Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spices and herbs, Part 2: Eng. salt and Sp. sal

[This entry is an excerpt from the chapter "Spices, herbs, and other condiments" of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to the listing of entries on spices, herbs and other condiments

Eng. condiment and Sp. condimento

According to one dictionary’s definition, the English word condiment refers to ‘something used to enhance the flavor of food; especially a pungent seasoning’ (MW). Another definition gives us some examples of condiments in its definition: ‘a substance such as salt, mustard, or pickle that is used to flavor food’ (COED). Seeing the word pickle in the definition may seem odd to some, but as we shall see, pickling was part of the original meaning of the word condiment. Another dictionary (OALD) mentions that a condiment may come to the table alongside the food, not necessarily in it, though it also says that is sense is found especially in North America and not in dialects of English outside North America. The OED adds another interesting aspect to the meaning of condiment that other dictionaries do not mention, namely that it is ‘anything of pronounced flavor used to season or give relish to food, or to stimulate the appetite’.

Eng. condiment /ˈkɒn.dɪ.mənt/ comes Old French condiment, from Latin condīmĕntum ‘spice, seasoning, sauce’, a noun derived from the fourth conjugation verb condīre (condiō, condīre, condīvī, condītum), with the noun suffix ‑ment‑ (cond+i+ment+um) (cf. Part I, Chapters 5 and 8). Lat. condīre meant first of all ‘to put fruit in vinegar, wine, spices, etc., to preserve, pickle’ and, derived from it, ‘to embalm, mummify’ (LS). Secondarily, when said of food, this verb could also mean ‘to make savory, to season, spice’.[1]

French borrowed the noun condiment from Latin in the 13th century and English borrowed it from French in the 15th century. Spanish condimento is supposedly a loanword from Latin but given the fact that it does not appear in writing until the 16th century, it is quite likely that Spanish got it indirectly from Latin through French, just as English did.

Spanish has an archaic, if not obsolete, patrimonial verb condir derived from Lat. condīre, which means ‘to season’. Old Spanish had a second, unrelated verb condir, this one descended from Lat. condĕre ‘to put together, build, establish, etc.’, and which is truly obsolete nowadays. There is a remnant of the verb condĕre in our languages, however, namely the cognate nouns Eng. condition and Sp. condición, which come from Latin condĭtĭo (stem: condĭtĭōn‑), which in Latin meant ‘a making, creating’, and in Medieval Latin ‘status, position, circumstances’. It is derived from the passive participle stem condĭt‑ of the verb condĕre and the ‑iōn‑ ending used to form nouns out of verbs. There was another identical noun condĭtĭo in Latin, this one derived from the Latin verb condīre ‘to season’, which is the source of condiment. It meant ‘a preserving of fruits’ or ‘a spicing, seasoning, flavoring’ (‘the act of seasoning’). This noun, however, not been passed on to either English or Spanish.

From the nouns Eng. condiment and Sp. condimento, both English and Spanish have created verbs meaning ‘to season’. English has the verb to condiment, which is a rare alternative to the verb to season. In Spanish, the verb Sp. condimentar, which was first mentioned in the DRAE only in 1843, has become a common alternative to the verb sazonar, the traditional verb that meant ‘to season’ and a cognate of the English verb to season. Sp. sazonar is perhaps becoming obsolete in at least some Spanish dialects. This could be because condimentar has a noun it goes with, condimento, whereas sazonar does not anymore, as we shall see in the next section.

Eng. season and Sp. sazonar

Perhaps the most common verb that expresses the act of adding condiments to food in English is to season /ˈsi.zən/. Its primary meaning is ‘to improve or enhance the flavor of (food) by adding salt, spices, herbs, or other flavorings’. The noun seasoning /ˈsi.zən.ɪŋ/, as well as its less common synonym seasoner, are derived from this verb. These nouns refer to ‘something, such as a spice or herb, used to flavor food’, as well as to ‘the act or process by which something is seasoned’ (AHD).

You may wonder if the verb to season is related to the noun season, which means primarily ‘each of the four divisions of the year (spring, summer, autumn, and winter)’ (COED). It certainly does, though it is a bit of a long story. The noun season came into English in the 13th century, as a loanword from the Old French noun saison, with a same meaning it has today. The word comes ultimately from Latin noun stem sătĭōn‑ ‘a sowing, planting’, formed from the past-participle stem săt‑ of the verb serēre ‘to sow, plant’ and the noun suffix ‑iōn‑ (cf. Part II, Chapter 8; the nominative singular case form was sătĭō, and the accusative one sătĭōnem).[2] However, the Latin noun sătĭōn‑ changed its meaning in Vulgar Latin from ‘act of sowing’ to ‘time of sowing’ and, in particular, the spring, which was the main sowing season. From this meaning, the descendant of this word in French came to have the meaning it has today, namely one of the four divisions of the year.[3]

In other Romance languages, the noun meaning ‘season’ comes from a different source, such as Lat. station‑, cf. It. stagione and Sp. estación, the same word that means ‘station’. Spanish estación is obviously a loanword from Latin and not a patrimonial word. (If it were patrimonial, it would have been *estazón, just like Lat. sătĭōn‑ resulted in sazón.) Lat. stătĭō‑ is a noun formed from the stem stăt of the passive participle stătus of the verb stāre ‘to stand; to stay, remain’, the source of Sp. estar. Lat. stătĭō‑ originally meant ‘something that is standing or stationary’ but it soon came to mean ‘a place where persons or things stay or abide, a station, post, an abode, residence’. This was not, however, the word for ‘season’ in Latin. The Latin term for season was tempus (anni) ‘time (of the year)’.

What does this have to do with adding flavor to foods? It seems that the connection between ‘harvest time’ and that of ‘adding flavor’ had an intermediary. From the French noun saisson, a derived verb assaisoner developed in this language that meant ‘to ripen, to season’, i.e. ‘to be or become in the season’ (as‑saison‑er). Since foods become more flavorful as they ripen, by analogy, the verb assaisoner came eventually to mean ‘to season’, i.e. to add flavor, as when a fruit ripens. English, instead of borrowing this verb, just turned the noun season into a verb, to season, with an equivalent meaning, which is the meaning it has today. The English verb to season, meaning ‘to improve the flavor of by adding spices’, is first attested in the late 14th century. From this verb then it derived the nouns seasoning and seasoner.

The Spanish patrimonial cognate of Fr. saison and Eng. season is sazón, but it is a false friend. The noun sazón is already present in the earliest Spanish writings (Mio Cid), where it meant primarily ‘sowing time’, a sense that is now obsolete. There was also a derived meaning in Old Spanish for the word sazón, namely ‘time, period, season’. This sense of the word is now archaic. The noun sazón nowadays is quite rare but its main meaning is ‘seasoning’ as well as ‘taste, flavor’ and, in the context of fruit, ‘ripe’, as in the expression estar en sazón ‘to be ripe’, which is rare. There is a literary expression formed with this noun, a la sazón, which means ‘at that time’, which is also rare nowadays, though it is found in older writings. The noun sazón, perhaps because it came to have a multiplicity of senses, came into disuse.

The verb sazonar, developed in Spanish out of the noun sazón, probably under the influence of Fr. saisoner, so we can say that the two are cognates, and thus Sp. sazonar is also cognate with the English verb to season. The verb is more common than the noun and it is first attested in writing in the late 15th century. However, condimentar (see previous section) has become more common in Modern Spanish, at least in most dialects.

Some words derived from the noun sazón are more common than this noun itself. The noun desazón, an antonym of sazón, meant originally ‘lack of flavor, tastelessness, insipidness’, but it came to mean figuratively ‘grief, affliction, worry, feeling of unease’. That word is attested first in the 17th century and is still in use today, though it is mostly a literary word. Among the synonyms of desazón in Spanish we find the words inquietud, ansiedad, and desasosiego.

Related to the noun desazón are the verb desazonar, which originally meant ‘to make tasteless’, but which figuratively came to mean ‘to annoy, upset, make uneasy, worry’. Two synonyms of this verb are inquietar and intranquilizar. This verb is less common than the noun it is derived from. Derived from the verb’s past participle is the converted adjective desazonado/a, which also has both senses: the literal ‘insipid’ (synonym of soso/a ‘bland, tasteless, unsalted’) and the figurative ‘uneasy, anxious; upset’.


[1] This verb is derived from the Latin verb condēre ‘to put away, store’. This verb is composed of the prefix con‑ ‘together’ and the combining form ‑dēre of the verb dāre ‘to give’, the source of Sp. dar ‘to give’.

[2] The principal parts of the verb serēre were (serō, serēre, sēvī, satum). The root of this verb goes back to Proto-Indo-European root seh1‑ from which we also get Eng. seed and semen, as well as its Spanish equivalents Sp. semilla ‘seed’ and semen. Eng. seed is patrimonial word and Eng. semen, just like its Spansih cognate semen, is a learned borrowing from Lat. sēmen ‘seed’. Sp. semilla is thought to come ultimately from Lat. semīnĭa, plural of semīnĭum. The word came presumably through a Mozarabic dialect and in the 17th century, it came to replace the traditional word for ‘seed’ in Old Spanish, simiente, also from the same root. Both of these words are derived from Lat. sēmen ‘seed’.

[3] An additional meaning of season is derived from the primary one, namely ‘a period of the year characterized by an activity or event, especially a particular sport’ (COED), e.g. hunting season, school season, football season.

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