Monday, January 8, 2018

Verbs of sitting, Part 11: Lat. praesĭdēre

[This entry is an excerpt from "Verbs of Sitting and Related Words," a chapter in Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

By the addition of the preposition/prefix prae ‘before’ to the verb sĕdēre, Latin created the verb praesĭdēre (prae+sĕd+ē‑re). Its principal parts were praesĭdĕo, praesĭdēre, praesēdi/praesīdi, with no supine/passive participle form. As expected, the literal meaning of this verb was ‘to sit before or in front of’ (L&S), but additional, derived meanings were ‘to (stand) guard, watch, protect, defend’ and ‘to preside over, manage, superintend, direct, command’ (CTL).

This verb has given us the cognates Eng. preside [pɹɪ.ˈzaɪ̯d] ~ Sp. presidir [pɾˈd̪iɾ]. Both verbs have the same general meaning ‘be in a position of authority in a meeting, court, etc.’ (COED) though, as we shall see, they are not used in the exact same way. Eng. preside is an intransitive verb which can be used by itself, as in Lucy always presides (at the meetings). If what is being presided over is mentioned, it is encoded in a prepositional phrase with the preposition over, such as in Lucy always presides over the meetings. The verb preside is more likely to be used when speaking of leading a court session, a ceremony, or a formal event, than a simple meeting, for instance. For the latter the verb to chair is more likely to be used.

Spanish presidir, on the other hand, is a transitive verb, so that what is presided over is a direct object, as in Lucy siempre preside las reuniones ‘Lucy always presides over the meetings’. Additionally, Spanish does not have verb equivalent to Eng. to chair, so that Sp. presidir can be the equivalent of the English verb to chair, used for less formal meetings, such as committee meetings, as well as of the English verb to preside, used for more formal meetings, just as juries and courts of law.

Additionally, Sp. presidir can be used in ways that Eng. preside cannot, namely with non-human subjects. One such meaning of presidir is ‘to occupy the most important place in a room’, which can be said of portraits, for instance, as in Un retrato del fundador de la fábrica preside el despacho del director ‘A portrait of the factory’s founder dominates/looms over the director’s office’ (Clave). Related to that sense of Sp. presidir, is ‘to have great influence or power’ or ‘to prevail’, one that is synonymous of predominar ‘to be predominant’, as in La tristeza presidió la velada ‘Sadness prevailed/loomed over the whole evening’ (DUMM).

These additional uses of Sp. presidir with non-human subjects seem to be connected to the fact that presidir in Spanish does not entail doing anything, the way preside does in English, and it is more about occupying a place of honor. Thus, whereas English dictionaries typically say that to preside is ‘to be in control’, which suggests active participantion on the part of the person who presides, Spanish dictionaries say that presidir is ‘to have the first or most important position’, which suggests a rather passive role. This interpretation of what presiding (presidir) means in Spanish explains the extension of the verb presidir to meanings in which the ‘presider’ is not a person and whose participation is not an active one, as is the case with the English cognate verb.

Although some dictionaries say that Eng. preside comes from Latin, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate and Longman DOCE, there is no doubt that English borrowed the verb preside from French présider in the early 17th century, a verb that French itself borrowed from Latin in the late 14th century. Sp. presidir also makes its first appearance in the 17th century and there is little doubt that it came in through French too. Note that as in the case of other derivates of Lat. sĕdēre in Spanish, here too, the Spanish verb is a third conjugation ‑ir verb, and not an ‑er verb, as we would have expected a loan from a second conjugation Latin ‑ēre to be (or a first conjugation verb as it is in French).[1]

More common than the descendants of the Latin verb praesĭdēre are the descendants of this verb’s present participle Latin praesĭdēns, a verbal adjective that meant ‘that sits before or in front of’ and ‘that guards, watches, protects, defens’ (prae‑sĭd‑ē‑ns; genitive: praesĭdĕntis; regular stem: prae‑sĭd‑ĕ‑nt‑). Already in Latin this participle could be used as a noun, by conversion, with the meaning ‘ruler, governor, leader, etc.’. From the accusative wordform of this noun, praesĭdĕntem, come the cognates Eng. president and Sp. presidente.

Eng. president came into the language through French in the late 14th century, at first with the meanings of ‘the appointed governor or lieutenant of a province, or division of a country, a dependency, colony, city, etc.’ and ‘the head of a religious house or of a college of priests; also of a hospital’ (OED). Additional senses were added to the word president through time. The sense ‘the officer in whom the executive power is vested in a modern republic, the elected head of the government’ was first used in the United States upon the creation of the country in the 18th century. The word president is not used the same way in all dialects of English, however. In the U.S., president is ‘the title of one who presides over the proceedings of a financial, commercial, or industrial company, as a bank, railway, mining company, commercial trust, etc.’, a person who in Great Britain would be called a chairman (and in the Bank of England and some other banks, governor) (OED). In Spanish too, presidente is equivalent of Eng. president when referring to the leader of a state or a society, but director/a is more common when referring to the leader of a bank or a corporation.

Descendants of Latin participles in English and Spanish often perform a double duty as adjectives and nouns, such as the cognates Eng. resident ~ Sp. residente (see next section), both of which have an adjectival use, meaning ‘that resides’, as in the phrase resident alien, and a noun use, meaning ‘one who resides’, as in a resident. In the case of Eng. president ~ Sp. presidente, the descendants of Lat. praesĭdēns, we find that these words are both just nouns, not adjectives. Another peculiarity of Sp. presidente is that it is one of the few nouns in ‑nte (‑ante/‑ente), that is, words derived from Latin present participles, that has a feminine form in ‑nta, namely presidenta ‘woman/female president’ (cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §

Latin regularly derived abstract nouns from adjective stems by means of the suffix ĭ‑a and, in particular it did this from present participle stems which, as we have seen, were adjectives in Latin. Such nouns referred to the action of the verb or some such related aspect of it. Thus, from Latin present participle stems, which ended in the suffix ‑nt‑, we get nouns ending in ‑nt‑ĭ‑a. For example, from the stem praesĭdĕnt‑ (prae‑sĭd‑ĕ‑nt‑) of the present participle praesĭdēns, Latin could have formed the noun praesĭdĕntĭa (prae‑sĭd‑ĕ‑nt‑ + ĭ‑apraesĭdĕntĭa). There is no sign that Classical Latin ever did derive this word, but it is found in Medieval Latin and from there it passed on to French as presidence and from there to English in the late 16th century.

Because the Latin ‑nt‑ĭ‑a ending had changed to ‑nce in French patrimonial words, that is also the ending that French gave to the borrowed word praesĭdĕntĭa and that is also the ending that the English word presidence has. All English words that end in ‑nce have this same source in Parisian French. However, in English words that came from Anglo-Norman, as opposed to Parisian French, the Latin suffix ‑nt‑ĭ‑a had changed to ‑ncy, for example pregnancy from pregnant and obstinacy from obstinate. For some reason, right around the same time that the noun presidence was borrowed into English from French, English created a doublet of this word with that alternate ‑ncy ending, namely presidency. The former member of the doublet has primarily the meaning ‘the action or fact of presiding’ (WNTIU) whereas the latter means ‘the office or status of president’ (COED). In Spanish there is only one word, presidencia, that is equivalent to both words. The ending ‑cia given to this Latin borrowing is the ending that Latin words ending in ‑t‑ĭ‑a had traditionally adopted.

Latin (accusative)
‑ă‑nt‑em, ‑ĕ‑nt‑em
‑ă‑nt‑ĭ‑a, ‑ĕ‑nt‑ĭ‑a

‑ante, ‑ente
‑ancia, ‑encia

‑ant, ‑ent
(1) ‑ance, ‑ence
(2) ‑ancy, ‑ency

Moving on to other words derived from the verb praesĭdēre, we find the Latin third declension noun praesĕs, whose genitive form was praesĭdis. Thus, its regular stem was prae‑sĭd‑, just like the verb. As an adjective, praesĕs meant ‘presiding, protecting, guarding, defending’ and, derived from it, as a noun, meant ‘protector, guard, guardian, defender’ (CTL). This word has been borrowed into English as preses or praeses (or præses), but it is quite rare. Its meaning is ‘the president or chairman of a meeting’, equivalent to chairman, especially in Scotland, and in a university setting, it can mean ‘academic moderator’ (OED).

From the stem praesĭd‑ of this word, another noun was derived in Latin by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑um, namely praesĭdĭum (nominative and accusative: prae‑sĭd‑ĭ‑um; genitive: prae‑sĭd‑ĭ‑ī; regular stem: prae‑sĭd‑ĭ‑), which meant ‘defence, protection, guardianship, help, aid, assistance’, ‘guard, escort, convoy’, and ‘garrison’. This word has given us the false-friend cognates Sp. presidio and Eng. presidium and presidio.

Modern Sp. presidio translates into English as prison or penitentiary. That is not what the word presidio meant in the 16th century, however, when this word first entered Spanish. Then it meant ‘military garrison attached to a town or city’, especially those located in North Africa (Morocco), where prisoners who committed serious crimes were often sent, but also in the Americas. The presidios were fortresses or fortifications (Sp. fortaleza) in the Roman style.

Interestingly, English has borrowed the word presidio from Spanish to refer to Spanish garrisons in the Americas. Eng. presidio means ‘a garrison, especially a fortress of the kind established in the southwest United States by the Spanish to protect their holdings and missions’ (AHD), as in The presidio of Rio Grande is situated on that river (OED, 1808). There are numerous presidios in the United States, including thirteen in Florida, six in Texas, and five in California. The presidio in San Francisco, for example, is known as the Presidio Real de San Francisco. It was founded in 1776 and it is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

The word presidio is archaic in Spanish, however. The regular words for prison are prisión, cárcel, or penal, though penitenciaría (cognate of Eng. penitenciary) of is also used as a fancy synonym. (More common than the noun penitenciaría is the adjective penitenciario/a, which is used as the adjective for prisión, as in the phrase reforma penitenciaria ‘prison reform’.) From the noun presidio (presidi‑o) the noun presidiario/a was derived by means of the Spanish agent suffix ‑ario/a. This derived noun means ‘convict, inmate, prisoner’ (presidi‑ari‑o/a). Derived from it is the term expresidiario ‘ex-convict, former inmate’.[2]

The other English word derived from Latin praesĭdĭum is the word presidium. Its meaning is ‘any of various permanent executive committees in Communist countries having power to act for a larger governing body’ (AHD). That is because the word presidium came into English in the 20th century from Russian прези́диум (prezídium), where it had that meaning. Russian, of course, borrowed this word from Latin praesidium.

Go to Part 12

[1] French borrowed second conjugation Lat. praesĭdēre as presider, with the ‑er infinitival ending characteristic of first conjugation patriomonial French verbs. In patrimonial French words, the four Latin infinitive endings, ‑āre, ‑ēre, ‑ĕre, and ‑īre changed to ‑er, ‑oir, ‑re, and ‑ir, respectively.

[2]  This suffix comes from the Latin suffix ‑ārĭ‑, which had two uses in Latin, just like its Spanish descendant. It could form first-second conjugation adjectives from nouns and numerals (masc. ārĭus, fem. ārĭa, neut. ārĭum). It could also to derive nouns denoting an agent from other nouns, which is how it is used here.

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