Monday, December 31, 2018

The Latin root LAC-, part 1: Latin laqueus and the words derived from it

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 46, "Delicado and delgado: The Latin root -LAC-", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Latin laqueus and the words derived from it

The Latin root we are going to be exploring in this chapter had several forms, primarily ‑laque‑, ‑lac‑ and ‑lic‑. This morpheme and it has given us many interesting cognates in English and Spanish, such as Eng. delicious ~ Sp. delicioso and Eng. delicate ~ (learned) Sp. delicado ‘delicate’ and (patrimonial) Sp. delgado ‘thin’. The most basic, un-prefixed cognates are, however, Sp. lazo ‘ribbon, bow; snare, trap’ ~ Eng. lasso and lace, which is where we are going to start.

Sp. lazo and Eng. lasso and lace can be traced back to Latin lăquĕus ‘noose, snare’, and its ancestor, the Proto-Italic verbal root *lakw‑ meaning ‘to ensnare’. Actually, the source would be a somewhat changed word in Vulgar Latin which has been reconstructed as *laceum or *lacio from the different reflexes of this word in the Romance languages. In post-classical Latin, the word came to have other related meanings, primarily ‘strap, band, cord (for tying or adorning garment or shoe)’ (OED). Words with this root are not found in any other Indo-European languages, which suggests that this root does not go back to Proto-Indo-European, but its ultimate origin is thus unknown. Descendants of Latin lăquĕus are found in most Romance languages, e.g. Old Occitan latz, Catalan llaç, Portuguese laço, Italian laccio, all of them earliest with the sense ‘noose’ or ‘snare’ when they were first attested in the 12-13th centuries.

The Spanish noun lazo is a direct patrimonial descendant of Lat. lăquĕus, or actually from Vulgar Latin *laceum or *lacio. The main meanings of this word today are ‘ribbon’ (synonymous with cinta) and ‘bow’, that is, a ribbon tied in a decorative knot. However, in the context of hunting, it can still mean ‘snare, trap’, the original meaning of the word, and in the context of animal husbandry, it can mean ‘lasso’. In Mexican Spanish, lazo can also be used with the generic sense of ‘rope’ (cf. Standard Sp. cuerda).

Figure 168: Girl with bow: Glaube ‘believe’, by C. V. Muttich (1873–1924), c. 1914.[i]

The English cognate lasso, pronounced either [ˈlæ.soʊ̯] or, particularly in British English, [lə.ˈsu], is a borrowing from Spanish. A lasso is ‘a long rope with a running noose at one end, used especially to catch horses and cattle’ (DOCE), though this word is associated with the western US. It was borrowed in the 18th or early 19th centuries in the context of cattle raising in the US southwest, a region that was Spanish until the early 1821, when the Mexican War of Independence ended, and Mexican until 1848, when the Mexican-American War ended, which resulted in the annexation of half of Mexico’s territory by the United States.

Another name for this rope used to catch animals in English is lariat [ˈlæɹ.i.ət], a word that curiously also has a Spanish origin and which also came into English in the 19th century. It comes from the Spanish phrase la reata, which includes the feminine definite article la and the noun reata, a mostly dialectal word in Spanish today. The main meaning of Sp. reata is ‘rope, strip or belt that serves to hold some things together’ and, in particular, that used to tie rows of horses pulling on a carriage. This word is still used with the meaning of ‘rope’ in places such as Mexico, though in other American dialects it has adopted derived meanings, such as ‘cartridge belt’ in Colombia. The noun reata is derived from the verb reatar ‘to tie back/again’, derived from the verb atar ‘to tie’, derived from Lat. aptāre ‘to fasten, adapt, accommodate, fit, prepare’, a frequentative version of the verb apĕre ‘fasten; attach, connect; etc.’.[1]

From the noun lasso, English has developed the verb to lasso by conversion, meaning ‘to catch with a lasso’. Some dialects of Spanish also have a verb for this meaning, such as lazar, used in Mexico, and lacear, used in the Southern Cone of South America. Other dialects of Spanish, however, do not have a verb related to the verb lazo. In most dialects, one would probably express this meaning as coger/atrapar con un lazo, lit. ‘to catch with a lasso (rope tied in a bow)’.

Curiously, English is not the only language that has borrowed Sp. lazo with the sense of ‘lariat’. Most curiously, however, some of these loans seem to have come through English, given how common that term was in Western films that were popular all over the world after World War II. Sp. lazo was borrowed directly from Spanish by Italian, as lazo, and by Tagalog, as laso. Loaned through English, we find Czech laso, Finnish lasso, German Lasso, Hungarian lasszó and, again, Italian lasso. It seems Italian borrowed lasso through English, though it had already borrowed lazo from Spanish and although it already had three other words lasso, coming from Lat. lassus ‘weary, tired’, from Latin laxus ‘yielding, loose’, and from Latin lāpsus, perfect participle of lābī ‘to slip, flow’ (see footnote a above).

Spanish has derived another verb from this noun by prefixation, namely enlazar, this one by adding a prefix en‑ (en-laz-ar). This verb means ‘to link, connect, tie together’ and it is quite common. Derived from the verb enlazar is the zero-derived (converted) noun enlace which, not surprisingly, means ‘link’. This noun is extremely common nowadays since it has come to be used to refer to Web links or hyperlinks. Another, less common word for hyperlinks is vínculo.[2]

The opposite of enlazar is desenlazar, which thus means ‘to untie, undo’, a rare synonym of desanudardesatar, and desligar, created by adding the reversal prefix des‑ to the verb enlazar. The intransitive version of this verb is expressed by the reflexive desenlazarse ‘to come untied/undone’. These verbs can also be used figuratively with the sense of ‘unravel, make clear’, as in Desenlazó aquel asunto con su intervención ‘She unraveled that issue with her intervention’ (GDLEL). These words are rather rare and formal, however. In literature and film, desenlazar means ‘to solve the plot of a dramatic, narrative or cinematographic work, reaching its ending’ (DLE). The verb desenlazar itself is not common, but the noun desenlace derived from it is a very common word. It can translate as outcome or result and, in the context of dramatic works, as ending or denouement. This noun is found, for instance, in the collocation desenlace feliz ‘happy ending’.

English has another cognate of Sp. lazo besides lasso, one that is much older and more common, namely lace. English borrowed this word in the early 13th century from Old French laz or las, a patrimonial cognate of Sp. lazo, also meaning ‘string, cord, noose, snare’. Until the 18th century, Eng. lace had a rather broad sense of ‘cord, string’ and ‘band, tie’ used to fasten clothes or footware, but also with the original sense of ‘snare, trap’, as well as the sense ‘cord used to support a hanging object’ (OED).

The meaning of lace somewhat more restricted today, however. It is used with two main senses. One is still the old sense ‘cord or leather strip passed through eyelets or hooks to fasten a shoe or garment’, as in shoelace, equivalent to Sp. cordón, an augmentative of the noun cuerda ‘rope’ (in Mexico, a shoelace is known as agujeta and in Peru as pasador). The other meaning of lace is ‘a fine open fabric of cotton or silk made by looping, twisting, or knitting thread in patterns, used especially as a trimming’, and derived from it, ‘braid used for trimming, especially on military dress uniforms’ (COED). This translates into Spanish as encaje or, when lace is used as a border, as puntilla. When used as a modifier, Spanish turns the noun encaje into a de phrase, as in Sp. pañuelo de encaje ‘lace handkerchief’.

English also has a verb to lace, whose main meaning is ‘fasten or be fastened with a lace or laces’ (COED), as in to lace shoes, Sp. poner cordones or, if already inserted, atar cordones. The verb acordonar, derived from cordon, can also be used with the sense ‘to tie up shoes, etc.’, but this verb has come to mean mostly ‘to cordon off’ in modern Spanish. English has had the verb lace as long as it has had the noun lace and its original source was the Old French verb lacier. The main meaning of this verb still is ‘to fasten or be fastened with a lace or laces’, though another sense, derived from it, is ‘to entwine’ (COED), which translates into Spanish as entrelazar, another verb derived from lazo or lazar, this time by means of the prefix entre‑ ‘between’ (entre‑laz‑ar). Sp. entrelazar also translates into English as to interweave, intertwine, interlace (from lace), or even lock together, interlock, or join, as in entrelazar las manos ‘to join (one’s) hands, hold hands’. Another, derived sense of this verb is quite different, however, namely ‘to add an ingredient, especially alcohol, to (a drink or dish) to enhance its flavor or strength: coffee laced with brandy’ (COED). For this latter sense, Spanish can use a verb such as añadir ‘to add’, echar ‘to dump, pour, etc.’, adulterar ‘lit. to adulterate’, or even aderezar ‘(salad) to dress; (food) to season; (fig.) embellish’, as in Aderezó el relato con detalles obscenos ‘He laced his story with salacious details’ (Harrap’s).

Spanish has a word that looks similar to lazo, namely the adjective lacio/a ‘limp, withered, straight (hair)’, which is not related to Vulgar Latin laciu or its source, Latin laceus, or even to the root laqu‑. This patrimonial adjective is derived from Latin flaccĭdus ‘flaccid, flabby, pendulous; languid, feeble, weak’, which in Old Spanish was llacio, as expected, since initial FL‑ typically became ll‑ in Old Spanish and intervocalic ‑d‑ was often lost. There is a learned cognate of this word in English, namely flaccid [ˈflæk.sɪd], which means pretty much the same thing as the Latin word, namely ‘soft and limp’ (COED). The Spanish word lacio, as you can see, has changed somewhat in meaning and in modern Spanish it is used primarily to refer to a type of hair, namely straight, non-curly hair, as in the phrase pelo lacio ‘straight hair’. Spanish also has a learned reflex of this Latin adjective, namely the learned word flácido, also less commonly fláccido, which has the same meaning as the original (and its English derivate), namely ‘flabby, limp’. This word is uncommon, however, and it is mostly used to refer to the resting state of the male sexual organ.


[1] The first conjugation Latin verb aptāre is a frequentative version of the verb apĕre ‘fasten; attach, connect; etc.’. It is derived from the stem apt‑ of the passive participle aptus of apĕre. It had other meanings besides ‘to fasten’, such as ‘adapt, accommodate, fit’ and ‘prepare’. English and Spanish have borrowed this Latin passive participle as Eng. apt and Sp. apto/a, though French, which borrowed it from Latin first. The two words are false friends, however.

[2] Sp. vínculo is a learned, 14th century loanword from Lat. vincŭlum ‘a means of binding, fastening, band, bond, rope, cord, fetter, tie’, a word with no English cognate. Curiously, this word is a doublet of the noun brinco ‘jump’. Actually, brinco is derived from the verb brincar ‘to skip, jump, bounce’, which is a 16th century loanword from Portuguese, with the same meaning, which derived the verb from the noun brinco ‘jewel, ring’ (and eventually the name for a children’s toy that must have been a ring at first), a patrimonial noun that comes from Lat. vincŭlum. From the meaning of ‘toy’ came the derived verb brincar ‘to play’ and, eventually, ‘to jump around’, which was borrowed into Spanish. The Latin noun vincŭlum is derived from the verb vincīre ‘to bind, to bind or wind about; to fetter, tie, fasten; to surround, encircle, etc.’.

[i] Source: De Kamil Vladislav Muttich - own work, Scan of an old postcard, Dominio público, (2018.12.31)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Eng. -age ~ Sp. -aje, Part 25: Spanish words in -aje (j): embalaje and engranaje

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 18, "Eng. language and Sp. lenguaje: words ending in Eng. -age and Sp. -aje", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


embalaje (1822) means ‘the action or result of packaging goods’ and ‘packaging materials’, e.g. reciclaje de embalajes ‘recycling of packaging materials’, el embalaje de las obras de arte es una tarea complicada ‘the packing of works of art is a complicated affair’ (VOX). The packaging that this refers to tends to be larger in size than that referred to by the noun empaquetado or empaque ‘packaging’.[1]

Sp. embalaje is said to be a 16th century loanword from Fr. emballage [ɑ̃.ba.laʒ] ‘packaging, wrapping’, a word created in the 13th century (Corominas). Note, however, that there is a Catalan cognate of this word, also from the 13th century, which may have played a role in the borrowing of the word into Spanish. Fr. emballage is derived from the verb emballer ‘to package, wrap, bale up’ by means of the suffix ‑age. Spanish also borrowed the verb embalar ‘to pack, wrap, package, bale up’ from French and derived its own antonym verb, desembalar ‘to unpack’. Spanish even derived an antonym of embalar, namely desembalar (the French equivalent is déballer: dé-ball-er), from which we get the noun desembalaje ‘the act of unpacking’.

The French verb emballer and the derived noun emballage are ultimately derived from the noun balle, by means of the prefix en‑, used in French much like in Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.6.1). To that, the verbal inflections were added in the case of the verb, such as the infinitive ending ‑er, or the derivational suffix ‑age in the case of the noun: cf. en+balle+er/age. Fr. balle means several things: ‘bullet’, ‘ball’, ‘bale’, ‘chaff’, etc., since there are three different sources for this word, which should actually be seen as three separate words.

The French word balle that we are interested in, the one that means ‘large bundle, package’, was borrowed into Old French as bale from Frankish *balla ‘ball’ in the 13th century with the meaning ‘rolled-up bundle, packet of goods’ (Frankish was a West Germanic language related to English; Sp. fráncico). French balle is the Spanish word bala, not the one that means ‘bullet’, but the one that means ‘bale’, that is, ‘a large wrapped or bound bundle of paper, hay, or cotton’ (COED). More specifically, this Spanish bala is ‘tight bundle of merchandise, and especially those being shipped’ (DLE) and it is not a common word today. It is partially synonymous with the words fardo and paca. Sp. bala presumably came from Catalan in the 13th century, which came from Old French balle ‘ball’, which came from Frankish balla ‘ball’. Actually, Eng. bale is also a borrowing from French, from the early 14th century. (Eng. bale is unrelated to any of the four homophonous words bail in English.)

As we can see from the source of Fr. balle, this word is a cognate of Eng. ball, which is not a loanword, since it descends from Old English *beall or *bealla ‘round object, ball’ (cf. Old Norse bǫllr ‘ball’). Ultimately, these words go back to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word *bʰoln‑ ‘bubble’ derived from the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *bʰel‑ ‘to blow, inflate, swell’. All words in Romance that are cognate with this word are loanwords from Germanic, since no direct descendants of this Proto-Indo-European root exist in Latin or Romance.

As for the other word bala, the one that means ‘bullet’ or ‘projectile’, some Spanish dictionaries bundle it with the other bala that means ‘bale’ since the two come ultimately come from the same Germanic source. However, the two words came into the language at different times and through different intermediaries. The bala that means ‘bullet’ seems to come from Italian palla, meaning both ‘ball’ and ‘bullet’ (Corominas). Italian took this word from an old Germanic language of northern Italy, Lombardic (also known as Langobardic). The original Lombardic word was palla and it meant both ‘ball (to play with)’ and ‘bullet (projectile)’, which was obviously a cognate of Eng. ball, coming from the same Proto-Germanic ancestor.

Finally, let us look at Eng. bullet, which is unrelated to the other words we just saw. One might have suspected that this word is related to the word for ‘ball’, but it is not. It comes from French boulette, diminutive of boule ‘ball’, cognate of Sp. bola ‘ball’, which, again, are not related to Eng ball. These words come ultimately from Latin bŭlla ‘bubble, a swollen or bubble-shaped object’, which is thought to be a loan from Celtic that goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root *beu ‘swelling’. The Latin verb bŭllīre ‘to bubble; to boil’ is derived from this noun and is the source of Eng. boil and Sp. bullir ‘to boil, bubble up, etc.’ (the Spanish nouns bulla and bullicio both meaning ‘racket, row, ruckus’ is derived from this verb). In other words, Eng. bullet is related to Sp. bola ‘ball’, but not related to Eng. ball. Thus, the words Eng. ball and Sp. bola, which qualify as cognates using the ‘learning’ definition of the word cognate, do not qualify as cognates by using the etymological definition that we use in this book.

engranaje (1869) is a 19th century loanword from Modern French engrenage [ɑ̃.ɡʀə.ˈnaʒ], a word created in the early 18th century. The two words have the same meanings, the primary one being ‘the engagement of two or more toothed wheels’ (VOX). The word eventually also came to refer to the parts that engage in such wheels, the gears or cogs in a machine, that is to say, ‘the gear system meshing to transmit movement of one rotation shaft to another’ (GR) or ‘the set of gear wheels and parts that fit together and are part of a mechanism or a machine’ (VOX). The word engranaje is often used in the plural, as engranajes, just like English gear is often used in the plural to refer as gears, e.g. Sp. el engranaje (or los engranajes) de un reloj ‘the gears of a clock’. Note that the English noun gear is only equivalent to Sp. engranaje in this specific meaning, not the other meanings that Eng. gear has. The two words are not fully equivalent in this mechanical either. Eng. gear, for instance, has a derived sense ‘a particular setting of engaged gears: [e.g.] in fifth gear’ which translates into Spanish as marcha or velocidad, e.g. Este carro tiene cinco marchas/velocidades ‘This car has five gears’.[2]

The French noun engrenage was derived from the verb engrener [ɑ̃.ɡʀə.ˈne] which, in mechanics, means ‘to gear, mesh, engage’. The verb is quite old however, from the 12th century, and the verb was used in agriculture with the meaning ‘to feed or fill the hopper with grain’, a meaning this verb still has. The verb was formed with the prefix en‑ ‘in’ and the noun grain ‘grain’ (cf. patrimonial Sp. grano and Eng. grain, a loanword from French). This verb is not related to Eng. ingrain or engrain, though it comes from the phrase in graine, which contains the same noun graine ‘grain, seed’, actually graine d’écarlate ‘scarlet seed’, a dye.[3] Note that Fr. engrener is occasionally spelled as engrainer and pronounced [ɑ̃.ɡʀɛ.ˈne] or [ɑ̃.ɡʀe.ˈne].

It seems that the mechanical meaning of engrener arose in the mid-17th century from a mistaken corruption of an earlier adjective encrené ‘notched’, derived from the noun *cren ‘notch, indentation, slot’, which in Modern French is cran ‘notch, cut, hole (as in a belt)’ (cf. Sp. muesca, agujero). This noun is derived from the verb crener (Modern créner) that meant ‘to notch, to nick; to cut’, which is thought to come ultimately from the Latin noun crēna ‘incision, notch’, a word with a very obscure history (OED). Actually, the word crena appears in the OED, which appears to have taken it from The New Sydenham Society’s Lexicon of Medicine and the Allied Sciences (1878-1899), though it is not found in other major dictionaries of English. According to the OED, it is mostly a technical term in Botany and Zoology with the following meanings ‘an indentation, a notch; spec. in Botany one of the notches on a toothed or crenated leaf; Anatomy the depression or groove between the buttocks; the longitudinal groove on the anterior and posterior surface of the heart (New Sydenham Soc. Lexicon)’ (OED).

Spanish also borrowed the verb engranar ‘to engage, mesh, interlock’ from French engrener in the 19th century (DRAE 1884). This verb has pretty much replaced an earlier verb endentar, derived from the root dent‑ ‘tooth’ (en-dent-ar) and which is still in use with the meaning ‘engage; mesh, interlock; indent’.[4] Note that Spanish changed the middle e of the French words engrener and engrenaje to a: engranar and engranaje. This no doubt was done because of the perceived connection to the word for ‘grain’ in the original word, which in Spanish is grano.

[1] Sp. empaquetado is a noun derived from the masculine past participle of the verb empaquetar ‘to pack, put into a package’, itself derived from the noun paquete ‘package’, a loanword from Fr. paquet, a diminutive of the Dutch pak, a cognate of Eng. pack (cf. Eng. package below). A synonym of empaquetado is the noun empaque derived by conversion from the verb empacar ‘to pack into boxes, etc.’ and ‘to bale’ (in Spanish America it also means ‘pack suitcases’, which in Spain is known as hacer las maletas.

Another word for ‘packaging’ in Spanish is envase, a noun derived from the verb envasar that means ‘to can’ when packing food into cans, ‘to bottle’ when packing liquids into bottles, and ‘to pack’ when packing things into packages or boxes. The noun envase can also translate as container and it refers primarily to the packaging that is in direct contact with the merchandise, such as a bottle or the wrapping for a product. The verb envasar, attested in the 16th century, is derived from the noun vaso ‘drinking glass’, from Vulgar Latin vasum, from Latin vās vāsis ‘a vessel, dish; also, a utensil, implement of any kind’ (L&S): en‑vas‑ar.

[2] The ‘equipment’ sense of the English noun gear translates as equipo (lit. ‘equipment’, but another sense of equipo is ‘team’), the ‘belongings’ sense translates as efectos personales, cosas, or pertenencias and the ‘clothes’ sense as ropa.

[3] Eng. engrain or ingrane originally meant ‘to dye a fabric red with cochineal or kermes’ and, later on, with any fast dye. This verb was equivalent to the phrase to dye in grain. Some point to a 16th century French verb engrainer ‘to dye’ as the source, though it is not clear what language came up with the verb first. What there is no doubt about is that it comes ultimately from the French phrase en graine ‘fast-dyed’, where graine meant ‘cochineal dye’ also known as ‘kermes’. The English verb engrain/ingrain now means ‘firmly fix or establish (a habit, belief, or attitude) in a person’ (COED). The phrase to dye in grain has been reinterpreted in English to mean ‘to impregnate the very substance of the material with the dye, to dye the wool before it is woven’, as if this grain meant something close to what the normal word grain means in English, something like ‘unprocessed fiber’.

[4] Sp. endentar means ‘to fit/gear/interlock one thing into another by means of teeth or notches’ (Sp. ‘encajar una cosa en otra por medio de dientes o muescas’, MM) as well as ‘to put teeth on a wheel’ (Sp. ‘poner dientes a una rueda’, DLE), e.g. Tengo que endentar la cadena de la bicicleta porque se ha salido ‘I have to engage the teeth of the bicycle chain because it came out’ (Clave).

Monday, December 24, 2018

Some descendants of Latin comparatives, part 3: Eng. mayor and Sp. mayor (adj.)

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 20, "Some descendants of Latin comparatives", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Eng. mayor and Sp. mayor (adj.)

After seeing all about irregular Latin comparative adjectives, we are ready to go back and look more closely at the often-confused words we started the chapter with: Eng. mayor and major and Sp. mejor and mayor. We shall start by looking at the words derived from Lat. māior. In this section we will explore the English word mayor, comparing it primarily to its cognate (and false friend) Sp. mayor. In the next section we will look at Eng. major, a doublet of mayor, and compare it to its also cognate Sp. mayor. After an aside on the cognates Eng. minor ~ Sp. menor, derived from the Latin antonym of Lat. māior, we will finally take a close look at Sp. mejor.

Eng. mayor comes from Old French maire, which is a patrimonial descendant of Lat. māior and is thus a cognate of Sp. mayor. By the 12th century, this Old French word could be an adjective meaning ‘primary, principal’ or as a noun meaning ‘senior public official’, and eventually ‘chief magistrate of a community’ (OED). Sp. mayor has the sense ‘primary, principal, most important’ in a few expressions such as fiesta mayor ‘major festivities’, as we will see in the next section, though that is not a primary sense. More importantly, Sp. mayor never had the sense of ‘senior public official’ or anything similar, although supposedly in (some varieties of) 4th century Latin, the word māior could already be used with the sense of ‘person in authority’ in the (post-Classical Latin) and, in the early 6th century, ‘feudal officer’ (OED).

The word mayor entered English in the 13th century, during the Middle English period, with the meaning ‘chief magistrate of a community’. During this period, this word it was spelled in many ways, including maiere, maieur, mar, and marye. The spelling mayor for this word appeared in early modern English when it was decided to standardize orthographically the letter y for i between vowels. Another example of this spelling change is found in the noun prayer, from Old French preiere, which is a cognate of Sp. plegaria. Both words come from post-classical Lat. precaria ‘call to prayer’.[1]

The source of this Old French word is none other than the Latin irregular comparative adjective māior ‘bigger, greater, superior’ that we have been discussing. The adjective came to be use used as a noun, as we just saw, to refer to an important official. In other words, the adjective was nominalized in French already before being borrowed into English. There was nothing special about a Latin adjective being used as a noun. We have plenty of examples of this in English and, especially, Spanish.[2]

In American English, the word mayor is pronounced mostly with two syllables, as [ˈmeɪ̯.əɹ]. Note that there is no consonant between the two vowels, though the semivowel [ɪ̯] may sound like a semi-consonant to Spanish ears, something that is reinforced the spelling of the word, which contains the letter y which, between vowels typically acts as a consonant. It is common in rapid colloquial speech in American English for the final reduced vowel [ə] to be fully reduced and dropped and for the final r to join the first, stressed syllable, resulting in the pronunciation [ˈmeɪ̯ɹ], with just one syllable.

In Standard British English, this word is pronounced with only one syllable since at least the 17th century. The postvocalic r is not pronounced in this dialect, resulting in compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel with full merge of the two vowels, resulting in a vowel that is lower in British English than in American English. Thus, the standard pronunciation of this word in British English is [ˈmɛː], with a single, long [ɛ] vowel, not the higher (diphthonguized) vowel [eɪ̯] we find in the American English pronunciation.

Modern French still has the noun maire and it still means ‘mayor’ and it is pronounced [ˈmɛʀ]. Derived from this word is the French word mairie [me.ˈʀi] ‘mayor’s office, town hall, city hall’, found outside city and town halls all over the French-speaking world. As we mentioned earlier, the word for ‘mayor’ in Spanish is alcalde, a borrowing from Arabic قَاضِي ‎(al qāḍī) ‘(the) judge’, whose feminine is alcaldesa. One word for ‘city/town hall’, derived from the word aldcalde, is alcaldía. As is the case with most words that begin with al… in Spanish, this word comes from Arabic, from the word meaning ‘judge’, اَلْقَاضِي (al-qāḍī) ‘judge’ (the al‑ part was the incorporated definite article, equivalent to Sp. el ‘the (masc.)’).[3] In Argentina and Uruguay they use the word intendente for ‘mayor’, an otherwise rare French loanword (but cf. Sp. superintendente ~ Eng. superintendent). Another common name for ‘city/town hall’ is ayuntamiento and, in Spain, casa consistorial is a fancy alternative for city halls. The word ayuntamiento more properly refers to the city/town council that runs a town or city, though it can also refer to the building.[4]

As we saw in the introduction, Sp. mayor is primarily an adjective which has several meanings. It is, first of all, the comparative of the adjective grande ‘big’, so it can mean ‘bigger’, typically in size, as in una talla mayor ‘a/one bigger clothes size’ (equivalent to una talla más grande). However, although in comparisons of size mayor can be used, as in Mi casa es mayor que la tuya ‘My house is bigger than yours’, the overwhelming preference in Spanish is to use the phrasal comparative más grande in such cases, i.e. Mi casa es más grande que la tuya. Note that grande ‘big, large’ can also be used figuratively and it is not only about size, at least in some contexts, as in un problema muy grande ‘a very big problem’. In other contexts, however, grande can only have the ‘big in size’ meaning, as in Juan es muy grande ‘Juan is very big’ or Tú eres más grande que yo ‘You are bigger than me’.

The Spanish adjective mayor can occasionally also have a figurative meaning (‘greater’ rather than ‘bigger, larger’), as in greater in importance or in intensity, e.g. un riesgo mayor ‘a bigger risk’ or mi mayor enemigo ‘my greatest enemy’. As with all comparatives, mayor can also be interpreted as a superlative in the right context, meaning ‘biggest’ or ‘greatest’, not just as a comparative, as we saw in the last example.

Since when talking of children, bigger also typically means ‘older’, the adjective mayor developed the meaning ‘older’ when referring to people, as in Yo soy mayor que tú ‘I am older than you’ or Hay personas mayores en la casa ‘There are older people (grown-ups) in the house’. Although originally this sense of mayor was relative/comparative, i.e. equivalent to older in English, the word mayor can also be used now in absolute terms, i.e. meaning ‘old’ rather than ‘older’, as equivalent to (persona) adulto/a or (persona) de edad avanzada ‘lit. advanced-age person’. We find this sense, for example, in the sentence Me casé con un hombre mayor ‘I married an old man’. (Notice, however, that the comparative sense returns if there is an overt comparison in the sentence, e.g. Me casé con un hombre mayor que yo ‘I married a man older than me’.) The use of mayor in this way no doubt started as a euphemism for the purpose of avoiding the use of the adjective viejo ‘old’ which, when referring to people, has rather negative connotations (cf. Part I, Chapter 6, §6.4.2, §

Note that when the Spanish adjective mayor is used in an absolute, non-comparative sense, that is, meaning ‘old’ (not ‘older’), it is legitimate to add the comparative más before it, as más mayor, meaning something like ‘more grown-up’ or ‘of more advanced age’. We can see this in the following example (from the Academy’s website): Cuando seas más mayor (= cuando tengas más edad de la que tienes ahora), podrás ponerte ese vestido ‘You can wear that dress when you are older/more grown-up/more of a grown-up than you are now’ (cf. Cuando seas mayor (= cuando seas adulta), podrás ponerte ese vestido ‘You can wear that dress when you’re grown-up’).[i] However, when mayor is used as a comparative, meaning ‘older’, it already incorporates the ‘more’ sense, and thus it is not considered correct to say más mayor, as in *Yo soy más mayor que tú, meaning ‘I am older than you’. We must recognize, however, that things such as this have been said in colloquial speech for a very long time. The earliest written records of such usage are from the 13th century. Such usage, however, is considered redundant and a vulgarism (Sp. vulgarismo) in Standard Spanish.

The Spanish comparative adjective mayor can be used as a noun, but only in the generic sense and only in the plural, as in Respeta a los/tus mayores ‘Respect the elderly/older people/your elders’ or Esta mesa es solo para los mayores ‘This table is only for the adults’. However, mayor is not used as a noun to refer to single individuals. That is to say, in Spanish we do not say *un mayor, meaning ‘an old(er) person’ or unos mayores ‘some old(er) people’. Of course, as with all other Spanish adjectives, the adjective mayor can be used ‘as a noun’, without a noun next to it, as long as the noun is understood, as in De mis hijos, el mayor tiene 20 años ‘Out of all my children, the oldest (one) is 20 years old’. Here the noun hijo ‘child, son’ is ‘understood’ (Sp. sobreentendido). In English, we typically replace the understood noun with the pronoun one, as in the older one (or the rich one ‘el rico’, the middle one ‘el del medio’, etc.). In Spanish, adjectives can regularly be used as nouns this way also if the understood noun is indefinite, something that is rather alien to English. Thus, in Spanish we can say un rico, meaning ‘a rich man/person’, since a noun such as hombre is understood in these cases, cf. un hombre rico. Interestingly, however, this cannot be done with mayor and, thus, we cannot say *un mayor, meaning ‘an older man/person’. We can say, however, uno/a mayor ‘a bigger one’, with an understood noun. These nuances of the use of mayor as a noun result in English-speaking learners of Spanish often using mayor as a noun incorrectly.

Before we leave this section, we should mention that as we saw in the introduction, there is also a noun mayor in Spanish used in certain specific contexts, such as in the military or in music. Spanish dictionaries invariably group this noun mayor in the same entry as the adjective mayor (which, as we saw, has some noun uses), which was to be expected since they have the same origin, namely the Latin comparative adjective māior. However, we will deal with those noun uses of mayor for the next section, which deals primarily with the English word major. Although Eng. mayor and major have the same source, namely the Latin comparative māior, nobody would confuse the two as being the same word, if for no other reason than that they are spelled and pronounced differently, in addition to having different meanings.

[1] Lat. prĕcārĭus, fem. prĕcārĭa, is derived from the first conjugation, deponent verb precārī, whose main meaning was ‘beseech, beg, pray, entreat’. The adjective prĕcārĭus meant primarily ‘obtained by begging, entreaty, or prayer’. Derived from this was the meaning ‘depending on the will of another’, and from that ‘doubtful, uncertain, transient, precarious’ (L&S). The cognates Eng. precarious ~ Sp. precario/a with this latter meaning in the 17th century. The main senses of Eng. precarious today are ‘dangerously lacking in security or stability’ and ‘subject to chance or unknown conditions’ (AHD). Common collocations with this word in English are precarious existence, precarious position, and precarious state. A common collocation with this word in modern Spanish is empleo precario ‘precarious employment’.

[2] An example of a noun being used as an adjective in English could be superior. This word, which derives from the Latin comparative sŭpĕrĭor ‘higher’ that we saw in the preceding section, can be used for as an adjective, as in the sentence This coffee is superior to that, or as a noun, as in She is my superior. The derivation of nouns from adjectives was very common in Latin and continues to be very common in Spanish as well, cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7.2.

[3] The Spanish noun alcalde is unrelated to and should not be confused with the word alcaide ‘prison warden/governor’, which comes from Arabic اَلْقَائِد ‎(al-qāʾid) ‘military leader, captain’.

[4] At one time, the noun ayuntamiento also meant something like ‘mating’, especially in the phrase ayuntamiento carnal ‘carnal knowledge, sexual intercourse’ (synonymous with apareamiento). This noun is derived from the archaic verb ayuntar ‘to join/yoke together’, ultimately from a frequentative version of Latin adiungĕre ‘to add, join, attach, append, etc.’, source of Eng. adjoin. Sp. ayuntar is related to and synonymous with juntar ‘to join (together)’, cognate of Eng. join, which has always been more common than ayuntar in Spanish.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Some descendants of Latin comparatives, part 2: Comparisons in English, Spanish, and Latin

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 20, "Some descendants of Latin comparatives", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Comparisons in English, Spanish, and Latin

Comparative adjectives

In linguistics, comparison refers to the use of expressions to indicate the relative degree or amount of property or quality in terms of the adjective or adverb that express that quality in the language. Comparative adjectives (and adverbs) are in some languages derived from the basic adjective by means of inflections, such as suffixes (cf. Part I, Chapter 5). Eng. bigger is thus a regular comparative of the adjective big: big+er. The only ‘irregularity’ has to do with the spelling of the sound [ɡ], with by convention is spelled gg after the suffix ‑er ([əɹ]) is added. It many languages, it is common for some of these derived comparative adjectives to be irregular, however, such as the comparative adjective better in English or mejor ‘better’ the Spanish. Do note that this is not the only ‑er suffix that English has, for there is at least one other one, namely the native agentive suffix ‑er that has a different source, namely Proto-Germanic *‑ari, which is a cognate with Latin ‑or.

Another way of deriving comparatives is syntactic, not morphological, by forming a phrase out of the adjective and a modifier, such as more or less in English, as in the expressions more interesting or less interesting (cf. Sp. más interesante and menos interesante). As we can see, English has morphological as well as syntactic comparatives, including a number of irregulars, as shown in Table 167. Spanish, on the other hand, has irregular morphological comparatives as well as syntactic ones, but lacks regular morphological ones

Comparative type
English examples
Spanish examples
Morphological (suffixed), regular
bigger, smaller
Morphological, irregular
better (*gooder, *more good)
mejor (=más bueno)
Phrasal (regular)
more (or less) interesting
más (or menos) interesante
Table 167: Types of comparatives

Note that English has five irregular comparatives: better (< good), worse (< bad), less (< little), more (< much), and further/farther (< far). In English, irregular comparatives normally block the creation of regular ones such as *gooder or *badder or *more good and *less bad, though badder was used for a while and it still exists colloquially in some dialects, for at least some senses of bad, and less bad is also used in some contexts. Spanish too has a handful of irregular comparatives, namely mayor (< grande), menor (< pequeño), mejor (< bueno), peor (< malo), all of which descend from Latin, where they were already irregular, unanalyzable comparatives. However, in Spanish, it is possible to use regular synonyms of these adjectives, such as más grande and más pequeño, which are equivalent to mayor and menor in some contexts. In Spanish, más bueno and más malo are also perfectly good alternatives to mejor and peor.

As we saw, in English there are two regular ways to form comparatives, but which one we used is determined by characteristics of the adjective easy. If the adjective has one syllable or if it has two syllables and ends in ‑y, then the comparative is formed by adding ‑er. Thus from big we get bigger and from silly we get sillier. Notice that the ‑y of the adjective changes to ‑i in the spelling, though it is pronounced the exact same way: [ˈsɪ.li] - [ˈsɪ.li.əɹ]. All other comparatives are formed by adding more (or less) before the adjective. For all other two-syllable adjectives and more than two-syllable adjectives, English uses the phrasal method of forming comparatives. English also uses the phrasal method with adjective derived from verbal past participles by conversion, even if they are less than two-syllables long, such as bored, whose comparative is more bored, not *boreder.

Regular comparatives in Classical Latin were formed by suffixes, much like the comparatives of short English adjectives, with the suffix being ‑ĭōr‑ which, interestingly, is a cognate of the English comparative suffix ‑er, since they both descend from the same Proto-Indo-European suffix. The Latin endings were a bit more complicated because of all the cases involved and the different inflections that were added to the comparative suffix. Thus, for example, the comparative of the adjective longus, feminine longa, neuter longum ‘long’ (Sp. largo/a), meaning ‘longer’ (Sp. más largo/a) had the following wordforms in the different cases, genders, and numbers:

Case / Gender

Vulgar Latin simplified this system by switching to a phrasal or analytic system of comparatives. In different parts of the (Vulgar) Latin-speaking world two different analytic solutions arose. One was to use magis ‘more’, an adverbial form of the adjective magnus ‘big’, before the adjective. That was the route that the Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula followed. In Spanish magis changed to más, in Portuguese to mais, and in Catalan to més. Other Romance languages, such as French and Italian, used the Latin word plūs, also meaning ‘more’, or ‘more much’, which was the irregular comparative form of the adjective multus ‘much, many’. This resulted for instance in the French comparative adverb plus [ply] and the Italian più [pi̯u].

Romance language
Adjective ‘big’
Comparative ‘bigger’
más grande
plus grand

Finally, we should note that not only adjectives can be compared, but other parts of speech too. Adverbs, for example, can also be compared and most adverbs are derived from adjectives, by means of the suffix ‑ly in English and the suffix ‑mente in Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.5, § The comparison of adverbs is always done phrasally in both English and Spanish by means of the adverbs Eng. more and Sp. más, or their opposites, Eng. less and Sp. menos, e.g. Eng. more quickly and Sp. más rápidamente.

Nouns are also compared by means of quantifiers, both in English and in Spanish, cf. Eng. more, less, fewer, and Sp. más, menos, as in more/less rice and Sp. más/menos arroz, and Eng. more/fewer books and Sp. más/menos libros. (In standard English, fewer is preferred instead of less for countable nouns, though generalizing less to all types of comparisons is perhaps the norm in speech, e.g. I read fewer/less books now than when I was a student = Sp. ‘Leo menos libros ahora que cuando era estudiante’.)


There is another type of adjectives used in comparison, one that is closely related to comparatives, namely superlative adjectives. In English they are formed in an analogous manner to the comparatives. The irregular cases are best, worst, least, most, and furthest/farthest. The rest are formed by adding ‑est instead of ‑er or most instead of more, e.g. biggest, most interesting, etc. In Spanish, superlatives are identical to comparatives, with the only difference that they are always accompanied by the definite article (el, la, los, las), since superlatives always refer to unique entities. Note that in English too, superlatives are always preceded by the definite article the, e.g. the most interesting class.[1]

Comparative type
English examples
Spanish examples
Morphological (suffixed), regular
biggest, smallest
Morphological, irregular
best (*goodest, *most good)
(el) mejor (=más bueno)
Phrasal (regular)
most interesting
(el) más interesante
Table 168: Types of superlatives

Spanish, as we can see, has a few irregular comparatives, namely mejor, peor, mayor, and menor, all of which we will explore below, and the rest are formed by adding más (or menos) before the adjective, as in el más feo ‘the ugliest’ or el más interesante ‘the most interesting’.

The superlative of Latin adjectives was formed by means of the suffix ‑issim‑, longissimus (fem. longissima, neut. longissimum), meaning ‘the longest’ (Sp. el más largo). These Latin superlative adjectives could also be used to express a high degree of the quality in question, in this case ‘very long’. Note that Spanish has borrowed this suffix from Latin in recent times, but only with the latter meaning. Thus, in Spanish larguísimo/a, derived from largo/a ‘long’, means ‘very, very long’, ‘extremely long’, but not ‘the longest’ like its ancestor could in Latin.[2]

The Latin suffix ‑issim‑ seems to derive from a combination of two Proto-Indo-European suffixes, the first one of which is *‑is‑, a (zero-grade) variant or allomorph of *‑yōs, the comparative (and intensive) suffix that we saw earlier was the source of Latin ‑ĭōr‑, and an absolutive suffix that has been reconstructed as *‑(t)m̥mo‑, which can be seen in the irregular superlatives optimus ‘best’/’very good’ and summus ‘highest, greatest’ (see below).

The following table gives the three forms of the adjective longus: the simple base form, the derived comparative and superlative forms. We are giving here the accusative masculine singular forms which show the inflections better, since the comparative nominative masculine/feminine form has no case/number inflection.

‘longest’/’very long’

Latin irregular comparatives

The Spanish irregular comparatives, which all end in ‑or, are remnants of irregular Latin comparatives in ‑ior, in which the stem of the comparative was different from the stem of the regular adjective. There are four such irregular comparatives in Spanishmayor, menor, peor, and mejor the remnants from an even greater number of irregular comparatives (and superlatives) that Latin had. The ‑i‑ of the Latin ‑ĭōr‑ suffix either became a consonant, as in mayor, merged with a preceding consonant to produce a different sound, as in mejor, or was lost, as in peor.

The following are the main Latin irregular comparatives, all of which have different stems in the positive adjective and the comparative one (some, very different ones). They are given here in the nominative singular masculine/feminine form, with the neuter form in parenthesis. The first one is the comparative māior that we discussed earlier. Another one is mĕlĭor ‘better’, the source of Sp. mejor ‘better’, and one of the words that learners of Spanish tend to confuse with Sp. mayor, as well as with Eng. major and mayor. We will return to the descendants of these two words in the next section, to discuss them in greater detail.

  • Lat. māior (neut. māius) ‘bigger’ (see previous section)
  • Comparative of magnus ‘big’
  • Source of Sp. mayor ‘bigger, etc.’
  • Superlative: māxĭmus/a/um ‘biggest, greatest’ > Sp. máximo/a ‘maximum, highest’ ~ Eng. maximum
  • Lat. mĭnor (neut. mĭnus) ‘less, smaller, inferior’
  • Comparative of parvus/a/um ‘small, etc.’
  • Source of Sp. menor ‘smaller, younger’ (= más pequeño, más joven) (cf. Eng. minor, minus)
  • Lat. mĕlĭor ‘better’
  • Comparative of bonus/a/um ‘good’
  • Source of Sp. mejor ‘better’ = más bueno/a
  • Superlative: optĭmus/a/um ‘best’ > Sp. óptimo/a ‘ideal, very best, optimum’
  • Lat. pēior (neuter pēius; acc. pēiōrem) ‘worse’
  • Comparative of malus/a/um ‘bad’
  • Source of Sp. peor ‘worse’ = más malo/a
  • Latin superlative: pessimus/a/um ‘worst’ > Sp. pésimo/a ‘very bad’ (= malísimo/a)
  • Lat. plūs (only neuter) ‘more’ (plural masc./fem. plūrēs, neut. plūra)
  • Comparative of multus/a/um ‘much, many (in the plural)’
  • Old Latin plous, cognate with Ancient Greek πολύς (polús) ‘many’, source of the prefix Eng. poly‑ ~ Sp. poli‑, and with Old English feolo ‘much, many’
  • Lat. plūs is the source of Eng. plus (Sp. más)
  • Lat. multus/a/um is the source of Sp. mucho/a (not of Eng. much)
  • Latin superlative: plūrĭmus/a/um ‘most, very much, very many’; in the plural: plūrimī
  • Derived adjective: plūrālis ‘relating to more than one/many’ (plūr‑āl‑is), source of Eng. plural ~ Sp. plural
  • Lat. prĭor (neut. prĭus) ‘former, prior, previous, etc.’
  • Comparative of indeclinable prepositions prae (Old Lat. pri) and pro ‘before’ (regular stem prĭor‑)
  • Superlative: prīmus/a/um ‘first’, source of Eng. prime
  • Derived Latin adjective: prīmārius/a/um ‘first in rank, principal, eminent, distinguished’, source of Sp. primero/a ‘first’
  • Medieval Latin derived word prioritasprioritatis, source of Eng. priority ~ Sp. prioridad
  • Lat. sŭpĕrĭor (neut. sŭpĕrĭus) ‘higher’
  • Comparative of sŭpĕrus/a/um ‘situated above; upper, higher’; rarely used as an adjective, more commonly used as a noun in the plural: sŭpĕrī ‘the heavenly gods’
  • Related to the preposition sŭper ‘over’, source of (patrimonial) Sp. sobre and (learned) Sp. super and Eng. super
  • Source of Eng. superior ~ Sp. superior/(a)
  • Latin superlative #1: summus/a/um ‘uppermost, highest, topmost’ > Sp. adj. sumo/a ‘great’, Eng. sum ~ Sp. suma ‘sum; addition’, Sp. sumar ‘to add’
  • Latin superlative #2: supremus/a/um ‘highest, uppermost’> Sp. supremo/a ~ Eng. supreme
Other Latin comparatives were irregular because the positive adjective they are supposedly derived from does not exist any longer, though they supposedly did exist at one time, such as ōcior ‘swifter’ (superlative ocissimus). Some comparatives are irregular in the sense that the word they are derived from is not an adjective but rather an adverb or a preposition, e.g. prĭor (see above), intĕrĭor, and ultĕrĭor. Other comparatives are irregular in the sense that the positive form is primarily used as a noun, usually in the plural, rather than as an adjective, e.g. extĕrĭor (< exter(us), pl. exterī ‘foreigners’), infĕrĭor (< infĕrus, cognate with Eng. under, pl. īnferī ‘the gods below’), posterior (< posterus, pl. posterī ‘posterity’), and sŭpĕrĭor (see above). Let us look at extĕrĭor, for example:

  • Lat. extĕrĭor (neut. extĕrĭus) ‘outward, outer, exterior’
  • Comparative of exter(us)/a/um ‘on the outside, outward, of another country, family, etc., foreign, strange’
  • Derived from the preposition ex‑ ‘out of’
  • Source of the nouns Eng. exterior ~ Sp. exterior
  • Superlative extrēmus/a/um ‘outmost’, source of Eng. extreme ~ Sp. extremo
Two interesting, somewhat irregular Latin comparatives are the following two antonyms, mostly because they have turned into such common words in English and/or Spanish:
  • Lat. iūnior ‘younger’, comparative of the adjective iuvenis ‘young, youthful’: this comparative used to be regular, as it was iuvenior ‘younger’ in early Latin, but the middle syllable was lost; it has turned into Eng. junior; the positive adjective iuvenis has become the patrimonial adjective joven in Spanish
    • Lat. sĕnĭor ‘older, elder’, comparative of the adjective senex ‘old, aged’, though senex could also be used as a noun meaning ‘old person, old man’; this word has turned into Sp. señor ‘sir, mister, lord’, as well as Eng. sir and senior (cf. Part II, Chapter 3); synonyms of the Latin adjective senex were senectus (< senex +‎ ‑tus) and vetus (gen. veteris); the diminutive of vetus was vetulus, source of patrimonial Sp. viejo; derived from Lat. vetus we get the learned words Eng. veteran and Sp. veterano

    [1] Note that there are some exceptions to this rule in set expressions, such as a most X Y, as in That is a most interesting question. This translates into Spanish as Esa es una cuestión/pregunta de lo más interesante, using the neuter article lo (cf. lo más interesante ‘the most interesting thing’).

    Note that comparative adjectives can also refer to definite entities and thus be accompanied by the definite article, as in the phrase the more interesting books in the sentence The more interesting books in that pile are the ones on top. Note, though, that the meaning would not have been really different if the phrase the most interesting books had been used instead. Spanish only has one potion, however, namely los libros más interesantes, which could be translated as either the more interesting books or the most interesting books. The distinction could be made by using a relative clause, with or without the definite article before the comparative: los libros que son más interesantes vs. los libros que son los más interesantes.

    [2] Note that Lat. lŏngus/a/um meant ‘long’. This word is cognate with Eng. long, a patrimonial (native) word derived from Proto-Germanic *langaz ‘long’. Both words go back to Proto-Indo-European *dlongʰos ‘long’. Spanish had a patrimonial word luengo/a ‘long’ that came from Latin longus, but by the 16th century, this adjective had become archaic and it is now obsolete. It has been replaced with largo/a, an adjective that comes from Lat. largus/a/um that meant ‘generous, bountiful, lavish, plentiful, copious’ in classical Latin, and later added other meanings such as ‘lengthy’, ‘broad’, ‘wide’, ‘spacious, extensive’, and even ‘free, unconfined, unrestricted’ (cf. Eng. at large). English borrowed this Latin adjective as large [ˈlɑɹʤ], from Old French large ‘vast in extent, copious, etc.’.

    The suffix ‑ísim-o/a is added the adjectival stem, after removal of the inflectional vowel, if there is one, e.g. guapa > guapísima, limpio > limpísimo, fácil > facilísimo. When added to adjectives ending in …ble, such as amable ‘kind, nice’, the two blend into the ending …bilísimo/a, as in amabilísimo ‘extremely kind’.

    The suffix ‑ísim-o/a has a variant ‑císim-o/a which is used with adjectives ending in ‑or or ‑n, such as joven ‘young’, which changes to jovencísimo/a ‘very, very young’.

    Speakers waver as to whether to regularize a diphthong in a regular adjective when the suffix ‑ísim‑ is added and thus the stress is moved away from the diphthong, e.g. fuerte > fuertísimo/fortísimo, bueno > buenísimo/?bonísimo, caliente > calentísimo/?calientísimo, etc. Note also that some types of adjectives do not admit the suffix ‑ísim‑, such as próximo ‘next’ (*proximísimo) , heroico ‘heroic’ (*heroicísimo).

    Greek letters in the names of fraternities and honor societies

    [This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 52, "The names of fraternities and honor societies", of Part II of the open-source textbook...