pebbles, especially on a seashore’ (COED). The origin of this word is not known, but it is not related to the other two words.

[1] The same word rash has a extended sense as well, namely ‘an unwelcome series of things happening within a short space of time: a rash of strikes’ (COED). This sense is first attested in the 19th century. Although this figurative sense of rash can be translated into Spanish sometimes as racha (e.g. una racha de huelgas ‘a rash of strikes’), experts do not think there is any connection between these two words. The Spanish word is thought to come from Arabic رَيَّا (rayyā) ‘agitation, jolt, shock’. By the way, there is a homonymous adjective of the English noun rash, which means ‘acting or done without careful consideration’ (COED), as in a rash decision (cf. Sp. imprudente, precipitado/a). This is an unrelated, native, Germanic word.

[2] There are two other words used in Spanish that in some contexts are equivalent to Eng. rash. One is escocedura, which is used particularly to refer to diaper rash. It comes from the verb escocer ‘to sting, smart’ and comes from Lat. excoquĕre ‘to boil, etc.’ Another word for rash in Spanish is urticaria, but that is mostly equivalent to Eng. urticaria, which is popularly known as hives. This is ‘A skin condition characterized by intensely itching welts and caused by an allergic reaction to internal or external agents, an infection, or a nervous condition’. Another word for hives/urticaria is nettle rash.

[i] Source: Copyright © 2009 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; retrieved from (2017.05.26)

Infectious diseases, Part 4: Herpes

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 32 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The word herpes /ˈhɜɹ.piz/, in Spanish also herpes, pronounced /ˈeɾ.pes/, is used to refer to a number of diseases caused by viruses of the Herpesviridae family that cause skin eruptions (inflammatory diseases of the skin), but in particular to the one caused by one of those viruses known as herpes simplex virus (Sp. virus del herpes simple; genus: Simplexvirus). There are two species of this genus, herpes simplex virus 1 and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), also known as human herpesvirus 1 and 2 (HHV-1 and HHV-2).

The herpes virus lives in the nerve cells of affected individuals. When it is active, it travels to the skin or mucous membrane in the infected area and it replicates itself there. It is very contagious and it can be transmitted by open sores or infected saliva. After an initial infection, this virus does not go away but rather it goes into remission (latency) (Sp. remisión, latencia) inside the nerve cells. The latent form of the virus remains in most people only to reappear again in subsequent recurrences (Sp. reaparición).

HSV-1 affects primarily the face, lips, mouth, and the upper part of the body. A very common type is orolabial herpes, that is, herpes of the mouth and the lips, cf. oro‑ ‘mouth’ and oral ‘of the mouth’, labial ‘of the lips’ (Sp. herpes orolabial or úlceras peribucales). When it affects the entire mouth (lips, gums, tongue, roof of your mouth, inside of the cheeks) it is also known as oral herpes (Sp. herpes oral). More than half the population of the United States and about two thirds of the world population has oral herpes.The most common type affects the lips and is known technically by its Latin name, herpes labialis, though it is popularly known in English as cold sores or fever blisters. The technical term for cold sores in Spanish is herpes labial, though it is also known popularly as boquera or pupa, though these names can also refer to sores or ulcers in the mouth that are due to other causes. When this virus affects the face and the mouth, the infection is known as orofacial herpes (Sp. herpes orofacial).

HSV-2 causes genital herpes (Sp. herpes genital), also known as (just) herpes, though recently it has become known that HSV-1 can also be the cause of genital herpes. In either case, the herpes simplex virus spreads by contact with a person’s sores. Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (WP). It is less common than oral herpes, however. According to the CDC, in the United States, about 16% of those between 14 and 49 years of age have genital herpes.

Herpes simplex is not the only virus of the Herpesviridae family that affects humans. Of the more than 130 viruses in the family, there are nine of them that are known to infect humans. The other most common ones besides herpes simplex (Simplexvirus) is herpes zoster (Varicellovirus or varicella zoster virus), which causes chickenpox (also known as varicella) and shingles (also known as herpes zoster), which we will deal with in later sections.

English borrowed the word herpes from Latin herpēs in the late 14th century to name an inflammatory disease that creeps through the skin, most likely one or more of the herpes diseases. Latin herpēs was the name of a spreading skin eruption as well, though it is not clear which one. Lat. herpēs is a loanword from Ancient Greek ἕρπης (hérpēs), which literally meant ‘a creeping, crawling’. As far as we can tell, Greek herpes referred to either herpes simplex or, more likely, to shingles (see below). This Greek noun was derived from the verb ἕρπειν (hérpein) ‘to creep, crawl’ (Sp. reptar, arrastrarse). It is not clear whether this name was given to the disease because of how it advances on the skin or because of its recurrence and its creeping up on its sufferers.

Herpes is characterized by blisters in the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth, lips, nose or genitals caused by the virus which is active inside nerve cells and travel to the surface of the skin along those nerve cells. Once a person is infected and suffers the symptoms, these may go away only to come back in episodes of viral reactivation or outbreaks. In these outbreaks, the virus, which lies dormant inside nerve cells, becomes active again and is carried to the skin via the nerve cell’s axons, at which time the virus replicates itself, causing new sores.

As we can see, this disease was already recognized in Ancient Greece. The cause of the disease, however, did not begin to be understood until the end of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1978 that the first safe anti-viral drug, acyclovir, was developed, that helped deal with the symptoms. However, a cure for herpes has not been found yet.

There is an adjective associated with the noun herpes, namely herpetic /həɹ.ˈpɛ.tɪk /, which Spanish has borrowed as herpético/a /eɾ.ˈpe.t̪i.ko/. Its meaning is, obviously, ‘of or pertaining to herpes, or to any herpesvirus or herpesvirus-caused disease’ (WK). It is a New Latin word formed in English in the 18th century with the regular stem herpet‑ (ἕρπητ‑) of the Greek word for herpes and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑ic. This adjective is used in medical expressions such as the following:
  • Eng. herpetic gingivostomatitis - Sp. gingivostomatitis herpética: orolabial herpes
  • Eng. herpetic whitlow - Sp. panadizo herpético: a lesion on a finger or thumb caused by the herpes simplex virus
  • Eng. herpetic stomatitis - Sp. estomatitis herpética: oral (mouth) herpes
  • Eng. postherpetic neuralgia - Sp. neuralgia posherpética: nerve pain resulting from nerve cell damage caused by the varicella zoster virus or shingles (see below)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Infectious diseases, Part 3: The common cold

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 32 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


What is known in English as the common cold, or a cold, is ‘an acute [not chronic] disease of the upper respiratory tract that is marked by inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, eyes, and eustachian tubes and by a watery then purulent discharge and is caused by any of several viruses (as a rhinovirus or an adenovirus)’ (MWC). There are more than 200 strains of viruses involved in the common cold, with rhinoviruses being most common.

Symptoms typically associated with colds include ‘a cough [50% of the time], a runny nose, nasal congestion, and a sore throat [40% of the time], sometimes accompanied by muscle ache [50% of the time], fatigue, headache, and loss of appetite’ (WP). Of all these symptoms, the most common ones are a runny nose and/or nasal congestion, with the other ones being present at most half of the time. Interestingly, it used to be thought that this discharge came from the brain.

The common cold goes by a number of different names in Spanish: catarro, resfriado, resfrío, and constipado. These names are all found in Standard Spanish, in the sense that speakers familiar with Standard Spanish are familiar with all of them. However, one of these words is typically preferred over the others in a particular country or dialect. Also, whereas English just has a noun to refer to this sickness and does not have an adjective to refer to those affected by it, Spanish has four nouns and three adjectives.

English noun
Spanish noun
Spanish adjective

Eng. cold

The noun cold was derived from the (native) adjective cold (‘having low temperature’) as early as 1300. The original meaning of the noun cold was primarily the one the noun coldness has nowadays, namely ‘a low temperature’, ‘cold weather’, or ‘a cold environment’ (COED).[1] Note that Spanish frío can also be both an adjective and a noun, equivalent to Eng. cold and coldness, respectively (the two come from different, albeit related, words in Latin).[2] Although this is not the main sense of the noun cold nowadays, that sense is still found in expressions such as to go out into the cold.[3]

The name cold for the sickness that we are discussing dates back to the 16th century. The reason for the name seems to be either that catching a cold is associated with cold weather conditions or else that the symptoms of a cold resemble those of exposure to coldness, such as runny nose. As early as 14th century, however, the noun cold had already acquired the sense of ‘indisposition or discomfort due exposure to cold’, from which the current name of the sickness developed.

The noun cold (with the illness sense) is used with the basic verbs have, catch, get, give, or take. The adjective common is often added to the noun cold when referring to this sickness so as to avoid the ambiguity of this noun.

In English, sometimes a distinction is made between a “head cold” and a “crying cold”. A head cold, or a cold in the head, refers to one that is ‘mainly confined to the nose and pharynx’ (OED), whereas a crying cold is one that is ‘accompanied with running at the eyes’ (OED). The former term, head cold, is much more common than the latter, though neither one of them is particularly common nowadays.

Sp. resfrío and Sp. resfriado

Let us turn now to the multiple names for the common cold in Spanish. Two of them, namely resfriado and resfrío, contain the root fri‑, meaning ‘cold’, as found in the adjective/noun frío (frí-o, where the ‑o is the inflectional ending). These two words for the meaning ‘cold’ are attested since the 17th century and the 18th century, respectively.





The noun resfriado is first attested in the 17th century. It is derived from the past participle of the verb resfriar, which is first attested in the late 15th century. In other words, from the verb resfri-ar we get the noun resfri-ad-o by removing the ‑ar inflectional ending of the verb and adding the derivational suffix ‑ad‑ and the inflectional suffix ‑o. This noun was originally a past participle (e.g. Me he resfriado), which then became an adjective (e.g. Estoy resfriado), and eventually a noun (e.g. Tengo un resfriado).

The verb resfriar was formed by adding the prefix re‑, which mostly means ‘again’ but which is also used to give an intensive meaning, to a now obsolete verb esfriar ‘to cool, cool down, chill’ (re+esfriarresfriar). This obsolete verb comes from Late Latin exfrigidare, a verb derived from the Latin adjective frīgĭdus (fem. frīgĭda; stem: frīgĭd‑), the source of the Spanish adjective frío (not of the noun frío).[4] The (non-reflexive) verb resfriar is now rare. It means ‘to cool (down)’ when speaking of the weather, as in Está empezando a resfriar ‘It’s starting to get cold’.[5] The verb is most commonly used as a reflexive (pronominal) verb, that is, as resfriarse, which means ‘to catch (a) cold’, e.g. Me resfrié por llevar poca ropa ‘I caught a cold for not wearing enough clothes’.

The noun resfriado for ‘a cold’ is derived from the identical past participle of the verb resfriar. Actually, the noun is derived from an adjective that is derived from the past participle. The adjective resfriado/a means ‘having a cold’, as in Estoy resfriado ‘I have a cold’. But the masculine form of this adjective has been converted into a noun, as in Tengo un resfriado, which is another way to express the same meaning.

The noun resfrío is also derived from the verb, but by conversion, without any derivational affixes this time, just a substitution of the inflectional verbal ending ‑ar with the inflectional noun ending ‑o (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7.1). Thus, resfri-ar > resfrí‑o. The noun resfrío is the least common of all the nouns for the meaning ‘common cold’, being common only in Argentina. This is also the only noun that does not have a homonymous adjective to go along with it.

Sp. catarro

Another Spanish word for ‘cold’ is catarro, a noun that comes from Medieval Latin catarrus, which comes from Late Latin catarrhus, which was a loanword from Ancient Greek κατάρροος (katárrhoos) ‘catarrh, head cold’, from καταρρέω (katarrhéō) ‘to flow down’, from κατά (katá) ‘down’ plus έω (rhéō) ‘to flow’. The name obviously refers to the nasal discharge associated with colds. Sp. catarro is a learned word, one that first appears in writing in the mid-15th century.

From the noun catarro (catarr-o), Spanish has developed the verb acatarrarse ‘to catch (a) cold’, a synonym of resfriarse or coger un catarro/resfriado (a-catarr-ar-se). From the past participle of this verb, acatarrado, Spanish has then developed the adjective acatarrado/a, which means ‘having a cold’, a synonym of Sp. resfriado (as in María está acatarrada).

There is another Spanish word derived from the noun catarro, namely the much less-common adjective catarroso/a. Said of a person, this adjective means ‘that has a cold’, as in Juan está catarroso, or ‘that has a propensity to catching colds’, as in Juan es muy catarroso. This adjective is formed with the adjectival suffix ‑os‑ (catarr-os-o/a).

Sp. constipado

Finally, the last name for the common cold in Spanish is constipado, as in María tiene un constipado. This noun is derived from an identical adjective constipado/a, as in María está constipada, which is derived from an identical past participle of the verb constiparse ‘to catch a cold’ (as in María se ha constipado). This verb is a loanword from Lat. cōnstīpāre ‘to crowd or press closely together’ (Sp. ‘apretar, atiborrar’).[6] This Latin verb is the source of the English verb constipate, and thus of the participle and, most common, adjective constipated.

Eng. constipate comes from Lat. cōnstīpātum, the passive participle of the verb cōnstīpāre, which makes this verb a cognate of Sp. constipar(se) since cōnstīpātum and cōnstīpāre are two wordforms of the same word. When Eng. constipated was borrowed from Latin in the 18th century, it had the meaning it had in Latin, ‘pressed close together, condensed’ (OED). That meaning is now obsolete, however. The current meaning developed as a euphemism for the condition of having ‘difficult or incomplete or infrequent evacuation of the bowels’ (WN).

Sp. constipado/a, and the verb constipar it comes from, are also 18th century loanwords from Latin and their current meanings are also an extension of the original one. Note that although the meanings of the English and the Spanish words are different, they can both be traced back to the meaning the original word had in Latin by a process of specialization (cf. Part I, Chapter 1, §1.3.2). Note also that although the verbs constipar and constipate are cognates, i.e. they descend from the same exact word, the adjectives Sp. constipado and Eng. constipated are not since they have endings that are not cognate, although they are analogous, namely ‑ed and ‑ado. We say that words that contain the same root are cognate, but not cognates (the word cognate is here used as an adjective, cf. Part I, Chapter 1).

Although Sp. constipado/a was originally an adjective, its masculine form has also been ‘converted’ into a noun, constipado, which means ‘a common cold’. Thus, one can say Estoy constipado/a (adjective) or Tengo un constipado (noun). Both sentences translate as I have a cold.

Other names for a cold in English

Considering that Spanish has four names for this condition, along with four related adjectives to refer to a person with the condition, it is interesting that a language as lexically prolific as English only has one word for it, namely the noun cold. There are some additional technical terms for the common cold in English, such as acute viral nasopharyngitis, nasopharyngitis, viral rhinitis, and rhinopharyngitis, which are all New Latin medical terms.

We neglected to mention earlier that English also borrowed the Latin word catarrhus as catarrh, pronounced /kə.ˈtɑɹ/, way back in the 14th century. One dictionary defines catarrh as ‘excessive discharge of mucus in the nose or throat’ (COED). However, this word is quite rare in English today, unlike its Spanish counterpart (at least in some dialects), though dictionaries do not say that it is obsolete or even archaic. This word was probably never in widespread use.

There is an additional word found in most dictionaries to refer to the common cold or, at least, to the most common of its symptoms, even though the vast majority of English speakers have never heard of it. The word is coryza, pronounced /kɒ.ˈɹaɪ̯.zə/. One dictionary defines it as ‘catarrhal inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose, as caused by a cold’ (COED). The word is a term borrowed from Latin in the 17th century which comes from Latin corȳza, from Ancient Greek κόρυζα (kóruza) ‘running at the nose, nasal mucus’.

[1] The English adjective cold is a native word (not borrowed). It comes from the Old Germanic verb-stem kal‑ ‘to be cold’, which is cognate of the Latin root gel‑, since both go back to the Proto-Indo-European root *gel‑ ‘cold’. The Latin root gel‑ is found in the Latin noun gelū ‘frost, chill’, the source of the patrimonial Spanish noun hielo ‘ice’, and the adjective gelidus ‘ice cold, icy, etc.’, the source of the learned Spanish adjective gélido/a. It is also the root found in the Latinate English words gel, gelatin, jelly, congeal, gelid, glacial, glaciate, glacier, and gelato (the word gelato was borrowed in the 1970s from Italian gelato, lit. ‘frozen’, a cognate of Sp. helado, which as an adjective means ‘frozen’ but as a noun means ‘ice-cream’). Another native English word that descends from the same root is chill, which comes from Proto-Germanic *kaliz ‘coldness’.

[2] In El café está frío ‘The coffee is cold’ or La sopa está fría ‘The soup is cold’, frío/a is an adjective. The opposite would be (the adjective) caliente. In Tengo frío ‘I am cold’, No salí por el frío ‘I didn’t go out because of the cold (weather)’, or El frío es lo peor de vivir aquí ‘The coldness is the worst thing about living here’, frío is a noun. The opposite would be (the noun) calor. Although the adjective frío and the noun frío look identical in Spanish, they have different sources. The adjective frīgidus (see below) became frío in Spanish (and frīgida became fría). The noun frío, on the other hand, has a different source, namely the Latin noun frīgus ‘cold(ness)’ (gen. frīgoris, regular stem: frīgor‑).

[3] Note that the adjectives warm and hot cannot be used as nouns (the associated nouns are warmth and heat). Curiously, in Spanish too frío can be either an (masculine) adjective or a noun. The same is not true of the adjective caliente, which corresponds to the noun calor.

[4] The Late Latin verb exfrigidare became esfraier or effraier in Old French, esfreidar in Provençal, and esfriar in Portuguese. The Latin adjective frīgĭdus/a which is the source of Sp. frío/a, is derived from the verb frīgēre ‘to be cold’, whose root frīg is also the root of the Latin noun frīgus (accusative: frīgus; genitive: frīgoris; regular stem: frīgor‑) ‘cold, coldness’, which is the source of the Spanish noun frío.

[5] A more general verb for the meaning ‘to get cold’, one that does not just refer to the weather, is the patrimonial verb enfriar. As a transitive (non-reflexive) verb it means ‘to make cold, chill, cool down’ and as an intransitive reflexive verb it means ‘to get cold, to be chilled, cool down’. Its source is Lat. īnfrīgidāre ‘to chill, cool’, formed from the prefix in‑ and the same .

[6] Sp. constipado can be a noun, as in Tengo un constipado ‘I have a cold’, and an adjective, as in Estoy constipado (fem. Estoy constipada), with the same meaning.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Infectious diseases, Part 2: Influenza

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 32 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The disease

Influenza is an infectious disease caused by an influenza virus, of which there are three major types or families: A, B, and C. Its popular name is the flu (not just flu), which is obviously a clipping of the word influenza. This infectious disease is unrelated to what is popularly known as stomach flu or 24-hour flu, which is known medically as gastroenteritis (Sp. gastroenteritis) and which is an ‘inflammation of the mucous membrane of the stomach and intestines’ (AHD).

The flu is a seasonal infectious disease that typically spreads through the air from coughs and sneezes. Every flu season is during the cold season in each hemisphere and thus there are two per year, one per hemisphere. During the season, several viral strains spread through the population. The seasonal nature of the flue is not fully understood, though some explanations have been proposed, such as the fact that people tend to stay indoors during the cold months, which promotes transmission.[i] In a normal year, it is estimated that between 3 and 5 million cases are serious and result in about half a million deaths worldwide.

The symptoms of this disease go from mild to severe, depending on the strain of the virus, on whether there are complications, and on the constitution of the person contracting it, with small children and old people typically being more susceptible. The typical symptoms of the flu are high fever, runny nose (rhinorrhea), sore throat, muscle pain (myalgia), headache, coughing, and tiredness.[ii] The early symptoms are very similar to those of the common cold, which helps explain the confusion in Spanish for terms for this illness (see below).

Figure 115: Symptoms of influenza, with fever and cough the most common symptoms [iii]

The influenza virus affects many animal populations and in particular, birds, but also pigs, horses and dogs. Strains of the virus in stressed animal populations may suffer mutations which makes them infectious to humans. A flu virus that comes from birds is known as avian influenza or bird flu (Sp. gripe aviar) and a flu virus that comes from pigs is known as swine flu (Sp. gripe porcina).

Sp. aviar is equivalent to Eng. avian. They both contain the root av‑ of Lat. avis ‘bird’ (av‑is). English created the word avian from this root and the Latinate suffix ‑ian in the 19th century so as to have a fancy, Latinate adjective for the noun bird. Spanish aviar is a learned adjective borrowed in the 16th century from the Latin adjective (masc.) aviārius ‘of birds’. This Latin word was formed from the root av‑, the adjectival derivational suffix ‑ār‑, and the linking vowel ‑i‑. a proper borrowing of this word would have given us *aviario, not aviar. Sp. aviar is thus cognate with Eng. aviary, ‘a large enclosure for keeping birds in’ (COED), which is a 16th century loan from Lat. aviarium, with the same meaning, a noun that is derived from the neuter form of the Latin adjective aviarius.

As for the adjective porcina of Sp. gripe porcina ‘swine flu’, it is a recent loanword from Lat. masculine porcīnus, feminine porcīna, meaning ‘of the pig, related to the pig’. This adjective is formed with the root pŏrc‑ of the Latin noun pŏrcus ‘pig’ and the adjectival suffix ‑īn‑ (the final ‑us is the masculine, nominative inflectional ending). Lat. pŏrcus is, of course, the source of the patrimonial Spanish word puerco ‘pig’ (a synonym of cerdo and marrano) and of En. pork ‘flesh of a pig for food’, a loanword from Old French porc ‘pig, swine, boar’.

Pandemics with particularly virulent strains of the virus occur approximately three times per century and they can kill tens of millions of people. The 1918-19 flu pandemic was particularly deadly. Estimates vary, but perhaps one fifth of the world population was infected and anywhere between 10-20% of those infected died (a normal flu epidemic kills around 0.1% of those infected or 1 in 1,000). In other words, around 3% of the world population died, somewhere around 50 million people at the time. In the US, close to 30% of the population was infected and more than half a million people died. This pandemic was nicknamed the Spanish Flu in English, though there is no evidence that the flu came from Spain or was any more virulent there than in other places.[1] One curious thing about this flu is that it affected particularly people aged 20-40, which is quite rare, since most of the time the flu is deadly for very young and very old people.

The flu has been particularly devastating for populations that did not have immunities for the flu virus in any of its forms. Thus, for instance, it is thought that it was probably the flu that killed as much as 25% of the population of the Caribbean islands in 1493, after the arrival of Columbus and his men. Other diseases, such as smallpox, were even more lethal, however.

Eng. influenza (and Sp. influenza)

The name influenza /ˌɪn.flʊ.'en.zə/ is an 18th century loanword from Italian influenza. The shortening of the name first to flue and then to flu /ˈflu/, is from the 19th century. This word is a cognate of Eng. influence, a word that was borrowed in the 13th century from Old French. These two words, along with Sp. influencia ‘influence’, come ultimately from Medieval Latin īnfluentia, which meant ‘influx, inflow or emanation from the stars that affects humans’, for at the time it was thought that stars affected people’s destinies and characters, for example (astrological influences). Originally all of the derived words in English, French and Spanish had that same meaning too. This Latin noun is derived from the Latin verb inflŭĕre ‘to flow in’. At some point and/or in some dialects, Spanish has also used the word influenza, also from Italian, for the flu or just for colds or infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, though the word is not common.[2]

In Italian, influenza came to have a meaning derived from the original one since it came to be used to refer to diseases since the early 16th century, under the prevalent idea at the time that diseases and, in particular, epidemics were also brought upon people by the stars. The reason why English borrowed the word influenza from Italian is that in 1743 there was a major flu epidemic that spread through Europe from Italy (at a time when the English word influence did not have the old meaning any longer and, especially, it did not have the meaning related to diseases that its Italian cognate had acquired).[3]

The modern sense of Eng. influence and of Sp. influencia, namely ‘the capacity to have an effect on the character or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself’ (COED), developed in the 16th century and eventually came to replace the meaning referring to the stars’ influence on humans. English turned the noun influence into a verb to influence. Spanish, on the other hand, borrowed the analogous verb influir from Latin in the 15th century, though it was rare until the 17th century. (Sp. fluir ‘to flow’, from Lat. flŭĕre, is first attested in the 17th century.)

Sp. gripe ~ Eng. grippe

The main Spanish name for influenza is gripe, which in some dialects, such as in Mexico and Colombia, has changed to gripa over time. This word has a cognate in English, namely the word grippe /ˈɡɹɪp/ (homophonous with Eng. grip), which is an archaic or old-fashioned word for influenza. Both Sp. gripe and Eng. grippe are loanwords from the French grippe for the disease. This name for the disease and the spread of that name seems to go back to another flu pandemic, this one from the late 18th century.

That much is clear about the source of the word grippe. What is not so clear is the origin of the French word. Some sources, such as the OED, say that it is derived from the verb gripper ‘to seize, grasp’ and thus it originally meant something like ‘seizure’. That word is of Frankish (Germanic) origin and it is thus a cognate of Eng. grip. (Sp. gripar, a loanword, means ‘to seize’, but it is only used for motors that seize up.)  Supposedly Fr. grippe came to be used as the name for this disease because of the gripping effect it had on the throat. Others, such as Corominas, prefer the theory that this word comes from Swiss German grüpi, with the same meaning, a word derived from grûpe(n) ‘to bend down, curl up’, ‘shiver’, and ‘to feel sick’. There is yet a third account of the origin of this word, which takes it back to Russian chirpu (Etymonline), though that is quite unlikely.

It is interesting how both English and Spanish have cognates of the two main words for ‘flu’, but that their use is so different. Whereas Eng. grippe is archaic, Sp. gripe/gripa is quite common. And vice versa: Eng. influenza and, particularly, its derived form flu, are quite common, whereas its Spanish cognate influenza is quite rare.


We should mention that in some Spanish-speaking countries, the word gripe, and perhaps in particular in Mexico the version gripa, has come to be used for many people for any infection of the upper respiratory tract. Thus this word in these dialects has come to have a very vague meaning, for it is used both for the common cold (equivalent to resfriado, resfrío, catarro, and constipado in different dialects; cf. §32.3.5 above) and the much more serious influenza. This is perhaps the reason that the word influenza has made it into Spanish, no doubt under the influence of Eng. influenza, so as to distinguish this serious disease from the other, much milder one.

[1] In Spanish, it is also known as la gripe española, as well as la gran gripe de 1918, among other names. The Spanish Flu started at the end of World War I (fall of 1918), a war in which Spain was neutral and perhaps because of this, news of this epidemic flowed more freely from this country than from those who were at war, which might have made it seem like it was particularly affected by it. On the other hand, recent studies have suggested that Madrid may have been one of the early foci of the pandemic, even if the disease did not originate there.

[2] The DLE says that Sp. influenza is a synonym of Sp. gripe. María Moliner’s dictionary defines Sp. influenza as ‘catarro o gripe, y, en general, enfermedad infecciosa de las vías respiratorias superiores’. This perpetuates the use of a word for both the flu and the common cold, which is not desirable. Since the word gripe is used for the common cold in some dialects (see below), Sp. influenza should at least be the one word that refers to what Eng. influenza refers to, not also the common cold.

[3] The English adjective fluent is related to this verb, which in some contexts is equivalent to Spanish fluido/a, but not when referring to how one speaks a non-native language, which is its most common use. The expression to be fluent in a language translates as hablar una lengua con soltura, dominar una lengua or, less commonly, hablar una lengua con fluidez. Prefixed forms of the Latin verb flŭĕre have given us the false friends Eng. affluent ‘rico, próspero’ ~ Sp. afluente ‘tributary (river)’, the cognates Eng. reflux ~ Sp. reflujo, Eng. superfluous ~ Sp. superfluo/a, as well as Sp. confluir ‘to converge, meet, come together’ and Sp. efluvio ‘emanation, flow’.

[iii] Source: Häggström, Mikael (2014). "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain.orBy Mikael Häggström, used with permission. - All used images are in public domain., Public Domain,

Infectious diseases, Part 5: Shingles

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 32 ("Words about infectious diseases") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-...