Friday, September 18, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 6

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 6. Go to Part 1

Other words derived ultimately from Lat. quătĕre

Lat. concŭtĕre

Lat. concŭtĕre was derived by means of the prefix con‑ which meant ‘with, together’, but which could also be used as an intensive prefix. The meaning of this word was ‘to shake together’ (together con‑) or ‘to shake violently’ (intensive con‑). In addition, this verb had other figurative meanings, such as ‘to put in fear, terror, or anxiety, to terrify, alarm, trouble’ (L&S).

When English borrowed this Latin verb, as concuss [kənˈkʰʌs], it borrowed the participial form of this verb, concŭssus, but without the inflectional ending ‑us  (con+cŭssus; stem: concŭss‑, inflection ‑us). When it was first borrowed, in the late 16th century, it had the meaning ‘to shake violently; to agitate, disturb. Chiefly figurative’ (OED). By and large, the meaning of this verb since the late 17th century has been ‘to injure (the brain, etc.) by concussion’ (OED). In other words, the verb’s meaning is defined in terms of the noun concussion, which is much more common (see below).

The verb concuss is typically used in the passive, with the participle concussed, as in He was concussed by the blast (LDCE). A few major English dictionaries mention other senses for concuss, which are quite rare, such as a sense that goes back to the original one: ‘to shake violently; to agitate, disturb’, a sense that is used mostly figuratively (OED). Another sense that some dictionaries mention is ‘to force or influence by intimidation : coerce’ (WNTIUD), which SOED tells us that it is an archaic meaning found primarily in Scotland. Spanish does not have a descendant of the Latin verb concŭtĕre, for it was neither passed on patrimonially nor was it borrowed from written Latin at a later date.

As we just said, the English verb concuss is rare and much less common than the noun associated with it, namely concussion [kənˈkʰʌʃən]. This noun was borrowed from Latin concŭssĭōn‑, the action noun derived from the verb concŭtĕre, formed in Latin from the passive participle stem concŭss‑ of the verb plus the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ (con‑cŭss‑ĭōn‑, nominative wordform: concŭssĭō, accusative wordform: concŭssĭōnem). Actually, the noun concussion was borrowed much earlier than the verb concuss, in the early 15th century. This Latin noun meant primarily ‘a shaking, an act of shaking’, though it had a secondary meaning in jurisprudence, namely ‘an extortion of money by means of threats’ (L&S). Note that in American English slang, the phrasal verb to shake down means ‘to extort money from someone’ and the noun shakedown (or shake-down) means ‘extortion of money, as by blackmail’ (AHD; also ‘a thorough search of a place or person’).

The main meaning of the noun concussion in Modern English is ‘temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow on the head’ (COED) or ‘an injury to the brain that is caused by something hitting the head very hard’ (Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's Dictionary). Some dictionaries describe a concussion in terms of injury or brain damage, whereas others do not. Many dictionaries mention that the condition is temporary, though not all of them do, e.g. ‘temporary damage to the brain…’ (Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary). Some dictionaries mention that the noun concussion is a count noun in American English, as in She suffered a severe concussion after falling on the ice, whereas it is a mass noun in British English, as in He went to hospital with concussion (MWALD).

The primary way to express the medical sense of Eng. concussion in Spanish is conmoción cerebral, which literally translates as brain commotion, and, for the less common ‘shaking’ sense of Eng. concussion, sacudida, a noun derived by conversion from the past participle of the verb sacudir ‘to shake’. (Spanish-English dictionaries translate sacudida as shakejolt, jerk, earthquake, and shock.) At least one of the major English-Spanish dictionaries gives us the word concusión as an alternative to conmoción cerebral to translate Eng. concussion, namely the Oxford English-Spanish Dictionary (OSD), but this is not the way this word is normally used in Spanish (other than perhaps in areas with heavy influence from the English language).

The word concusión exists in Spanish, though it is rare and technical and it means something different from what its English cognate means. The meaning of Sp. concusión derives from the secondary meaning its source had in legal Latin, namely ‘collection of a fine or a tax, made by an official for his own benefit’ (Clave).[1] María Moliner’s is the only major Spanish dictionary that tells us that concusión has been used in medicine with the meaning ‘violent blow, especially on the head’ (MM), but that use of concusión did not catch on and it is now obsolete.[2]

Sp. concusión is attested in the late 16th century (1580, DCEH). Its French cognate concussion is attested some forty years earlier with the legal meaning and much earlier, in the early 14th century, with the now obsolete sense ‘shock, jerk, jolt’ (Le Grand Robert). This makes us wonder whether whereas the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that English borrowed the noun concussion directly from Latin (c. 1400), it might not be possible that the existence of the French cognate was the inspiration for this loanword. However, clearly when French concussion changed its meaning from the primary one it had had in Latin to the secondary legal one, English concussion did not follow suit.

Now that we know how to translate concussion into Spanish we might wonder how to translate the English verb concuss. This verb or, rather, its much more common passive form, to be concussed, translates as sufrir una conmoción cerebral. Some English-Spanish dictionaries mention that the rare, figurative sense of concuss mentioned above translates as conmocionar (e.g. Harrap’s, GU), but this is a very rare use of Eng. concuss.

Go to Part 7 (coming soon)



[1] The original says: ‘Cobro de una multa o de un impuesto, hecho por un funcionario en su propio provecho’ (Clave). The DLE has as the single meaning for this word: ‘Exacción arbitraria hecha por un funcionario público en provecho propio’ (DLE).

[2] The original says: ‘(ant.) Med. *Golpe violento, especialmente en la cabeza’ (MM).

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 5

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 5. Go to Part 1

Other words derived ultimately from Lat. quătĕre

Introduction

As we mentioned earlier, dĭscŭtĕre was not the only Latin verb derived from the verb quătĕre by prefixation in the early days of Latin, before classical Latin times. There were six other prefixes that were added to quătĕre to form new derived verbs in Latin. Some of these verbs, as well as other words derived from them, have made it into English and Spanish, most of them as loanwords, but Spanish does have some patrimonial reflexes of words containing the root quăt‑. The six additional verbs formed by prefixation of the verb quătĕre were the following:

Prefix

 

Verb

Main meaning

con

+quătĕre Ž

concŭtĕre

‘to strike together or violently’

in‑

incŭtĕre

‘to strike on or against’

per‑

percŭtĕre

‘to strike or pierce through’

ex-

excŭtĕre

‘to shake out/off’

re‑

recŭtĕre

‘to strike back, cause to rebound’

sub-

succŭtĕre

‘to fling up from below, toss up’

Additionally, there was another Latin verb derived from quătĕre, namely the frequentative verb quăssāre, derived in a regular way as a first conjugation verb from the passive participle quăss‑ of the verb quătĕre. (For more on frequentative verbs in Latin, see Part I, Chapter 8.) This verb’s principal parts were present tense quăssō, present infinitive quăssāre, perfect active quăssāvī, and passive participle quăssātus. The primary meaning of classical Latin quăssāre was ‘to shake or toss violently’ (L&S). It should not come as a surprise by now that there would be Latin verbs derived from this frequentative verb by means prefixation, and we do find one: conquăssāre ‘to shake violently, to shake thoroughly, shatter, etc.’ (con+quăss‑āre).

The words that derive from the Latin verbs just mentioned that have made it into Modern English through borrowing, either directly from written Latin or through French, are the following: concuss, concussion, concussive; percuss, percussion, percussive; repercussion; fracas; quash; and rescue. And the words that have made it into Spanish by borrowing them from Latin, often through French, which usually borrowed them first, are the following: concusión, concusionario, inconcuso; concuasar; percutir, percusión, percusor; repercutir, repercusión; and excusión. In addition, Spanish has some patrimonial verbs, word from Latin that are not borrowed but rather descended by uninterrupted word-of-mouth transmission from Latin times, verbs that have changed significantly through time due to their being transmitted orally, namely the verbs quejar, cascar, cundir, acudir, and sacudir. We will now look at these words now in turn.

Go to Part 6

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 4

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 4. Go to Part 1

Other words related to Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir

Besides the cognate nouns that we saw in the preceding section, there are other words related to the verb dĭscŭtĕre and words derived from them. These words are less common than the nouns that we just saw, and some are actually quite rare.

The adjective discutible in Spanish means ‘debatable, questionable’ or ‘controversial; dubious; questionable’, the expected meanings given the meaning of the verb discutir mentioned above. In other words, this word cannot mean ‘discussable, that can be discussed’ (for Eng. discussable, see below). This word does not descend from a Latin word but was, rather, derived in Spanish from the verb discutir by means of the Latinate suffix ‑ible, the variant used for second and third conjugation verbs (first conjugation verbs use the variant ‑able): discut‑ir + -ible > discut-ible. An example of this word in a sentence is Tu teoría es bastante discutible y no puedo estar de acuerdo con ella ‘Your theory is quite dubious, and I cannot agree with it’ (Clave). Synonyms of discutible are cuestionable, a cognate of the word questionable, controvertible, debatible, problemático/a, disputable, dudoso/a, etc. (Clave). The adjective discutible has an antonym formed with the negative prefix in‑, namely indiscutible, which is a very common word, and which means ‘indisputable, incontrovertible, indisputable, undisputed, unquestionable, etc.’. The following is a typical definition of the word indiscutible in Spanish dictionaries: ‘that cannot be refuted/denied because it is very evident’ (Larousse).[1]

 English also derived an adjective from the verb discuss by means of the English cognate of the same Latin suffix that we just mentioned, which in English is either ‑ible or, more often, ‑able, the latter being the more productive of the two to form new derived verbs. There are actually two variants of this word, one with ‑able and one with ‑ible. The most common one is discussable. Some authors formed an analogous word by means of the variant ‑ible of this suffix, resulting in discussible, though today this variant is less common. Note that the pair of words Sp. discutible ~ Eng. discussable/discussible cannot be said to be cognates, for they were each formed in the respective languages and do not descend from a common ancestor, which is how cognates are defined in our book. And, as we saw earlier, Eng. discussable/discussible does not mean the same thing as Sp. discutible. It means basically ‘that can be discussed’, as could be expected.

The adjective discussable or discussible is not very common in English, definitely not as much as the Spanish adjective discutible. Note that this English adjective is not given its own entry in English dictionaries since the word is rare and its meaning is fully predictable. Some dictionaries do mention it as a derivative of the verb discuss under this verb’s entry. Of the two variants, most English dictionaries prefer discussable, but some give discussible as a valid alternative. Actually, the form discussible came earlier in English, in the latter part of the 16th century, formed in English from the verb discuss and the Latinate suffix ‑ible. The form discussable first appears in the first half of the 17th century. The difference between the two variants goes back to different thematic vowels used in different Latin conjugations before the actual suffix ‑bĭl‑ (cf. Part I, Chapters 5 and 8).

Spanish dictionaries give us another word related to discutir, namely the adjective discutidor(a) which is quite rare and which means ‘argumentative, contrarian’ when referring to a person, as in La niña les salió muy discutidora, todo lo pregunta y a todo pone peros ‘Their daughter is very argumentative/contrarian, she is always asking questions and finding fault with things’ (Larousse). The DLE defines discutidor as ‘prone to get into disputes and arguments, or fond of them’.[2] Note that like all adjectives formed with the suffix ‑dor(a), discutidor(a) may also be used as a noun, though the noun use of discutidor is quite rare, more so than its adjective use.

Finally, English has two nouns that are related to the verb discuss, namely discussant and discusser. Eng. discussant was formed in US English in the middle of the 19th century out of the verb discuss and the Latinate agent suffix ‑ant to refer to ‘a person who engages in discussion; esp. a participant in a formal discussion in front of an audience’ (OED). According to most dictionaries, however, a discussant is only someone who participates in a formal discussion, not just any person who happens to be discussing something or other. An earlier word to express this meaning as discusser, formed in English from the verb discuss and the also Latinate agent suffix ‑er.[3] This noun is archaic if not obsolete in present-day English, however. One may translate the word discussant into Spanish as participante or panelista (cognates of Eng. participant and pannelist, respectively).

Go to Part 5



[1]  Original: ‘Que no puede ser discutido por ser muy evidente’ (Gran Diccionario de la Lengua Española Larousse).

[2] Original: ‘Propenso a disputas y discusiones, o aficionado a ellas. U. t. c. s.’ (DLE).

[3] Note that in the late 16th century and the 17th century, discusser was also used in English with the meaning ‘a person who settles or decides something’ (OED). That meaning is now obsolete. Note also that post-classical Latin had a word discussor, with the ‑or‑ agent ending, meaning ‘examiner, investigator’ (OED).


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 3

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 3. Go to Part 1

Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión

Spanish and English have several words that are closely related to the cognate verbs Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir, namely the ones below. As you can see, some are very common words, but others are less common or even rare.

Spanish

English

discutir

discuss

discusión

discussion

discutible

discussable/discussible

discutidor

discussant

 

discusser

In this section we will discuss the cognate nouns Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión in some detail and in the next one we will briefly look at the rest of these words.

The cognate nouns Sp. discusión ~ Eng. discussion, which were already mentioned in the preceding section, both descended from the Latin noun discŭssĭo (regular stem: discŭssĭōn‑), formed from the stem discŭss‑ of the passive participle discŭss‑us of the verb dĭscŭtĕre and the suffix ĭōn‑ used to derive action nouns from verbs in Latin. Because the cognate nouns Sp. discusión ~ Eng. discussion descend from the exact same Latin word-form, they look very similar, unlike the verbs we saw in the preceding section. As with all other Latin action nouns formed with the suffix ĭōn‑, the Spanish descendant or reflex ends in stressed ‑ión, pronounced [ˈi̯on] and the English one ends in an unstressed ‑ion, pronounced [ən]. Actually, all such words in English, regardless of whether the preceding consonant is ‑t‑ or ‑ss‑ (‑tion or ‑ssion), the ending is pronounced [ʃən] (but [ʒən] if only a single single ‑s‑ precedes the ‑ion ending (‑sion) , e.g. donation [dəneɪ̯ʃən], pension [pʰɛnʃən], mission [ˈmɪʃən], derision [dɪˈɹɪʒən]. The only other difference in the spelling is the double ‑ss‑ in the English word, inherited from Latin spelling (though ‑ss‑ was pronounced very differently in Latin). As we have seen elsewhere, when Spanish borrowed a word with a double (geminate) consonant, in most cases it reduced it to a single one.

Sp. discusión, pronounced [dis.ku.ˈsi̯on], is first attested in the late 16th century (DCEH) and it is obviously a loanword, not a patrimonial word. Eng. discussion, pronounced [dɪ.ˈskʌʃ.ən], was borrowed in the early 15th century and, as the OED tells us, it was borrowed from Latin but also French, for this language had borrowed this Latin word first, in the early 12th century. At the time writers introduced the word into English, most all educated people were familiar with Latin as well as French. There is little doubt that Spanish discusión was introduced into the language the same way that Eng. discussion was introduced into English, namely through a mixture of the influence of French and Latin. In both languages, this noun is a loanword, ultimately from Latin.

Let us look now at the meaning of these two words and whether they are equivalent (‘good friends’) or not (‘false friends’). English dictionaries give us two closely related senses for the noun discussion, such as the following two from the American Heritage Dictionary: (1) ‘consideration of a subject by a group; an earnest conversation’, and (2) ‘a formal discourse on a topic; an exposition’ (AHD). The former meaning involves an exchange between two or more people whereas the second one involves a speaker or writer addressing their audience in a monologue. These two senses parallel the two senses for the verb discuss that we saw in the previous section. In neither of these senses is there a requirement or a connotation that the parties involved in the conversation be arguing or otherwise presenting contrasting and contraposed ideas the way the Spanish cognate discusión does, though in some contexts such a confrontation is conceivable in situations described by the noun discussion, but that part of the meaning must be gleaned from the context, because it is not an integral part of the meaning of the noun discussion itself.

Most Spanish dictionaries define the noun discusión in terms of the verb discutir. Thus, for example, the DLE gives the following as the definition of discusión: ‘acción y efecto de discutir’ (DLE). Clave is an exeption to this. In this dictionary, the first sense of the word discusión is given as ‘conversation in which conflicting/opposite ideas are defended’.[1] This dictionary gives two other senses for the noun discusión, one that does not necessarily reflect an antagonic situation, and another one that clearly does: (2) ‘Conversation in which an issue is analized from different viewpoints in order to explain it or solve it’; (3) ‘An objection to an order given or to something someone says: Sus órdenes no admiten discusión ‘His orders cannot be challenged’.[2] Clearly, this definition of sense (2) for discusión is quite compatible with the meaning of the English noun discussion in theory. In practice, however, it is also undeniable that the ‘confrontational’ connotation of the other two senses lurks in the background of even this sense of the noun discusión and it is very hard to disassociate it from it. It is quite clear that a discusión can never be a friendly discussion.

English-Spanish dictionaries invariably give Sp. discusión as the main translation for the English noun discussion, something that is highly questionable, given the evidence shown so far. Collins gives discusión as the only possible translation, for instance. Many other dictionaries give discusión as the main ‘general’ translation for discussion, but mention a second option, namely debate ‘debate’, which is used to describe more formal situations, such as academic conferences or political forums in which arranged discussions take place. It is our contention that in manyperhaps mostcontexts, less ‘charged’ alternatives should be chosen as the translation of Eng. discussion instead of discusión, such as conversación, charla, plática, coloquio, diálogo, entrevista, tertulia, conferencia, discurso, intercambio (de ideas), deliberación, etc.

Note that in translations of English collocations that contain the noun discussion, words other than discusión are often used, such as Eng. discussion article = Sp. artículo de opinión; Eng. discussion forum = Sp. foro de debate; Eng. discussion paper = Sp. artículo de opinión, documento de debate; Eng. book discussion = Sp. tertulia literaria; Eng. panel discussion = Sp. grupo de debate, mesa de debate, mesa redonda (GU). It should be clear that we are not saying that discussion should never be translated as discusión, but this should only happen when the context makes it clear that the conversation is confrontational and oppositional in nature, as in the collocation Eng. heated discussion = Sp. discusión acalorada (GU), but that is not what is meant by perhaps most uses of the noun discussion in real life, including those that take place in most classrooms.

Spanish-English dictionaries give two translations (and thus, two senses) for the noun discusión: discussion and argument. But from the examples given in those dictionaries for those senses, it is clear that when they say that discusión means ‘discussion’, they do not mean a friendly discussion in which the participants in a conversation engage in a mere friendly chat about a topic, but rather one in which ideas are contrasted and put against each other, something that is not a necessary or even common component of the meaning of the English noun discussion, merely an optional one, one that is not part of perhaps the majority of situations described by the noun discussion. Thus, for instance, the first translation/sense for discusión in the Oxford Spanish-English dictionary is discussion, but the example given is Eso no admite discusión ‘That leaves no room for discussion’, which is a very antagonistic form of discussion. The sentence is equivalent to That cannot be contested or That cannot be questioned, sentences in which the idea of contrast of opposing ideas is quite obvious (OSD). All of this makes perfect sense, of course, for the difference between the nouns Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión is totally analogous to the one found in the verbs Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir that we discussed in the previous section.

Go to Part 4



[1] The original says: ‘1 Conversación en la que se defienden opiniones contrarias: No merece la pena tener una discusión por esa tontería’ (Clave).

[2] The original says: ‘2 Conversación en la que se analiza un asunto desde distintos puntos de vista para explicarlo o solucionarlo. 3 Objeción que se pone a una orden o a lo que alguien dice: Sus órdenes no admiten discusión (Clave).

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 2

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 2. Go to Part 1

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir

Figure 1: Discussing the War in a Paris Café, a scene from the brief interim between the Battle of Sedan and Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War[i]

English discuss is first attested in the late 14th century, a loanword from (written) Latin, the written language of culture in England at the time, according to the experts. Its source would have been the passive participle form dscŭssus of the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre (see the preceding section). When English borrowed verbs from Latin, it tended to borrow its passive participle form, in this case dĭscŭssus, not its present infinitive form, which in this case would have been dĭscŭtĕre (cf. Part I, Chapter 8).

On the other hand, the verb discuss could conceivably have been a loanword from Anglo-Norman, the form of Old French spoken in England by the upper classes after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Anglo-Norman had the verb discusser, attested at the end of the 13th century with the meaning ‘to debate, examine’ and in the early 14th century with the meaning ‘to decide, determine’. It is clear, however, that in this and other varieties or dialects of Old French, this verb was a loanword from written Latin, however, not a patrimonially (orally) received Latin word. This verb has not made it into Modern Standard French, however, but it could very well have been a source of Eng. discuss in the 14th century, in addition to the Latin one.

We should note that some varieties of Old French had another variant of this Latinate verb, namely discuter, first attested in writing in the 13th century. In the early 14th century it seems to have had the meaning ‘to examine the case for and against (something)’, and in the 16th century, the meaning ‘to contest, dispute’ (OED). Modern French discuter means ‘to debate, to discuss; to argue, to consider’, but also ‘to question, to dispute’ when referring to orders, ‘to debate, to question’ when referring to the veracity of a claim, or ‘to haggle over’ when talking about the price of something (Larousse Chambers). As we shall see, these are all meanings much closer to those of Sp. discutir than to those of Eng. discuss. As we said, Standard Modern French does not have a verb discusser, only discuter. Curiously, however, at some point English borrowed the Old French verb discuter as to discute [dᵻˈskjut], attested already in the mid-15th century. Most senses of this English verb are now obsolete in Modern Standard English, but discute is still a non-standard verb in some varieties of English with the meaning ‘to contest, dispute’, or so we are told by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

As we can see in any Modern English dictionary, such as the American Heritage Dictionary, the verb discuss, which is strictly transitive (must have a direct object), has two main, closely related senses: (1) ‘to speak with another or others about [something]; talk [something] over’ and (2) ‘to examine or consider (a subject) in speech or writing’ (AHD). This verb had a few other senses in the past, which are now obsolete, such as ‘to examine, investigate; to try judicially’ (OED). In other words, discussing a topic means either talking about it or presenting it to an audience in speech or writing, without any idea of opposing one’s thoughts or opinions to those of others.

The American Heritage Dictionary discusses the differences and similarities between the verb discuss and other synonymous verbs, namely argue, debate, dispute, and contend:

These verbs mean to talk with others in an effort to reach agreement, to ascertain truth, or to convince. Discuss involves close examination of a subject with interchange of opinions: My therapist discussed my concerns with my parents. Argue emphasizes the presentation of facts and reasons in support of a position opposed by others: The lawyer argued the plaintiff’s case. Debate involves formal, often public argument: The candidates debated the campaign issues. Dispute implies differences of opinion and usually sharp argument: The senators disputed over increases in the proposed budget. To contend is to strive in debate or controversy: She contended that her theory was easily proven.

Thus, as we can see, Eng. discuss is the one that least entails a confrontation of ideas. In this, it differs significantly from its Spanish cognate discutir, as we shall see.

Spanish and other Romance languages also have descendants of Lat. dĭscŭtĕre, though in these languages, the verb’s name goes by the infinitive form, which makes it more obvious that these verbs are related to the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre. The earliest written attestations seem to be Catalan discutir (1344), and Italian discutere (1364), both in the 14th century (OED). Sp. discutir and Portuguese discutir are attested a little bit later, in the 15th century.

Sp. discutir is definitely a loanword, not a patrimonial verb descended by word of mouth (uninterrupted oral transmission) from Latin over the centuries. This 3rd conjugation Latin verb (infinitive ending in ‑ĕre) was assigned to the third conjugation in Spanish (infinitive ending ‑ir). This was a typical adaptation when borrowing third conjugation Latin verbs (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). Although dictionaries tell us that Spanish took this verb from Latin, it is more than likely that Spanish borrowed this verb not directly from (written) Latin but indirectly through French since, as we have seen, this language seems to have borrowed the Latin word even earlier, in the 13th century. As we have repeatedly seen, the French language was definitely an innovator in Western Europe when it came to borrowing from Latin, and English and Spanish almost invariably followed its lead.

Sp. discutir is not commonly found in writing until the 16th century, when it already had the meaning it has today, pretty much the same meaning that its cognate has in other Romance languages. (This coincidence of meanings with other Romance language cognates, in particular French ones, is another strong indication that Spanish got the word from those languages, or through those languages, and not directly from a written Latin source.) Sp. discutir came to pretty much replace the verb contender, a somewhat rare verb today, whose main meaning is now ‘to compete, fight’, but which also means ‘to dispute, debate, argue’ (Sp. ‘disputar, debatir, altercar’, DLE) and ‘to argue, to contrast opinions, points of view, etc.’ (Sp. ‘discutir, contraponer opiniones, puntos de vista, etc.’, DLE).[1]

As for the modern meaning of Sp. discutir, the matter is somewhat complicated, in an interesting sort of way. Most Spanish dictionaries give as the first (and thus primary) meaning of this word something that would seem to be very close to the meaning of the English verb discuss. The Diccionario de Uso del Español de América y España VOX gives us the following as the fist sense of discutir: ‘for several people to examine and deal a matter or topic proposing arguments or reasons to explain it, find a solution, or come to an agreement about it’.[2] María Moliner’s dictionary has as the first meaning of discutir: ‘for several people to deal with the different aspects of some matter, each putting forward and defending their viewpoint; particularly for two people to talk with another to reach an agreement about the conditions of a deal’ (MM).[3] Similarly, the Academies’ dictionary (DLE, formerly DRAE) gives the following as the first meaning of this verb: ‘said of two or more people: To examine closely and in detail some topic’ (DLE).[4] Thus, one might be inclined to think that the main meaning of Sp. discutir is quite close to that of Eng. discuss: ‘to talk something over’, ‘to talk about something’.

However, the second meaning or sense for discutir in these dictionaries for the verb discutir describes a more oppositional or antagonistic type of conversation, one that is much closer to those expressed in English by the verbs debate or argue. Vox’s definition of this second meaning is: ‘said of two or more people: to defend opposing opinions or interests in a conversation or dialogue’.[5] María Moliner’s dictionary gives us the following as the second sense of discutir: ‘said of two or more people: to maintain opposite opinions or claims in a dialogue or conversation, e.g. Discuten de política ‘They are arguing about politics’. Los dos chicos discuten por quién va a ir por el periódico ‘The two boys are arguing about who is going to go get the paper’’ (MM).[6] We are also told that this sense of discutir is synonymous with argumentar and disputar.

Both of these dictionaries give a third meaning for discutir, which also involves confrontational postures on the part of the participants in the conversation. According to Vox, this third sense is ‘to express a contrary opinion or to contradict someone, e.g. discutir sus ideas ‘to debate their ideas’, discutir el precio ‘to argue about the price’’ (Vox).[7] María Moliner’s dictionary’s version of the third sense is: ‘for someone to express a disagreement with someone else’s opinion or order, e.g. No tolera que se discutan sus órdenes ‘He can’t stand for his orders to be questioned’. No debes discutirle al profesor lo que dice ‘You must not argue with (question) the teacher’’. Synonyms of this sense of discutir are contradecir and objetar (MM).[8]

Interestingly, the Academy’s dictionary (DLE) seems to conflate the second and third ‘oppositional’ senses that we just saw into one: ‘to contest and give reasons against someone else’s opinion, e.g. Todos discutían sus decisiones ‘They all questioned his decisions’, Discutieron con el contratista sobre el precio de la obra ‘They argued with the contractor about the price of the job’ (DLE).[9]

No matter how one splits the senses of discutir, some of them obviously imply the connotation of a confrontational exchange or conversation, something that is not really the case with any of the senses of the English cognate verb discuss. Even if we look closely at the definitions that seem to describe a non-confrontational conversation for Spanish discutir of the type the English verb discuss denotes, we find that there is something different between the two types of conversation being described. Thus, if we look at the example sentences for that non-confrontational and primary definitions of discutir in these dictionaries, we find that the type of conversation or exchange being described is not a mere friendly chat, bus rather a serious back-and-forth with at least weak opposition and confrontation involved. The example given for the first sense of discutir in Vox is El Parlamento discutirá la cuestión el próximo día 24 ‘The Parliament will discuss/debate the matter on the 24th’, which sounds more like a debate than a friendly chat of people shooting the breeze. In María Moliner’s (MM) dictionary, the example sentence is Están discutiendo el precio del coche ‘They are discussing/arguing about the car’s price’, which actually describes the act of bargaining or haggling, not merely chatting. Finally, the example for the first, not obviously confrontational sense for discutir in the Gran Diccionario de la Lengua Española LAROUSSE (GDLEL) is Hay que discutir este tema en la próxima reunión ‘We have to discuss/talk about this topic in the next meeting’. Although the kind of talking that happens in a formal meeting can be described as a discussion, it is clear that it is typically quite different from an informal chat, one in which opinions are presented often forcefully and typically in opposition to other people’s opinions.

Thus, although the first sense of discutir as expressed in most Spanish dictionaries would seem to be quite compatible with the first sense of the English verb discuss, which would thus make these two verbs ‘good friends’ (having very similar meanings), it is quite clear that Sp. discutir is rarely going to be a good option to translate the English verb discuss. That is because, as the non-primary definitions make very clear, Sp. discutir involves the presentation of ideas and opinions that are typically contrasting, incompatible, irreconcilable, inconsistent, antithetical, contradictory, clashing, contrary, different, divergent, dissimilar, opposed, opposite, and incompatible to some extent. The opposition may be mild, strong, or something in between, but it is always present in the meaning of the Spanish verb discutir, whereas it is not there in the meaning of the English verb discuss.

As for the second sense of Eng. discuss, namely ‘to examine or consider (a subject) in speech or writing’ (AHD), there is no doubt that Spanish discutir could never be an acceptable translation for it. In English, for instance, you can say that a speaker discussed a particular topic, or that a book discusses something or other, but that sense of the verb discuss are best expressed in Spanish by the verbs analizar, examinar, or (in writing) tratar (de), in addition to hablar (de), the least ostentatious synonym of all.

Most Spanish-English dictionaries give various possible translations for Sp. discutir but invariable the first one given is to discuss, which may lead those who consult these dictionaries into thinking that that is the safest or default choice. That, however, is rarely the case, for the reasons we have just discussed. The other options (senses) that are given in such dictionaries are typically much better choices, such as to debate, to challenge, to dispute, to question, to argue, and to quarrel. As for the translations for Eng. discuss in English-Spanish dictionaries, we are happy to report that discutir is rarely the first option given (though there are exceptions). For the first sense of Eng. discuss the options hablar (de) and tratar typically come first. As for the second sense of discuss, as we just saw, analizar, examinar, estudiar, and tratar (de) are given (and never discutir).

There is an important grammatical difference between Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, namely that the former is always a transitive verb, where the matter discussed is expressed as the direct object. Sp. discutir can also be used transitively, particularly when it means ‘to debate’, as in El Parlamento discutirá la cuestión el próximo día 24 ‘The Parliament will debate the matter on the 24th’ (DUEAEV), or in discutir el precio ‘to argue about the price’ (DUEAEV). This, however, is not the most common way to refer to the matter being ‘discussed’ when it comes to the verb discutir. In Spanish, discutir is primarily an intransitive verb, in particular when it unequivocally means ‘to argue’, as in Mis padres nunca discuten ‘My parents never argue’. With intransitive discutir meaning ‘to argue’, if the matter under ‘discussion’ is mentioned is always as a complement of the preposition de or, less commonly, sobre or por, as in Discuten siempre de fútbol ‘They’re always arguing about soccer’ (GDLEL), or Discuten sobre quién va a ir primero ‘They’re arguing about who is going to go first’. Note that Eng. argue, unlike Eng. discuss, is an intransitive verb (cannot have a direct object) and if a complement is added to express what is being argued about, it must come as the object of the preposition about, not as a direct object, as in They’re arguing about politics (not *They’re arguing politics).

The verb discuss is one that is used a great deal in academic contexts in the US. It is quite common for teachers and professors to ask their students to gather in groups to discuss something or other, such as a reading they have all just done. Invariably, this means that the students should talk about the topic, but not in a confrontational, oppositional, argumentative manner, the way it would be done in a debate for instance in which different parties present opposing views or in an emotionally-charged conversation or argument. Such an outcome may take place in the course of a discussion but there is nothing in the meaning of the verb discuss that guarantees or even suggests it will the way that connotation is present in the Spanish verb discutir. Because of what we have said about the difference in meaning between Sp. discutir and Eng. discuss, it is obviously best not to translate Eng. discuss as discutir in academic contexts. Better translations are typically conversar (de/sobre), hablar (de/sobre), estudiar, or analizar.

Go to Part 3



[1] Although contender is not a common word in Spanish today, a word derived from contender is indeed common, namely the adjective and noun contendiente, which as a noun means ‘contender, contestant’ and as an adjective, ‘contending, competing’.

[2] The original says: ‘Examinar y tratar entre [varias personas] un asunto o un tema proponiendo argumentos o razonamientos para explicarlo, solucionarlo o llegar a un acuerdo acerca de él: el Parlamento discutirá la cuestión el próximo día 24’ (Diccionario de Uso del Español de América y España VOX).

[3] The original says: ‘Tratar entre varias personas, exponiendo y defendiendo cada una su punto de vista, los distintos aspectos de un ↘*asunto. Particularmente, hablar una persona con otra para llegar a un *acuerdo sobre las ↘condiciones de un trato: ‘Están discutiendo el precio del coche’’ (María Moliner).

[4] The original says: ‘Dicho de dos o más personas: Examinar atenta y particularmente una materia’ (DLE, 2020.09.11).

[5] The original says: ‘Defender [dos o más personas] opiniones o intereses opuestos en una conversación o un diálogo’ (Diccionario de Uso del Español de América y España VOX).

[6] The original says: ‘Sostener dos o más personas opiniones o pretensiones opuestas en un diálogo o conversación: Discuten de política. Los dos chicos discuten por quién va a ir por el periódico. Argumentar, disputar’ (MM).

[7] The original says: ‘Expresar una opinión contraria a algo o contradecir a alguien: discutir sus ideas, discutir el precio’ (Vox).

[8] The original says: ‘Manifestar alguien una opinión contraria a ↘algo dicho u ordenado por otra persona: No tolera que se discutan sus órdenes. No debes discutirle al profesor lo que dice. *Contradecir, objetar.’ (MM)

[9] The original says: ‘Contender y alegar razones contra el parecer de alguien. Todos discutían sus decisiones. U. m. c. intr. Discutieron con el contratista sobre el precio de la obra’ (DLE).



[i] Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ParisCafeDiscussion.png; The Illustrated London News, 17 September 1870.


Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 1

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

1.1. Introduction: Lat. dĭscŭtĕre

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir are cognate verbs from our perspective, since they have the same etymon, that is, they both ultimately descend from the same word, the third conjugation ĭō-variant Latin verb whose present infinitive word-form was dĭscŭtĕre, the ancestor of  Sp. discutir, and whose passive participle word-form was dĭscŭssus, the ancestor of Eng. discuss. The two other principal parts of this Latin verb were present tense dĭscŭtĭō and perfect tense dĭscussī (both first person; cf. Part I, Chapter 8).

Present tense (1sg)

Present Infinitive

Perfect Active

Pass. Participle

dĭs-cŭt-ĭ-ō

dĭs-cŭt-ĕ-re

dĭs-cŭs-s-ī

dĭs-cŭs-s-us

In classical Latin, the main meaning of the verb dĭscŭtĕre was ‘to shake violently, to shake off, to dash to pieces, to disperse, scatter’ (OED). This verb was derived from another Latin verb, the third conjugation verb quătĕre, whose main meaning was ‘to shake, agitate’ (L&S), by the addition of the prefix dĭs‑ ‘asunder, into pieces, apart, in two, etc.’ (*dĭsquăt‑ĕre > dĭs‑cŭt‑ĕre; variants of the prefix dĭs‑ were ‑, dĭf‑, and dĭr‑). This third conjugation ĭō-variant verb’s principal parts were quătĭō, quătĕre, quăssus, with no perfect stem available.

Present tense (1sg)

Present Infinitive

Pass. Participle

quăt-ĭ-ō

quăt-ĕ-re

quăs-s-us

As we can see, the root quăt‑ of the verb quătĕre was changed to cŭt‑ in the derived verb. It was common for root vowels to change in words derived by prefixation early on in the history of the Latin language, before classical Latin times (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). There were other verbs derived from quătĕre by prefixation, as we shall see below.

dĭs

+

quăt-ĕre

  >  

dĭs-cŭt-ĕre

The irregular passive participle stem dĭscŭss‑ descends from an original *dĭs‑cŭt‑t‑ that contained the same stem dĭs‑cŭt‑ as the infinitive plus the participle suffix ‑t‑, without an intervening thematic vowel as in other conjugations. The sound change ‑t‑t‑ > ‑s‑s‑ is often found in third conjugation Latin verbs (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). The same change is found in the source verb quătĕre. A consequence of this fact for us today is that the cognates Eng. discuss ~ Sp. discutir don’t look as similar as the could have otherwise. The cognate nouns derived from these verbs, Eng. discussion ~ Sp. discusión, on the other hand, are much more obviously related, since they stem from the same word, the noun dĭscŭssĭōn-, derived from the Latin passive participle stem discŭss- (see below).

 

 

quăt-t-us

>

quăs-s-us

dĭs

+

quăt-t-us

>

dis-cŭs-s-us

As we saw, originally, in classical Latin, the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre meant ‘to shake violently, to shake off’, ‘to strike into pieces, break up’, ‘to disperse, scatter, dissipate’, etc. However, in post-classical Latin, new senses developed for this Latin verb. The main one was ‘to examine, investigate’, attested as early as the late 2nd century, which can be seen as a figurative (metaphorical) extension of the literal meaning, namely something like ‘to separate (the facts) mentally’. This and related derived meanings prevail in descendants of this word in modern languages, such as Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir. In the 8th century, we find the Latin verb dĭscŭtĕre being used with the sense ‘to debate’, presumably with the goal of examining and investigating something. Descendants of this word in the Romance languages retain the agonistic, oppositional, or confrontational connotations of that ‘debate’ sense, whereas there is barely any sign of it in the English descendant verb discuss, as we shall see in the next section.

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Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 6

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook  Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Span...