Sunday, June 18, 2017

The names of the days of the week, Part 6: Sp. viernes and related words

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 20 ("The names of the days of the week") of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The source of Sp. viernes


Sp. viernes ‘Friday’ comes from Latin vĕnĕrĭs ‘of Venus’ or, actually, from the Latin phrase diēs vĕnĕrĭs ‘day of Venus’ by the dropping of the first word, as in the case of the other names of the days of the week that we have seen. The word vĕnĕrĭs was the genitive case wordform of the noun and name vĕnus.

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In the Roman pantheon of gods, Venus was the goddess of sexual love, sexual desire, beauty, fertility and fecundity, as well as prosperity and victory. The name of the goddess comes from the Latin noun vĕnus that means ‘sexual love’ and ‘sexual desire’, but also ‘loveliness, attractiveness, beauty, grace, elegance, charm’. Both the noun and the name were written VENUS in Latin, pronounced [ˈwɛ.nʊs]. The Romans adopted many of the symbols and iconography for this goddess from those of its Greek counterpart, Αφροδίτη (Afrodíti), which are rendered as Aphrodite in English and Afrodita in Spanish.

The second planet from our Sun, and the closest planet to Earth, was named after this goddess by the ancient Romans and that name has been passed on to the many modern languages, cf. Eng. Venus /ˈvi.nəs/ ~ Sp. Venus /ˈbe.nus/. The planet Venus was known to many ancient cultures by two names, for they thought the planet as it appears in the morning was a different entity from the one as it appears at night. In English, these two names are typically rendered as the morning star (Sp. lucero del alba, lucero de la mañana) and the evening star (Sp. lucero vespertino, lucero de la tarde).[1]

The nominative case of the word vĕnus was irregular, for the regular stem for this word was vĕnĕr‑, which is what we find in all of this noun’s case wordforms except in the nominative and vocative singular, which were reduced to vĕnus. However, at one point the nominative case was the regular vĕnĕrus (vĕnĕr‑us), as evidenced in early Latin inscriptions. The root at the core of this word is vĕn‑, from the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *wenh₁‑ (or u̯en‑, u̯enə‑), meaning ‘to strive’,  ‘to wish’, and ‘to love’. The additional letters ‑er‑ between the root and the inflectional ending presumably come from some kind of a suffix in early Latin or earlier.

The word vĕnĕrĭs was pronounced with stress on the first ĕ, the antepenultimate syllable, since the penultimate syllable is light (it has a short vowel and does not end in a consonant), following the standard pattern of stress in Classical Latin. Also remember that the initial v was pronounced as a [w]. The word was thus pronounced [ˈwɛ.nɛ.ɾɪs] in Latin.

The derivation of the word viernes from Lat. vĕnĕrĭs has some interesting twists. Two of the changes are quite unremarkable, namely the initial stressed ĕ becoming ie and the final ĭ becoming e. Both of these changes are expected. They are, for instance, the same regular changes that we saw for the word miércoles (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.3). The more unusual sound changes are the following:

  • the loss of the medial vowel ĕ
  • the reversal of order (metathesis) of the n and the r

Actually, the loss of the medial vowel ĕ is not unusual at all, for Latin words that had three syllables and initial stress typically lost the medial vowel, also known as an intertonic vowel, by the time they got to Old Spanish, e.g. Lat. asĭnus >  Sp. asno ‘donkey’ and Lat. regula > Sp. (semi-learned) regla (and patrimonial reja). Since Latin vĕnĕrĭs was stressed in the first ĕ, the second ĕ was an intertonic vowel and, as such, it was pronounced less strongly and eventually disappeared in the evolution of Latin.

When the middle ĕ disappeared, it resulted in a word, *vienres, that contained a consonant cluster, ‑nr‑, that was uncommon and, presumably, difficult to pronounce (Old Spanish clusters that result from vowel loss are known as secondary consonant clusters, Sp. grupos consonánticos secundarios, cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.7). Old Spanish solved the problem by inverting the order of n and r, giving us viernes instead of *vienres, which seems to have made the word easier to pronounce.

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When such an ‑nr‑ cluster was created in Old Spanish by the loss of an intervening vowel, sometimes the solution was to add a ‑d‑ in between the two consonants, rather than inverting them. That is the solution we find in irregular future tense verb forms such as vendrás, from *venirás (< venir has). Interestingly, that solution is what we find in the French and Catalan versions of the word for ‘Friday’. The name for Friday in Catalan is divendres, from Lat. dĭĕs vĕnĕrĭs. And from the same phrase in reverse order, vĕnĕrĭs dĭĕs, French gets vendredi. The word in Standard Italian follows the same pattern as the French one since it is venerdì. Galician gets the name for ‘Friday’ from just vĕnĕrĭs, like Spanish does, but without the diphthonguization of the ĕ or the reversal of n and r: venres. (In Portuguese, which as we saw does not follow this pattern, the word for Friday is sexta-feira.)

Words derived from vener-


There aren’t many words derived from the name of the Latin name Venus or the Latin noun venus in English or Spanish. There is one, however, that everyone is familiar with. I am referring to the semi-cognate adjectives Eng. venereal and Sp. venéreo/a. Their meaning is ‘related to sexual intercourse or the genitals’, and it is used primarily in the phrases Eng. venereal disease (often abbreviated as VD) and Sp. enfermedad venérea.

These are loanwords from the Latin adjective vĕnĕrĕus or vĕnĕrĭus that meant ‘of or belonging to sexual love’ or ‘of or belonging to Venus’. This adjective was formed with the stem vĕnĕr‑ we just discussed and the suffix ‑ĕ‑ that formed first/second declension adjectives, resulting in the masculine ‑ĕus and feminine ‑ĕa endings. When English borrowed this word in the early 15th century, it added the derivational Latinate adjectival suffix ‑al to this adjective, resulting in Eng. venereal, whereas Spanish just adapted the inflectional ending ‑us/‑a to their Spanish equivalent forms: ‑o/‑a, giving us venéreo/a. It is because of this additional derivational ‑al suffix in the English word that we say the two words are semi-cognates, not true cognates. Actually, this is just a technicality, for the original Latin sourceword is the same one in both cases, namely Lat. vĕnĕrĕus. The only difference is that English added the suffix ‑al to the Latin word to make it look more like an adjective.

From the same stem vĕnĕr‑, Medieval Latin created the word vĕnĕrĭa for ‘sexual intercourse’. This word was borrowed into English in the mid-15th century as venery /ˈvɛn.ə.ɹi/, with the meaning ‘the pursuit of or indulgence in sexual pleasure’ (MWC). That word is now considered archaic by some dictionaries, though not all. It is definitely not a common word, however.

The Latin stem vĕnĕr‑ is also found in Latin verb vĕnĕrārī (later also vĕnĕrāre) ‘to worship, adore, revere, venerate, worship, etc.’. This verb has given us the learned cognates Eng. venerate /ˈvɛn.əɹ.eɪ̯t/ and Sp. venerar /be.ne.ˈɾaɾ/, meaning ‘to regard with respect, reverence, or heartfelt deference’ (AHD). Sp. venerar is first attested in the 15th century and in English in the 17th century.

The derived nouns Eng. veneration and Sp. veneración are first attested in English in the early 15th century. They come from Lat. vĕnĕrātĭo, meaning ‘the act of venerating’ and ‘the highest respect, reverence, veneration’. This Latin noun is derived from the passive participle stem vĕnĕrāt‑ of the verb and the noun suffix ‑iōn‑ (vĕn‑ĕr‑ā‑t‑ĭ‑ōn‑).

Another pair of cognates derived from the Latin verb vĕnĕrārī are Eng. venerable /ˈvɛn.əɹ.əb.əl/ and Sp. venerable /be.ne.ˈɾa.ble/. They come from Lat. vĕnĕrābĭlis ‘worthy of respect or reverence, reverend, venerable’, formed with the adjectival suffix ‑bĭl‑ (vĕn‑ĕr‑ā‑bĭl‑is).

Other words derived from the root wen-


As we mentioned earlier, the Latin root vĕn‑ is at the root of the stem vĕnĕr‑, a root that goes back to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European verbal root *wenh₁‑ (or u̯en‑, u̯enə‑), meaning ‘to strive’,  ‘to wish, desire’, and, from that, ‘to love’. There are other Latin words that contain this root, some of which have made it into English and Spanish.

The Latin root vĕn‑ should not be confused, however, with the root vēn‑ (with a long ē‑), as in the Latin noun vēnus ‘sale, purchase’, which is found in words like Eng. venal ~ Sp. venal ‘showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery’ (COED), as well as in the very common Spanish verb vender ‘to sell’, from Lat. vēndĕre ‘to sell’, derived from the phrase vēnum dāre ‘to give for sale’ (cf. Eng. to vend; cf. Lat. vēnīre ‘to be sold’).

Lat. vĕnĭa is a noun derived from the root vĕn‑. Besides the root vĕn, it contains the remnant of an ancient derivational suffix ĭ‑ (vĕn‑ĭ‑a; cf. Proto-Indo-European *wn̥h₁-yeh₂‑). This word meant ‘indulgence, kindness, favor, permission, forgiveness’. Spanish borrowed it as venia /ˈbe.ni̯a/, with pretty much the same meaning. Although it is attested as early as the 13th century, it remains a fancy word, certainly not a common one. It is used for instance in courts of law, in expressions such as con la venia de la sala ‘with the permission of the court’. In parts of South America is used with the sense of ‘head bow’.

English has not borrowed Lat. vĕnĭa, but both English and Spanish have borrowed an adjective derived from it, namely Late Lat. vĕnĭālis, derived with the adjectival suffix ‑āl‑. This adjective meant ‘gracious’ or ‘pardonable, forgivable’ (vĕnĭ‑āl‑is). IT was borrowed as Eng. venial /ˈvi.nɪəl/ and Sp. venial /be.ˈni̯al/. In Christian theology, this adjective defined a kind of sin, Eng. venial sins and Sp. pecados veniales, that is less serious than mortal sins (Sp. pecados mortales).[2] The word venial is sometimes confused with the word venal but, as we saw, the two words are unrelated.

Spanish has another word that derives from a Latin word containing this root. It is a learned and literary word and it is quite rare. The word is the adjective venusto/a, meaning ‘beautiful’ (synonym of bello/a). It is safe to say that most Spanish speakers have never heard of it. It is a learned borrowing from Lat. venustus/a, with the same meaning, whose stem has been reconstructed as coming from Proto-Indo-European *wenh₁-os-to‑, with two derivational suffixes added to the root wĕn‑.

The cognates Eng. venom and Sp. veneno also come from a Latin word containing the same root. The word was vĕnēnum, meaning ‘potion, juice’ as well as ‘poison, venom’. This word has been reconstructed as coming from Proto-Indo-European stem *wenes‑no‑, meaning ‘lust, desire’.  English got this word from Old French venim, which came from Vulgar Latin *venimem, an alteration of the original Latin word vĕnēnum. Spanish, on the other hand, got the word as a loanword directly from Latin (first attested in the 13th century). From the noun venom, English has created the adjective venomous (earlier venomous). The Spanish equivalent is venenoso/a. Both words can be traced back to Latin vĕnēnōsus, formed from the noun by the first/second declension adjectival suffix ‑ōs‑ (vĕnēn‑ōs‑us). Another difference between Sp. veneno and Eng. venom is that Spanish has developed a verb from this noun using the en‑X-ar construction that turns nouns and adjectives into verbs (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, 5.6.2.1). The verb is envenenar and it means ‘to poison’.

The cognates Eng. venom and Sp. veneno are semi-false friends, since although they have the same source, their meanings overlap only partially. Sp. veneno means ‘deadly substance’ and can translate either Eng. poison or Eng. venom. Eng. venom means ‘poisonous fluid secreted by animals’ and does not apply to other poisonous fluids. In addition, venom has the figurative (non-literal), extended sense of ‘extreme malice and bitterness’ that its Spanish cognate lacks.

There is a pair of Latinate semi-cognates in Spanish that also derive ultimately from the root vĕn‑, namely Eng. venison and Sp. venado. Sp. venado means ‘stag, deer’, as well as ‘venison, deer meat’. Eng. venison means ‘deer meat’ (Sp. carne de venado), though originally it meant ‘the meat of any large, wild animal, and, in particular, deer or boar’. These nouns come from related Latin nouns derived from the Latin verb vēnārī ‘to hunt, pursue’, a verb derived from the root vĕn‑ (though note the long ē). As most Latin nouns derived from verbs, they are derived from the passive participle stem, in this case vēnāt‑ (from the passive participle vēnātus/a). In the case of Sp. venado, it comes directly from the converted, nominalized passive participle vēnātus, which as a participle, translates as ‘hunted’, but as a noun, as ‘hunt, hunting, chase’. Eventually, this word came to mean ‘hunted animal’ in the descendant languages. Eng. venison, on the other hand comes from Old French, with multiple possible spellings (Modern Fr. venaison), and ultimately from Lat. vēnātĭo (regular stem: vēnātĭōn-), derived from the same participle stem vēnāt‑ and the noun suffix ‑ĭōn‑, which also meant originally ‘chase, (the act of) hunting, chasing’.

Finally, we should mention that there are a few native, Germanic words in English that are derived from the same Proto-Indo-European root *wenh₁‑ ‘to desire, strive for’, the most common ones being win, wean, wish, and wont. These words have no Spanish cognates. Let us take a quick look at the first two.

The English verb to win comes from Old Eng. winnan ‘to labor, strive, struggle for’. As we can see, the original meaning of this verb in Old English remains quite unchanged from the original meaning of the root in Proto-Indo-European. Eng. win translates into Spanish as ganar, though this verb has the secondary sense ‘to earn’, which Eng. win lacks.

Eng. wean /ˈwin/ comes from O.Eng. węnian ‘to accustom’ and it means primarily ‘to gradually train an infant to eat regular food instead of suckling’, though it can also be used figuratively with the meaning ‘to make someone gradually stop doing something you disapprove of’ (DOCE). The literal meaning of wean translates into Spanish as destetar (< teta ‘teat’) and the figurative one as deshabituar or quitar la costumbre.




[1] The Chinese referred to morning Venus as ‘the Great White’ (Tai-bai 太白) or ‘the Opener (Starter) of Brightness’ (Qi-ming 啟明) and to the evening Venus as ‘the Excellent West One’ (Chang-geng 長庚). The Ancient Greeks referred to morning Venus as Φωσφόρος (Phōsphoros; Latinized as Phosphorus), which literally meant ‘bringer of light’, or as ωσφόρος (Heōsphoros; Latinized as Heosphoros), which literally meant ‘bringer of dawn’. And the Greeks referred to evening Venus as σπερος (Hesperos; Latinized as Hesperus), meaning ‘evening’. The Romans calqued these Greek names as Lūcifer ‘bringer of light’ and Vesper ‘the evening, even, eve, even-tide’. Ever since the Hebrew Bible was translated into Latin, the name Lucifer has been associated with the devil or, more accurately, with ‘the archangel cast from heaven for leading the revolt of the angels’ (AHD), also known as Satan. That is because in the Latin version of the Bible (the Vulgate), lucifer (with a lower case) is used to translate ωσφόρος (heōsphoros) in the Greek version, which is used to translate the Hebrew word הֵילֵל (Hêlêl or Heylel), ‘shining one, light-bearer’, in Isaiah 14:12. Later in Christian tradition, the word Lucifer was used to refer to the devil as he was before the fall and thus it has become an alternative name for Satan (Sp. Satanás) or the Devil (el Diablo).

[2] In Thomist (Roman Catholic, from Thomas Aquinas) theology, a mortal sin is one ‘such as murder or blasphemy, that is so heinous it deprives the soul of sanctifying grace and causes damnation if unpardoned at the time of death’ (AHD). A venial sin, on the other hand, is ‘an offense that is judged to be minor or committed without deliberate intent and thus does not estrange the soul from the grace of God’ (AHD).

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