Sunday, November 1, 2020

Urgent emergencies, 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.]

Lat. urgēre

After having taken a close look at all the relatives of the words related to the cognates Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia, let us look now at the words related to the cognates Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, which ultimately descend from the Latin verb urgēre, which meant primarily ‘to press, push, force, drive, impel, urge’. It was a second conjugation (present infiintive ending ‑ēre) verb that lacks a supine/passive participle form.

  • Verb: urgeō, urgēre, ursī (no supine/passive participle)
  • Meaning: ‘to press, push, force, drive, impel, urge; etc.’

Before delving into the cognate nouns Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, let us start by looking at the cognate adjectives Eng. urgent ~ Sp. urgente, both of which mean basically ‘requiring immediate action or attention’ (COED). These adjectives descend from the Latin verb urgēre’s third declension present participle urgēns ‘urging, that urges’, whose regular stem was urgent‑ and its accusative form was urgentem (urg‑ent‑em).

Eng. urgentɜɹ.ʤənt] was borrowed through French in the late 15th century after French borrowed the word from Latin in the 14th century, although this French word did not become a common word until the 19th century (cf. Mod. Fr. urgent [yʀˈʒɑ̃]). Sp. urgente [uɾ.ˈxen̪.t̪e] was borrowed later, in the late 16th century, and although Spanish dictionaries tell us that Sp. urgente came from Latin, it is quite likely that it was borrowed through French too, just like Eng. urgent was. Both English and Spanish have derived adverbs from these adjectives, namely Eng. urgently (urgent+ly) and Sp. urgentemente (urgente+mente), which are also very common words, just like the adjectives they are derived from.

Some dictionaries mention a second, formal sense for Eng. urgent which is not found in Sp. urgente, one which is used to refer to a tone of voice, a plea, or a knock, a meaning that has been defined as ‘formal done or said in a way that shows that you want something to be dealt with immediately: an urgent whisper’ (LDCE). This secondary, derived sense of Eng. urgent can be translated into Spanish as apremiante or insistente, e.g. in an urgent tone of voice  - con un tono de voz apremiante (Harrap’s).

The Spanish adjective urgente is also used in some contexts where English urgent is not used. Thus, for instance, urgente is used in the context of mail, as in correo urgente, where it means ‘express’ or ‘first-class’ (mail). Also, sometimes a better translation of Sp. urgente than Eng. urgent is a synonym of this word, such as pressing or rush, as in un trabajo urgente = a rush job. Finally, as we saw earlier in the chapter, in health matters Sp. urgente can translate into English as emergency, as in un paciente/caso urgente an emergency patient/case, at least as used in some dialects of Spanish.

From the plural neuter form of the Latin present participle urgēns, namely urgentĭa, an abstract noun meaning ‘pressure’ was derived in Late Latin by conversion, i.e. without addition of any affixes, cf. Part I, Chapter 5 (urg‑ent‑ĭa). From this Late Latin noun come the cognates Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, both of which refer to ‘the quality or condition of being urgent; pressing importance’ (AHD).

Eng. urgencyɜɹ.ʤə] is attested as early as the mid-16th century, or about a century after the first attestation of the adjective urgent. The OED tells us that it may come from Late Latin urgentĭa by changing the Latin ‑tia ending to ‑cy, as in so many other existing English words borrowed from Latin. But the OED also says that the word urgency could have been developed in English, by adding the Latinate suffix ‑cy to the adjective urgent, following the pattern of so many Latinate English adjectives that derive from Latin present participles, e.g. agent ~ agency, potent ~ potency, competent ~ competency, consistent ~ consistency, etc. There is no evidence of the French cognate urgence being attested before 1573, so this time the Latinate English word may not have come through French (Le Grand Robert).

Just like English has emergence in addition to emergency (see above), both ultimately from the same Latin source, English also has the a word urgence in addition to urgency. Eng. urgence is quite rare today, compared to urgency, however, more so than the word emergence. The few dictionaries that carry this word refer us to its synonym urgency (e.g. WNTIUD). The OED tells us that urgence was borrowed from French urgence in the latter part of the 16th century, a bit later than the first attestation of urgency. The French word also first appeared around the same time and although it may have indeed been borrowed from Late Latin urgentĭa. However, French etymological dictionaries tell us that Fr. urgence [yʀˈʒɑ̃s] was actually derived, in French, from Fr. urgent in the 16th century and that it was rare until the second half of the 18th century and not a common until the end of the 19th century (cf. GR, CNRTL).[a]

Going back to the meaning of urgency, we find that, as in the case of the adjective urgent, there is also a secondary, formal sense for Eng. urgency, which is not found in its Spanish cognate urgencia. This sense can be defined as ‘formal the feeling of wanting something immediately:  Emilia heard the urgency in his voice’ (LDCE). This sense can be translated into Spanish as apremio or with some related paraphrase, e.g. There was a note of urgency in his voice = Había un tono apremiante en su voz (Harrap’s).

Sp. urgencia [uɾ.ˈxen̪.θi̯a] first appeared in a dictionary in 1721 (DIRAE) and it may have been borrowed from Fr. urgence, with the expected adaptation of the ending from ‑ce to ‑cia, and not from Lat. urgentĭa as the Academies’ dictionary proclaims. As we mentioned, the primary meaning of this word is like the primary meaning of its English cognate urgency. However, just like Eng. urgency has a sense that Sp. urgencia does not have, Sp. urgencia also has senses that are not found in Eng. urgency. One of them is the medical sense that we discussed in the introduction, a sense that (some dialects of) Spanish has recently calqued from the word’s French cognate, a sense Fr. urgence acquired around 1960, particularly when the word is used in its plural form. Thus, as we saw in the introduction, in Spain, urgencias means ‘emergency room’, just like Fr. urgences does. In the preceding section we saw other senses of Eng. emergency that could be translated into (some dialects of) Spanish as urgencia(s).

There is another sense in which Sp. urgencia can be used in a way in which its English cognate urgency cannot, namely, it can be used to refer to a particular instance of an urgent situation. English emergency can be used to refer to a particular situation, as in We had an emergency, but not so urgency, since in English we cannot say *We had an urgency. Spanish urgencia, on the other hand, can be used this way, and then urgencia translates as urgent matter or some equivalent phrase (urgencia = caso urgente, DLE), as in Lo necesito para una urgencia ‘I need it for an emergency/urgent matter’, or El hospital quedó saturado por las urgencias ‘The hospital was filled up due to emergency cases’ (DLE).

Going back now to the Latin verb urgēre, we find that both English and Spanish have borrowed this verb, though the meanings of these reflexes of the Latin verb are very different, which makes them not very good ‘friends’, though perhaps not fully ‘false friends’ either. English borrowed Lat. urgēre as the transitive verb urge [ˈɜɹʤ] in the mid-16th century with the meaning ‘to bring forward, present, or press upon the attention’ (OED) and today it means primarily ‘encourage or entreat earnestly to do something’ and, derived from it, ‘strongly recommend’, as in e.g. I got a note from Moira urging me to get in touch (LDCE), and ‘encourage to move more quickly’ (COED), e.g. He urged her forward, his hand under her elbow (LDCE).

Spanish borrowed Lat. urgēre as third conjugation urgir probably not before the 18th century (Autoridades). Interestingly, it was borrowed as a third not as a second conjugation verb (*urger), probably by somebody who did not realize that in Latin, it was a second conjugation verb and not a third conjugation one (third conjugation ‑ĕre Latin verbs often changed to third conjugation ‑ir Spanish verbs, but not so second conjugation ‑ēre Latin verbs). This verb has only become common in recent times and it is somewhat formal or literary, unlike the adjective urgente, the adverb urgentemente, or the noun urgencia (DCEH).[b]

Sp. urgir is primarily and most commonly an intransitive verb that means ‘to be urgent, be pressing’ and it can be used in the same manner as gustar, with an indirect object, though one is not needed, e.g. Me urge que arreglen la avería ‘I need for the malfunction to be repaired right away’ (GDLEL), which without the indirect object becomes Urge que arreglen la avería ‘It is imperative for the malfunction be repaired right away’.

Sp. urgir also has two transitive senses, but they are much less common and more formal than the intransitive one, and some major dictionaries do not even mention them, such as María Moliner’s, for example. The Academies’ dictionary describe these two transitive senses as ‘to request or demand something with urgency’, as in Los vecinos urgían la construcción de un parque ‘The neighbors demanded the urgent construction of a park’, and ‘to drive or impel someone to act quickly’, as in El director la urgió a terminar el informe ‘The director urged her to finish the report’ (DLE).[c] This second transitive sense of urgir seems to be identical to one of the senses of Eng. urge (see above), though it is not recommended that urgir be used to translate this sense of urge since this use is extremely rare in Spanish, despite the Academies’ sanction of it.

The two cognate verbs Eng. urge ~ Sp. urgir are thus, as we said, used very differently and are never really possible translations of each other. Eng. urge translates into Spanish as instar, exhortar, pedir con insistencia, or rogar, but not really as urgir, e.g. I urge you to reconsiderLe pido encarecidamente que lo reconsidere (OSD), or He urged them not to continue - Les exhortó a que no continuaran (AESV). Note that in theory, it should be possible to use urgir to translate Eng. urge, given that urgir supposedly has transitive senses, one of which seems to be identical to one of the senses of Eng. urge according to the Academies’ dictionary, but this is not recommended since those uses are so rare and probably introduced as calques of expressions in other languages.

As for how we should translate the most common sense of Sp. urgir into English, not the rare ones mentioned before, we find that there are different ways, such as with phrases that contain the adjective urgent or the adverb urgently, e.g. Urge acabar con el conflictoThe conflict must be brought to an end as speedily as possible [=urgently] (OSD), ¿Te urge tenerlo? – Do you need it urgently? (AEIV), Me urge que vengasI urgently need you come here (WR).

From the verb urge, English derived the homonymous noun urge by conversion in the early 17th century, which means ‘the act of urging’ (AHD) or ‘a strong desire or impulse’ (COED), as in Suddenly she had an overwhelming urge to be with her son (LDCE). Despite the fact that this word has been around for three centuries, it did not become a common word until the early 20th century (OED). This noun translates into Spanish as impulso, deseo, or ganas, e.g. sexual urgesimpulsos sexuales (OSD),  to have the urge to do something – tener unas ganas irrefrenables de hacer algo (AESV).

As with so many other Latin verbs, there were a number of verbs derived from Lat. urgēre by prefixation, although none of them have made it into English or Spanish. In total, there were five Latin verbs derived from urgēre, namely the following:

  • adurgēre ‘to press to or close to, press against’ (L&S) < ad‑ ‘to’ + urgēre
  • exurgēre ‘to squeeze out’ (L&S) < ex‑ ‘out’ + urgēre
  • inurgēre ‘to push, thrust; to obtrude (poet. and post-class.)’ (L&S) < in‑ ‘in’ + urgēre
  • perurgēre ‘to press upon greatly, to oppress, distress’ (L&S) < per‑ ‘through’ + urgēre
  • suburgēre ‘to drive or urge close to’ (L&S) < sub‑ ‘under’ + urgēre

[a] From Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé (TLFi): ‘Étymol. et Hist. 1550 (G. Paradin, Hist. de Lyon, p. 372 ds Gdf. Compl.), rare av. la 2e moit. du xviiies.; 1762 urgence du besoin (Diderot, Lettres à S. Volland, p. 36); 1789 cas d’urgence (Point du Jour, 27 sept., p. 55 ds Brunot t. 9, p. 778, note 5), att. dans la lexicogr. dep. Ac. 1798. Dér. de urgent*; suff. -ence (v. -ance).’

[b] DCEH: ‘1.ª doc.: Autoridades.  Sólo en fecha muy moderna ha empezado a emplearse con alguna frecuencia, pero sigue teniendo tono mucho más literario que urgente y urgencia’.

[c] The original says: ‘Pedir o exigir algo con urgencia o apremio’ and ‘Conducir o empujar a alguien a una rápida actuación’ (DEL).

Urgent emergencies, 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.]

Lat. mergĕre and derived verbs

As we saw, the Late Latin noun emergentĭa, source of Eng. emergence/emergency and Sp. emergencia, contained the Latin root merg‑ of the third conjugation verb mergĕre (merg‑ĕre) that meant literally ‘dip (in), immerse, plunge into water’, but also had some figurative senses, such as ‘overwhelm’. English borrowed this verb as merge [ˈmɜɹʤ] through French in the 17th century. The noun merger [ˈɹʤəɹ] was derived from the verb (in English) in the 18th century. Spanish never borrowed this verb, however.

  • Verb: mergō, mergĕre, mersī, mersus
  • Meaning: ‘to dip, dip in, immerse; to plunge into water, to sink’, ‘to plunge into, sink, overwhelm, cover, bury, immerse, drown’ (L&S)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. merge  ‘combine or be combined to form a single entity. lend or cause to blend gradually into something else. (usu. merge something in) Law absorb (a title or estate) in another’ (COED)
    • > Eng. merger ‘an act of merging two things, especially companies, into one. Law the merging of one estate or title in another’ (COED)

When English borrowed the verb merge in the 17th century, it had the original meaning it had in Latin, namely ‘to immerse, plunge’, which is now obsolete. Later it acquired the legal sense ‘to cause to be incorporated, absorbed, or amalgamated’ (OED) in the early 18th century, and eventually ended up with the modern sense merge has in English, which is ‘[to] combine or be combined to form a single entity’ (COED). In the legal context, this verb seems to have been introduced through the French legal verb merger, first attested in the early 15th century, but now obsolete.

Again, Spanish never borrowed this verb from Latin, nor did it acquire by patrimonial descent. The English verb merge translates in different ways in Spanish depending on what is merging, though the most common translations being unir(se) ‘to unite’, combinar(se) ‘to combine’, juntarse ‘to join’, confluir ‘to flow together’ (roads and rivers), fundirse ‘to fuse’ (colors), fusionarse ‘to fuse’ (entities, etc.), etc. Two common idiomatic expressions with this verb are to merge into the background (= Sp. perderse de vista), and to merge into the darkness (Sp. desaparecer en la oscuridad) (AESV).

As, we also saw earlier, the Late Latin noun emergentĭa is not derived from the verb mergĕre but from a verb derived from mergĕre, namely ēmergĕre, created by prefixing ē‑ ‘out’ (< ex‑ ‘out’).

  • Verb: ēmergō, ēmergĕre, ēmersī, ēmersus < ē‑/ex‑ ‘out’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘[trans.] to bring forth, bring to light, raise up’, ‘[intrans.] to come forth, come out, to rise up, emerge’, etc. (L&S)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. emerge
    • Sp. emerger
  • Derived:
    • Late Latin ēmergentia < ex‑+merg‑+ent-+‑ĭa >
      • Eng. emergence, emergency
      • Sp. emergencia

Lat. ēmergĕre was borrowed into English as emerge [ɪˈmɜɹʤ] in the mid-16th century, either directly from Latin or through French émerger (OED). The current meanings of this intransitive verb are (1) ‘move out of something and become visible’ (COED), as in The flowers emerge in the spring and The sun emerged from behind the clouds (LDCE); and (2) when speaking of facts or issues, for example, ‘to come into existence or greater prominence’ (= become known) (COED), as in The truth emerged at the inquest (AHD).

Sp. emerger [e.meɾ.ˈxeɾ] is an even less common verb than Eng. emerge, and it is not always a good translation of its English cognate either. Sp. emerger is typically used to refer to things such as submarines that come out of the water, a meaning that translates into English as to surface. Sp. emerger is a very recent loanword, first appearing in the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE) in 1899 (DIRAE). (DCEH gives the verb as emergir, as in Portuguese, not as emerger, which must be a mistake.) The two senses of Eng. emerge can be translated into Spanish by different verbs. For sense (1), Eng. emerge can be translated as aparecer, salir, surgir, and rarely emerger. For sense (2), it can be translated as surgir, aparecer, revelarse, salir a la luz, and resultar.






+ merg-ĕre >



ex- ‘out’




in- ‘in’




dē- ‘of, from’


sub- ‘under’




Lat. ēmergĕre was not the only Latin verb derived from Lat. mergĕre by prefixation. There were three others, two of which have left a trail in modern English and Spanish in the way of reflexes in these languages either of the verbs themselves or of words derived from those verbs. The Latin verb derived from mergĕre without descendants is dēmergĕre, a verb that has a meaning that is very similar to that of transitive mergĕre.

  • Verb: dēmergō, dēmergĕre, dēmersī, dēmersus < dē‑ ‘of, from’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to sink, submerge, to plunge into, to dip’, ‘to sink, depress, overwhelm’ (L&S)
  • Descendants: none

Another verb derived from mergĕre by prefixation is immergĕre, formed with the prefix in‑ ‘in’. English borrowed this verb in the early 15th century from the passive participle form of the Latin verb, immersus, resulting in Eng. immerse [ɪˈmɜɹs]. Note that this is the only one of the loans of mergĕre and its derivatives that English derived from the passive participle stem form of the root (mers‑) instead of the present tense form (merg‑). This verb is also a transitive verb, with some of the meanings of its parent verb mergĕre.

  • Verb: immergō, immergĕre, immersī, immersus < in‑ ‘in’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to dip, plunge, sink, immerse, submerge’ (CTL)
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. immerse (= Sp. sumergir, etc.), immerge (archaic variant of immerse)
    • Spanish: ? inmergir(se)
  • Derived:
    • immersus ‘immersed’ (< in‑+mers‑+‑us) >
      • Sp. inmerso/a ‘submerged; immersed’ (cf. Eng. immersed < immerse)
    • immersĭō ‘immersion’ (< in‑+mers‑+‑ĭōn‑) >
      • Eng. immersion
      • Sp. inmersión

The main meaning of Eng. immerse is ‘dip or submerge in a liquid’ (COED), as in  Immerse your foot in ice-cold water to reduce the swelling (LDCE). In addition, Eng. immerse has a secondary figurative meaning when used reflexively: ‘(immerse oneself or be immersed) involve oneself deeply in an activity’ (COED), as in He left school at 16 and immersed himself in the Labour Party or She was far too immersed in her studies (LDCE).

Some rare Spanish dictionaries mention the verb inmergir(se) but most do not. Collins’ Spanish-English dictionary is one that does, saying that it means ‘to immerse’, and Tesauro Signum gives this verb as a synonym of sumergir(se) (see below). No major Spanish dictionary contains the verb inmergir, however. The main way Eng. immerse is translated into Spanish is as sumergir for the literal sense (see below) and enfrascarse and sumirse, among others, for the figurative sense, as in He immersed himself in his workSe metió de lleno or se sumergió en su trabajo (OSD). As we will see below, Sp. sumergir is another verb belonging to this family of Latinate verbs.

Although Spanish did not borrow the Latin verb immergĕre, it did borrow this verb’s Latin passive participle immersus/a/um, as the adjective inmerso/a ‘immersed, submerged’, which can be used with a literal sense, as in the phrase El submarino permaneció inmerso varias horas [= sumergido] ‘The submarine was submerged for several hours’ (WR), but which is typically used with a figurative sense, as in the phrase inmersa en sus tareas ‘absorbed in her work’ (OSD), and inmerso en la política ‘steeped in politics’ (GU). Eng. immersed, which can be used to translate this Spanish adjective, is of course a past participle and adjective derived from the verb immerse by means of the English suffix ‑ed. Thus, although Sp. inmerso/a and Eng. immersed are equivalent and cognate, they are not full cognates since they do not share the same exact origin.

As we can see in the summary about Lat. immergĕre above, there are cognate nouns that are ultimately related to this verb: Eng. immersion ~ Sp. inmersión. These words descend from the post-classical action noun immersĭō ‘a plunging into, immersion’ (accusative wordform: immersĭōnem; regular stem: immersĭōn‑), which was derived from the stem immers of the passive participle immersus of the verb immergĕre by means of the action noun forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ (in‑mers‑ĭōn‑em).

Eng. immersion [ɪ.ˈməɹ.ʃən] was borrowed around the middle of the 15th century, and since French borrowed it in the 14th century, also as immersion, it is quite likely that English borrowed it through French. Eng. immersion means primarily ‘the action of immersing or the state of being immersed’ (COED). Some dictionaries split the meaning into a literal one, ‘the action of immersing something in liquid, or the state of being immersed’, as in his near-fatal immersion in the icy Atlantic Ocean, and a figurative one, ‘the fact of being completely involved in something you are doing’, as in my immersion in black music and culture (LDCE). There are also a couple of technical senses of the word immersion. One is in language learning, where it refers to ‘a method of teaching a foreign language by the exclusive use of that language’ (COED), as in immersion course, a use started by the Berlitz language school in 1965. According to the OED, this use is ‘chiefly North American’. The other technical sense is used in astronomy, where it means ‘the disappearance of a celestial body in the shadow of or behind another’ (COED). Finally, the term immersion has been used in English since the mid-17th century for ‘the administration of Christian baptism by the dipping or plunging of the whole person in water’, contrasting with the affusion or aspersion method of baptism (OED).

Spanish borrowed the equivalent and cognate noun inmersión [in.meɾ.ˈsi̯on] in the 19th century, quite likely through French. The two cognate nouns share the ‘immersion in a liquid’ sense, e.g. Los buceadores tienen oxígeno para dos horas de inmersión ‘Divers have oxygen for two hours under water’ (DUEAE). Sp. inmersión also has the two technical senses mentioned earlier for Eng. immersion, the astronomical one,[1] and the language acquisition one, typically in the phrase curso de immersion ‘immersion course’, which is most likely an expression calqued from the English one, e.g. Hizo un curso de inmersión en griego porque le atraía ese idioma ‘He took an immersion course in Greek because he was drawn to that language’ (Clave). and the astronomical sense. Sp. inmersión, however, does not have the figurative sense that Eng. immersion has. This sense translates into Spanish as absorción or enfrascamiento (cf. the adjectives absorto/a ‘engrossed, absorbed’ and enfrascado/a ‘absorbed’). Note that the related adjective inmerso/a does usually have the figurative sense in addition to the literal, liquid-related sense (see above). The expression immersion heater was created in British English in the early 20th century to refer to a ‘a usually electric unit that heats the liquid in which it is immersed’. It translates into Spanish as calentador (de agua) eléctrico.

The last Latin verb derived from mergĕre by prefixation is summergĕre, also sometimes attested as submergĕre, derived from mergĕre by means of the prefix sub‑ ‘under’ (a b before an m in Latin words typically changed to m, just like an n changed to m, as in immersĕre):

  • Verb: summergō, summergĕre, summersī, summersus / submergō, submergĕre, submersī, submersus < sub‑ ‘under’ + mergĕre
  • Meaning: ‘to sink, overwhelm, submerge, submerse’
  • Descendants:
    • Eng. submerge
      • > Eng. submergible or submersible: ‘adj. designed to operate while submerged; noun a small boat or craft that is submersible’ (COED)
    • Sp. sumergir(se)
      • > Sp. sumergibleadj. submergible/submersible, waterproof; noun submarine’
  • Derived:
    • summersĭō ‘sinking, drowning; submersion’ (< sub+mers+ĭōn‑) >
      • > Eng. submersion
      • > Sp. sumersión

English borrowed this Latin verb as submerge [səbˈmɜɹʤ] in the early 17th century. It presumably borrowed it through French, which borrowed seems to have borrowed it first from Latin, in the 14th century, though the OED says that Eng. submerge is ‘partly a borrowing from French’ and ‘partly a borrowing from Latin’. Note that this time, English did not borrow the Latin verb’s passive participle form, which would have been *submerse (cf. immerse), but as in the case of emerge, it used the present stem sub‑merg‑ found in the Latin verb’s infinitive wordform. This is another clue that the verb was borrowed through French and not from Latin, since English typically borrowed the passive participle form of Latin verbs.

Spanish sumergir(se) was borrowed in the late 17th century and although the Academy tells us that this verb comes from Latin, it is quite likely that it was borrowed through French as well. Note that when Spanish borrowed this third conjugation Latin verb (infinitive in ‑ĕre), it turned it into a third conjugation verb (infinitive in ‑ir), unlike with the verb emerger, which was turned into a second conjugation verb in ‑er (see above). Also, whereas English borrowed the version that had the original sub‑ prefix, Spanish obviously borrowed the more common version of the Latin verb that had two ‑mm‑ consonants, reducing them the double consonant to one, as it usually did in Latin loanwords (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Modern French submerger [sybmɛrˈʒe] does not literally mean ‘submerge’ anymore but rather ‘to flood’ and figuratively, ‘to overcome, to overwhelm’. The main way to translate  the English verb submerge into Modern French is by means of the verbs immerger and plonger (related to Eng. immerse and plunge).

Eng. submerge has a literal transitive meaning, ‘cause to be under water’, as well as a literal intransitive one, ‘descend below the surface of water’ (COED). In literary language, this verb can also be used figuratively with the meaning ‘[to] completely cover or obscure’ (COED) or ‘to lose sight of, obscure, or cover up as if under a layer of water’ (WNTIUD), as in the sentence Alice submerged herself in work to try and forget about Tom (LDCE). Sp. sumergir is a close friend of Eng. submerge, semantically speaking. It can also be transitive or else intransitive, when used reflexively as sumergirse. Sp. sumergir can also be used figuratively, that that sense is probably even rarer and more literary in Spanish than in English, e.g. Se sumergió en la lectura de aquella novela de suspense ‘She submerged herself in the reading of that thriller’ (GDLEL).

As you can see above, adjectives have been derived in both English and Spanish from these verbs by means of the suffix ‑ble: Sp. sumergible and Eng. submergible, which is also attested as submersible. The variant submergible shows its clear connection to the verb submerge, to which the ‑ible suffix has been added. The variant submersible makes use of the Latin verb’s passive participle stem submers‑, with the same ending. Both cognates are used to refer to vehicles that can go under water, but the Spanish adjective can also be used for other objects that can go underwater (without being damaged), a sense that translates into English as waterproof, as in un reloj sumergible ‘a waterproof watch’. To refer to the waterproof quality of articles of clothing, the adjective impermeable is used instead, rather than sumergible, and for other waterproof objects, Spanish uses the phrase a prueba de agua, a clone of the English compound waterproof, as in un contenedor a prueba de agua ‘a waterproof container’. The adjective sumergible has also been turned into a noun in Spanish to refer to underwater vessels, e.g. los submarinos y los batiscafos son tipos de sumergibles ‘submarines and bathyscaphes are types of submersible vessels’ (DUEAEV), though the word is somewhat archaic today. The English adjective submersible, but not submergible, can also be used as a noun to refer to ‘a vessel capable of operating or remaining under water’ (AHD), just like Sp. sumergible, though this sense is probably rare nowadays.

Finally, we should mention that from the same root merg‑, Latin derived the name of a kind of a web-footed water-fowl (Sp. palmípedo/a) that plunges under water, a fowl known in English as diver or loon (L&S) or ‘a sea-bird, esp. a shearwater or gull’ (Cassell), also known as grebe, ‘a diving waterbird with a long neck, lobed toes, and a very short tail. [Family Podicipedidae: several species.] (COED). Spanish has borrowed this name for the same waterfowl, adapting is as mergo. A more traditional name for this verb in Spanish is somorgujo, first attested as somurgujón (1280), a patrimonial word derived from the same root merg‑, containing the prefix so‑ (< Lat. sub‑), and a suffix the nature of which is not clear (DCEH). Related to this noun for the bird, there is a derived verb somorgujar(se) ‘to dive underwater’, which is rare in Spanish today, having been mostly replaced by sumergir(se) (see above).

Go to Part 4

[1] DLE: ‘Entrada de un astro en el cono de sombra que proyecta otro’.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Urgent emergencies, 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.]

Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia

The source of the cognate nouns Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia is the Late Latin noun ēmergentĭa, which was derived from the stem ēmergent‑ of the (third-declension) present participle ēmergēns ‘emerging, arising, etc.’ of the third conjugation verb ēmergĕre (accusative case: ēmergentem, regular stem: ēmergent‑). The verb ēmergĕre was mostly used reflexively or passively with the intransitive meaning ‘to come forth, come up, arise, emerge’ (L&S), though it could also used as a transitive verb meaning ‘to bring forth, bring to light, raise up’. This verb was derived from the verb mergĕre ‘dip (in), immerse; plunge into water; overwhelm, etc.’ by means of the variant ē‑ of the prefix ex‑ ‘out’. As we will see more closely in the next section, neither one of these verbs was transmitted patrimonially to Spanish but Spanish eventually borrowed ēmergĕre, as emerger, though it did not borrow Lat. mergĕre, whereas English borrowed both Latin verbs, as merge and emerge (more on these verbs in the next section).

The noun ēmergentĭa was derived from the mentioned stem ēmergent‑ by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑a which typically made first declension abstract nouns, usually from adjectives or present participles, which were but adjectives derived from verbs. Another example of this, this one from Classical Latin, is the noun absentĭa ‘absence’ (cf. Sp. ausencia), derived the same way from the participle absēns/absentis ‘absent’, present participle of the verb abesse ‘to be away’ (< ab- 'away from' + esse 'to be')‎. We can see the ‑ĭ‑ as the actual suffix and the final ‑a was the nominative singular inflection, which changed for different case wordforms (cf. Part I, Chapters 5, 8). The ‑ent‑ part was the regular present participle suffix.[1] As we have often seen in this book, the resulting ending …tia of many Latin words has resulted in numerous English loanwords in ‑cy and ‑ce and Spanish loanwords in ‑cia and ‑cía, which are the possible reflexes in these languages of the Latin ending ‑tĭa. The ēmerg‑ stem itself contained the root merg‑ and the prefix ē‑, as we shall see. Thus, we can analyze the Latin word ēmergentĭa as follows:


Note that English and Spanish have also borrowed this verb’s present participle from Latin, cf. the cognates Eng. emergent ~ Sp. emergente. These adjectives are closely related semantically to verbs in each language, namely Eng. emerge ~ Sp. emerger, which we will discuss below. The main meaning of the adjectives today is ‘in the process of coming into being or prominence; emerging’ (COED), as in the expressions emergent spring shoots, an emergent political leader, and emergent nations (AHD). In Philosophy, these words are used to refer to properties, namely those ‘arising as an effect of complex causes and not analyzable simply as the sum of their effects’ (COED).

Actually, the Latin noun ēmergentĭa has been borrowed twice into English. It was borrowed as emergence [ɪ.ˈmɜɹ.ʤəns], presumably directly from Late Lat. ēmergentĭa (OED). The Latin ending in ‑t‑ĭa had traditionally changed to ‑ce in patrimonial French words derived from Latin present participles, words with the ending ‑ance and ‑ence in French, which descended from words ending in ‑antia and ‑entia in Latin. (This ending ‑ce is pronounced [s] in both Modern French, just like in English). This pattern for endings in patrimonial French words was extended to new Latin present participles that were borrowed into French, and the same ending was kept when the word was borrowed from French into English. Actually, the French word émergence is attested as early as 1498, so one might have thought that English could have borrowed this Latin word though French, as was often the case. However, in the early days, Fr. émergence did not have its current meaning for it was simply a legal term that meant something like ‘dependence’, and it did not start being used with something close to its current meaning until the early 18th century (TLFi). This is one of the reasons we think that English did not borrow this word through French but, rather, directly from written Latin, though matters could be more complicated.

The meaning of Eng. emergence has changed through the years, starting with ‘an unforeseen occurrence’, ‘pressing need, urgent want’, meanings that later went to the related word emergency (see below); and ‘the rising (of a submerged body) out of the water’ (OED). Today, the noun emergence is tied to the meaning of the verb emerge (see below) and it means primarily ‘the act or process of emerging’ (AHD).

English-Spanish dictionaries tell us that the main translation of Eng. emergence in modern Spanish is aparición, a noun derived from the verb aparecer ‘to appear, show up, come up’, especially when something comes out of hiding. Other possible translations found in dictionaries include surgimiento, derived from surgir ‘to come up’, and even revelación ‘revelation, disclosure’, related to the noun revelar ‘to reveal, disclose, etc.’, especially when speaking of facts or the truth. Most English-Spanish dictionaries do not give sample phrases or sentences for such translations of Eng. emergence. One that we have found is the following: his emergence on the international stage, which is translated as su aparición or irrupción en el ámbito internacional (Harraps). No English-Spanish dictionary seems to mention the English noun’s Spanish cognate emergencia as a possible translation for it, though if we look at the meaning of Sp. emergencia in Spanish dictionaries it would seem that one of its meanings is equivalent to that of Eng. emergence, as we will see below (the first sense of this word in the DLE is ‘acción y efecto de emerger’). We will return to this discrepancy below when we look at Sp. emergencia.

English borrowed Late Latin ēmergentĭa a second time as emergency, also in the first half of the 17th century. The ending ‑cy appears in Latinate English words as another possible reflex of the Latin endings ‑t‑ĭa and ‑c‑ĭa as well as Greek words ending in ‑κια (‑kia), ‑κεια (‑keia), ‑τια (‑tia), or ‑τεια (‑teia), occasionally also when this ending was attached to a present participle stem. This ending came into English from the Anglo-Norman dialect of Old French -cie, cf. pharmacy, legacy, policy, infancy, agency, etc. (cf. Sp. farmacia, infancia, agencia). An early meaning of Eng. emergency was ‘the rising of a submerged body above the surface of water’, equivalent to an early meanings of emergence, as we just saw, and ‘the arising, sudden or unexpected occurrence (of a state of things, an event, etc.)’ (OED). As we saw earlier, the current meaning of the word emergency is ‘a serious, unexpected, and potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate action’ (COED).

Spanish originally borrowed the noun emergencia, cognate of Eng. emergence and emergency, in the 17th century, with a meaning closer to the original, namely ‘an act of emerging, coming out’ or, in other words, the meaning of Eng. emergence, a meaning that Sp. emergencia still has, as in No debe asustarnos la emergencia de nuevas teorías ‘The emergence of new theories should not scare us’ (DUEAE). As we can see, contrary to what English-Spanish dictionaries tell us, Sp. emergencia can be translated by Eng. emergence, since one of the senses of Sp. emergencia is quite close to the meaning of Eng. emergence, though perhaps mostly when referring to the emerging of non-physical entities, such as theories, not so much physical entities. So, for example, we probably would never use the noun emergencia to speak of a submarine surfacing (?la emergencia del submarino), though the choice would not so far-fetched in the case of Eng. emergence, cf. the emergence of the submarine.

But Sp. emergencia has also come to have another meaning, namely the only meaning that Eng. emergency has today, something like ‘urgent matter’, as in Llámenme si surge alguna emergencia ‘call me if there is an emergency’. This second meaning has come about under the influence of Eng. emergency and it is thus a semantic calque (cf. Part I, Chapter 2), a calque that purists have disapproved of in the past, but one that is by now well established in the language. Corominas, for instance, calls this borrowed new sense of Sp. emergencia a ‘crude Anglicism’ (grosero anglicismo).[2]

Interestingly, French does not seem to have calqued the ‘urgent matter’ meaning of Eng. emergency into its own word émergence, which still means ‘emergence’ only, e.g. l’émergence du racisme ‘the emergence of racism’ (GDL) (= Sp. la emergencia del racismo). Crucially, the way to express the meaning ‘urgent matter’ in French is urgence [yrˈʒɑ̃s], the cognate of Eng. urgency and Sp. urgencia, as in Appelez-moi en cas d’urgence ‘Call me if there is an emergency’. We will return to this important fact in the final section of this chapter when we look at these words.

As we said earlier, English borrowed the word emergency in the middle of the 17th century with a variety of meanings, some of which are now (very) archaic or obsolete. One meaning of the noun emergency that is obsolete today is related to the meaning of the verb emerge, namely ‘the rising of a submerged body above the surface of water’ (OED). This meaning has been taken over by the cognate doublet emergence. The main meaning of the noun emergency that has survived is a special case of an earlier one. The OED defines this particular early meaning as ‘a juncture that arises or ‘turns up’; especially a state of things unexpectedly arising, and urgently demanding immediate action’ (OED). Thus, the main meaning of Eng. emergency today is what was once a special case of the original meaning, namely ‘a serious, unexpected, and potentially dangerous situation requiring immediate action’ (COED). When used as a modifier, this meaning can be defined as ‘arising from or used in an emergency’, as in an emergency exit (COED) (= Sp. salida de emergencia). As we have seen, Sp. emergencia is a possible translation of both Eng. emergence and of Eng. emergency. But we also saw that there is a reluctance to use emergencia today with the meaning ‘emergence’, a reluctance that dictionaries reflect. A major reason for this reluctance is likely that the ‘urgent matter’ sense has become primary for this Spanish word and that the original ‘emerging matter’ sense is becoming blocked by the newer one and may eventually become obsolete the way that sense became obsolete in Eng. emergency some time ago.

We have seen that one difference between the cognates Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia is that the latter has two main meanings, equivalent to the meanings of the two English cognates (doublet) emergence and emergency, even though the second of these meanings seems to have become the primary, if not the only possible one, in recent times, due to the influence of its English cognate emergency. We also saw in the first section that Eng. emergency is used in North America in certain medical contexts, many of which translate into Spanish as emergencia, but not all and not equally in all dialects of Spanish. There are also uses of the word emergency in common English collocations or idiomatic expressions that do not always translate into Spanish as emergencia or at least not in all dialects of Spanish. In some cases, the Spanish equivalent word is urgencia, at least in some dialects, but in other cases, Spanish uses a totally different word to translate emergency in these expressions. In some cases, the difference is dialectal, such as when the Spanish dialect of Spain uses urgencias for an emergency room/ward. The following collocations, or mildly idiomatic expressions, are taken from various English-Spanish dictionaries. Some of these English expressions have alternative versions that contain the word emergencia, versions which in some varieties of Spanish may be quite well established, but which sound odd in other varieties.

  • emergency (room/ward) = (sala de) urgencias/emergencia(s)
  • emergency services = servicios de urgencia/emergencia/socorro[3]
  • in an emergency, in case of emergency = en una emergencia, en caso de emergencia
  • emergency landing = aterrizaje forzoso / ?aterrizaje de emergencia
  • emergency measures = medidas de urgencia/emergencia
  • emergency services = servicios de urgencia/emergencia/socorro
  • emergency stop = parada en seco / ?parada de emergencia
  • emergency brake (only US; UK = handbrake) = freno de mano
  • emergency supplies = provisiones/artículos para emergencias/imprevistos, etc.
  • emergency talks = ? negociaciones de emergencia
  • emergency exit = salida de emergencia
  • emergency blanket = manta de supervivencia / manta isotérmica
  • emergency phone number = teléfono de emergencias/urgencias
  • emergency fund = ?dinero para imprevistos/emergencias

[1] Actually, the wordform ēmergentĭa was also originally the nominative, plural, neuter form of the present participle ēmergēns (masc. and fem. ēmergentēs).

[2] DCEH: ‘emergencia [S. XVII, Aut.; está ganando terreno el grosero anglicismo consistente en darle el sentido de ‘alarma’, ‘caso urgente’, ‘caso de necesidad’]’

[3] The noun socorro means ‘help, aid, assistance’. It is derived from the verb socorrer ‘to help, assist, come to the aid of, go to the aid of’ (AEIV). This verb descends from Lat. succurrĕre ‘to help, aid’ (< sub‑ ‘under’ + currĕre ‘to run’), and it is a cognate of Eng. succur/succour, a rare verb that also means ‘give assistance or aid to’ (COED). Before the creation of modern hospitals with emergency rooms, the casa de socorro was where people were taken in medical emergencies. The equivalent term in the UK is first-aid post, something like free clinic in the US. The derived word socorrista means ‘lifeguard, first-aider’.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Urgent emergencies, 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.]

Introduction: medical emergencies

The phrase urgent emergency is obviously redundant since an emergency is, by definition, an urgent matter. The dictionary defines emergency as ‘a serious situation or occurrence that happens unexpectedly and demands immediate [i.e. urgent] action’ (AHD). In this chapter we are going to analyze two pairs of interesting cognate words in English and Spanish, namely Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia and Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, as well as all the words in these two languages that are related to them because they contain the same Latin roots: merg‑ and urg‑.

In addition to the semantic relatedness of these words, in this section we are going to see that there is also a curious difference in how the words are used in different parts of the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds to refer to the section of a hospital that deals with urgent matters or emergencies. In North America, the word emergency has been chosen to describe such a section, so that one of the meanings of the word emergency is ‘the department in a hospital which provides immediate treatment’, as in A doctor in emergency cleaned the wound (OD).[i] Actually, the hospital section is known as the emergency room or emergency ward, which is sometimes shortened to emergency, as in He was rushed into emergency (OAD).

Figure 1: Emergency entrance at a US hospital.[ii]

In many parts of the Spanish-speaking world, the cognate word emergencia has also come to be used for the same purpose, under the influence of the English word. 

Figure 2: Emergency area of Guasmo Sur hospital, in Guayaquil, Ecuador[iii]

In Spain, however, the word urgencias, the plural of the word urgencia, which is the Spanish cognate of Eng. urgency, has come be associated with this same area of a hospital

Figure 3: Emergency section of a hospital in Spain[iv]

The word emergency is also often used in English in medicine-related expressions such as the following (the definitions are from LDCE):

  • emergency treatment ‘medical treatment given to someone when they have been injured or become ill suddenly’
  • emergency operation ‘a medical operation that is carried out quickly when someone has been injured or become ill suddenly’
  • emergency vehicle ‘an ambulance or fire engine’

Still, the use of emergency to refer to a hospital section is only found in North America. In the United Kingdom, the emergency room is called casualty department o casualty ward. In Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking countries, the same section of the hospital is called accident and emergency, or A&E for short.

As we just saw, in some Spanish-speaking countries, the North American use of the word emergency in medical matters has been calqued. In those countries, the relevant section of the hospital is called sala de emergencias ‘emergency room’ and the sign found at the hospital entrance is emergencia. However, in Spain, the same section of the hospital is known as urgencias, plural of urgencia 'urgency', as in Entró en urgencias a las 17:20 ‘She was admitted to the emergency room at 5:20pm’ (DUEAEV). The room itself may be known as sala de urgencias, also sometimes referred to as servicio de urgencias, lit. ‘emergency service’.

As we said, the reason why Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas label their emergency rooms as emergencia is due to the influence of North-American English, so that this sense of the English word emergency has been added to the already-existing Spanish word emergencia, something known as semantic calque (cf. Part I, Chapter 2, § However, the reason the same area in Spain is known as urgencias does not seem to be due to Spain's linguistic independence from foreign influence, but rather to the influence of the French language, for in France, the sign for such entrances is labeled urgences, plural of the word urgence

Figure 4: Entrance to an emergency room in France.[v]

There are other medical expressions for which English uses the word emergency which translate into French with expressions containing the word urgence(s), a use that has been calqued in Spain: service des urgences ‘emergency services’ = (Spain) servicio de urgencias, opération d’urgence ‘emergency operation’ = (Spain) operación de urgencia, and intervention médicale d’urgence ‘emergency medical intervention’ = (Spain) intervención médica de urgencia (Le Petit Robert). This medical use of the word urgence dates back only to around 1960 (LPR).

There is a branch of medicine called emergency medicine in English. It can be defined as ‘the branch of medicine that deals with evaluation and initial treatment of medical conditions caused by trauma or sudden illness’ (AHD), or ‘a medical specialty concerned with the care and treatment of acutely ill or injured patients who need immediate medical attention’ (MWC). The term emergency medicine is a very recent one, dating from 1966. In most of the Spanish-speaking world, this expression has been calqued as medicina de emergencia. In Spain, however, the word urgencia(s) is often added to this expression, as in the title of a recent textbook on the topic, Medicina de urgencias y emergencias, or in the name of the association of emergency medical doctors in Spain, Sociedad Española de Medicina de Urgencias y Emergencias.[vi] Despite the double name, urgencias y emergencias, which is also found sometimes outside Spain in the Spanish-speaking world, it doesn’t seem likely that most speakers know the difference between the words urgencia and emergencia in this context, which seem to be nothing but dialectal variants for the same thing. It seems, however, that there is a technical difference between the two words in medicine. Presumably, although both words refer to a situation in which a medical decision must be made quickly, an emergencia is a situation and the patient’s life is at risk, whereas an urgencia is a situation in which the patient’s life is not at risk. No such distinction seems to be made in English, where the term emergency medicine covers both possibilities (an alternative name in English for this branch of medicine is accident and emergency medicine, used in parts of the English-speaking world).

By the way, emergency medicine has become a specialty in the Anglo-American model of medicine in recent decades. In countries that follow this system, it is a recognized specialty with its own training programs, for instance. In the European model, there isn’t such a specialty, and emergency medicine is practiced by medical doctors of different specialties.[vii]

Finally, we should mention that the word urgent is not absent from the medical field in the English-speaking world. Thus, for instance, there is a category of medical care facility in the United States that goes by the name of urgent care center. A similar facility in the UK is known as urgent treatment centre. In the words of Wikipedia: ‘Urgent care is a category of walk-in clinic in the United States focused on the delivery of ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility outside of a traditional emergency department (emergency room). Urgent care centers primarily treat injuries or illnesses requiring immediate care but not serious enough to require an emergency department (ED) visit.’[viii] As you can see, this use or urgent is based on the already mentioned difference between emergency situations, in which the patient’s life is at risk, and urgent situations, in which it is not.

Go to Part 2

[i] Oxford Dictionary of English, Revised Edition. © Oxford University Press 2005.

[iv] Source:, Entrada del servicio de Urgencias del Hospital Universitario, que empieza hoy a las ocho de la mañana a atender a usuarios. :: JORGE REY (2020.10.25)

[vi] Medicina de urgencias y emergencias, by Luis Jiménez Murillo & F. Javier Montero Pérez. Elsevier. In its 6th edition (2018).


Urgent emergencies, Part 4

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