Thursday, January 4, 2018

Verbs of sitting, Part 7: Lat. dēsĭdēre and dēsīdĕre

[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.]

The Latin verb dēsĭdēre was a rare one. It was form with the prefix dē‑ ‘of, from, down’ added to the basic verb sĕdēre ‘to sit’.  Its meaning was ‘to remain or continue sitting, to sit long’, but ‘with the accessory idea of inactivity, to sit idle, to remain inactive’ (L&S). Related to this verb is the Latin adjective dēses, gen. dēsĭdis (regular stem: dēsĭd‑) meaning ‘idle’ and, from this adjective, the noun dēsĭdĭa meaning ‘idleness inactivity laziness, indolence, sloth’ (dē‑sĭd‑ĭ‑a). The adjective dēses has not made it to the present day in English or Spanish, but Spanish borrowed the noun desidia from Latin (first attested in the late 17th century). It translates into English as slackness or indolence and, when referring to personal appearance, as slovenliness.

There is additionally a Latin verb dēsīdĕre (principal parts: dēsīdo, dēsīdĕre, dēsēdi), derived from dēsīdĕre by the prefixation of the same prefix dē‑ ‘of, from’. Its meaning was primarily ‘to sink, fall, or settle down’ and secondarily, ‘to deteriorate, degenerate’. This verb or words derived from it have not left any descendants in English and Spanish but, as we shall see below, there is a chance that the English word desire is related to it somehow.

But let us go back first to Lat. dēsĭdĭa. We find that this noun was transformed into the neuter singular noun dēsĭdĭum in Vulgar Latin, a word that had the meaning of ‘desire’ and, in particular, ‘erotic desire’, ‘licentiousness’, and ‘voluptuousness’ (dē‑sĭd‑ĭ‑um). From the ‘indolence’ meaning of the Latin word dēsĭdĭa to the ‘(erotic) desire’ meaning of Vulgar Latin word dēsĭdĭum there is quite a semantic leap which it is not totally clear how it happened.

This word became the Spanish patrimonial word deseo [d̪e.ˈse.o] ‘desire’, which is first attested in the 13th century. The sound changes are the regular ones expected in a patrimonial word, with short Latin ĭ becoming Spanish e (twice), short ŭ becoming o after losing the word-final ‑m, plus the loss of intervocalic ‑d‑ and the resulting coalescence of two identical vowels:



Spanish deseo is a clear cognate of the word for the meaning ‘desire’ in other Romance languages, from the same source dēsĭdĭum, such as Port. desejo, Cat. desig, Occ. desieg, and It. desìo or disìo. This is the accepted theory about the origin of Sp. deseo.

The verb desear ‘to wish, desire’ then was derived, in Spanish, from the noun deseo, by conversion or back-formation, keeping the same root dese‑ and adding the appropriate verbal inflections to it (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7, §5.9). There are other Romance languages whose noun and verb meaning ‘desire’ come from the same source, such as Catalan desig-desitjar and Portuguese desejo-desejar.

Eng. desire, which has the same form as a verb and as a noun, looks close enough to Sp. desear/deseo to make us suspect that these words could be cognates. However, these words cannot be cognates and the connection between them is not at all clear and has been the source of much controversy. The English verb desire [dɪ.ˈzaɪ̯.əɹ] is a loanword, first attested in the early 13th century, from Old French desirer ‘to wish, desire, long for’, first attested at the end of the 11th century. This verb descends from Latin dēsīdĕrāre, a verb that meant ‘to desire’ in Latin. The English homonymous noun desire is a loanword, first attested in the early 14th century, from the Old French noun desir (end of the 12th century) derived, in French, from the verb desirer. In Modern French, the verb is désirer [de.zi.ˈʀe] and the noun désir [de.ˈziʀ].

Because the nouns Eng. desire ~ Sp. deseo have different sources, we cannot say that they are cognates. The same is true of the verbs Eng. desire ~ Sp. desear, which do not have the same etymological source. We would like to find out, however, if there is a connection between the words, that is, whether there is any relation between Lat. dēsĭdĭum and Lat. dēsīdĕrāre, as the similarities between the words might suggest.

The Latin verb dēsīdĕrāre (dē‑sīdĕr‑ā‑re) had the principal parts dēsīdĕro, dēsīdĕrāre, dēsīdĕrāvi, dēsīdĕrātum. Its meaning was ‘to long for, greatly wish for, to desire something not possessed’ and ‘to miss, feel the lack of something gone and wanting it back’. It seems that the ‘miss’ sense may have come first, before the ‘desire’ sense. This was not the only or the main verb meaning ‘to desire’ in Latin. Another major one was cŭpĕre (cŭpĭo, cŭpĕre, cŭpīvi or cŭpĭi, cŭpītum).[1]

Besides French, other Romance languages also have verbs meaning ‘desire’ that are derived from Lat. dēsīdĕrāre. Italian has a learned variant desiderare (from an earlier disiderare) and a shortened version desirare. Romanian had dezidera or deșidera. Occitan, on the other hand, has both desirer, from Lat. dēsīdĕrāre, and desejar, which would seem to be derived from Lat. dēsĭdĭum, just like Sp. desear.

The source of the Latin verb dēsīdĕrāre is a bit of a mystery, however. This verb looks close enough to the noun dēsĭdĭum, derived from the verb of sitting dēsĭdēre and the source of Sp. deseo, that we would want to think that the two are related. However, connecting the first conjugation dēsīdĕrāre (dē‑sīdĕrā‑re) to a verb of sitting, either second conjugation dēsĭdēre (dē‑sĭd‑ē‑re) or third conjugation dēsīdĕre (dē‑sīdĕ‑re), is not as simple as it seems.

It is not particularly helpful that the standard etymology given for dēsīdĕrāre, one that goes back to the Roman grammarians themselves, is that the root or radical of the verb dēsīdĕrāre is ‑sīdĕr‑, which is the regular root of the noun sīdus (genitive sīdĕris, regular root: sīdĕr‑), a word that means primarily ‘constellation, asterism’ and, derived from it, ‘a star’ (synonym of astēr, astrum, and the poetic stēlla), as well as, figuratively, ‘the night sky’ and ‘a season (of the year)’. Because of this sound identity of the roots of sīdus and dēsīdĕrāre, it has been argued that the latter comes from the former and that there must be a semantic connection between the meaning ‘constellation’ and ‘desire’ (think of wishing upon a star perhaps). However, we do not really know what the connection could be between the two, or between them and the noun dēsĭdĭum, derived from a verb of sitting, from which Sp. deseo comes from. And it is quite likely that the ‘constellation’ connection is but a very old faulty etymology

Note that there is no un-prefixed verb *sīdĕrāre in Latin that dēsīdĕrāre can be connected to and be seen as derived from. There is, however, one other Latin verb that has the same structure as dēsīdĕrāre, namely cōnsīderāre, which contains the prefix con‑ ‘with’. This verb is the source of Eng. consider and Sp. considerar and its meaning was ‘to look at closely, regard attentively, inspect, examine, survey’ (L&S). The meaning of this verb does not help us, however, with our search for the connection of the stem ‑sīdĕr‑ of these verbs and the root sīdĕr‑ meaning ‘constellation’.[2]

Not everyone has given up on the possibility that the verb dēsīdĕrāre is related to the verb dēsīdĕre, even though the semantics and the morphology of the connection are not at all obvious.[i] Regarding the morphological aspect of the issue, it has been suggested that perhaps ‑sīdĕr‑ is a lengthened form of the root ‑sīd‑, by some kind of a rare, old, and frozen intensive suffix that looks like ‑ĕr‑ in Classical Latin. This would mean that the stem/root ‑sīdĕr‑ of the verb dēsīdĕrāre is a lengthened version of ‑sīd‑, a change that would have taken place very early on in the history of Latin and whose purpose might have been one of intensification of the meaning. It would not be appropriate to call the lengthening material ‑ĕr‑ a true suffix in Classical Latin (dē‑sīd‑ĕr‑ā‑re), but it may have been at some earlier point.

There are at least two Latin verbs that would seem to contain this same type of lengthened root or suffix, namely tŏlĕrāre, source of Eng. tolerate and Sp. tolerar, and rĕcĭpĕrāre or rĕcŭpĕrāre, source of Eng. recover and recuperate and Sp. recobrar and recuperar.[3] In addition In addition to dēsīdĕrāre, Lat. cōnsīdĕrāre would have also been derived by the same suffix from a simpler cōnsīdĕre ‘to sit down, be seated; to settle; to sit as a judge; etc.’. The truth, however, is that we will probably never know what the truth is about these words and whether there is a connection between dēsīdĕrāre and the verbs of sitting.

Let us look next at a few interesting words that were derived from the Latin verb dēsīdĕrāre. One of them was the adjective dēsīdĕrābĭlis, formed with the third declension adjectival suffix ‑ā‑bĭl‑ (source of Eng. ‑able), meaning ‘desirable’. English desirable is loanword (12th century?) from Fr. desirable which itself is probably not descended from Lat. dēsīdĕrābĭlis but, rather, it was derived in French from the verb désirer and the suffix ‑able, perhaps as a calque of Lat. dēsīdĕrābĭlis.

The Spanish equivalent of Eng. desirable is deseable (dese-a‑ble), which was derived from the verb desear which, as we saw, is derived from the noun deseo, probably also on the pattern of Lat. dēsīdĕrābĭlis. Thus, we can see that Sp. deseable and Eng. desirable are not strictly speaking cognates, since they do not have the same source. There are also not fully equivalent in their use. The English word desirable is definitely more common than Sp. deseable. It can be applied to things, to people, and to outcomes or options (SOD). Sp. deseable is not typically used for things, such as houses or locations. When used for people, it has an sexual connotation, much like Eng. desirable does, but other options, such as atractivo/a, are more common in Spanish. Sp. deseable is indeed used in the contexts of outcomes and options, but there are other synonyms that may be more common, such as conveniente ‘convenient’ and aconsejable ‘advisable’. In addition to deseable, we should note that Spanish dictionaries, such as the DLE, mention a very rare Spanish adjective desiderable, a synonym of deseable, which is a loan from Lat. dēsīdĕrābĭlis and, thus, more a cognate of Eng. desirable. (Strictly speaking, the two would be cognates if Eng. desirable descends ultimately from Lat. dēsīdĕrābĭlis. However, even if desirable comes from a French calque of this Latin word, using descendants of the same morphemes, we could probably consider them cognates as well.)

English has a doublet of the verb desire that was borrowed from French and which ultimately comes from Lat. dēsīdĕrāre. The verb is desiderate, borrowed in the mid-17th century from the passive participle dēsīdĕrātus of the verb dēsīdĕrāre. This verb was used with the meaning ‘[to] feel a keen desire for (something lacking or absent)’ (OAD) and it is archaic today.

There are several Latin nouns derived from the verb dēsīdĕrāre which have left (rare) descendants in English and/or Spanish, namely dēsīdĕrĭum, dēsīdĕrātĭo, and dēsīdĕrātum/dēsīdĕrāta.  Lat. dēsīdĕrĭum meant ‘a longing, ardent desire or wish, properly for something once possessed; grief, regret for the absence or loss of any thing’ (L&S). Its plural form dēsīdĕrĭa was used with the meaning ‘pleasures, desires’. It was formed with the suffix ‑ĭ‑(um) used to form abstract nouns. This word was borrowed into English in the early 18th century as desiderium, which meant ‘an ardent desire or longing; especially : a feeling of loss or grief for something lost’ (WNTIU). This noun has no cognate in Spanish.

The rare Latin noun dēsīdĕrātĭo (gen. dēsīdĕrātĭōnis) ‘a desiring, longing for any thing; a missing’ (L&S) was formed with the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ (‑ĭo in the nominative case) that attaches itself to passive participles. This noun too was borrowed into English at one point as desideration, meaning ‘the action of desiderating; desire, with feeling of want or regret’ and the, now obsolete, sense ‘thing desired, desideratum’ (OED). This noun also has no Spanish cognate.

Finally the noun dēsīdĕrātum is a late creation, derived from the neuter wordform of the passive participle dēsīdĕrātus of the verb dēsīdĕrāre. This noun has been borrowed into English as desideratum and into Spanish as desiderátum, both meaning ‘something considered necessary or highly desirable’ (AHD). Note that the Spanish word did not adapt its Latin ending as such words usually do and is thus considered as a raw Latinism (Sp. latinismo crudo). Eng. desideratum came into the language in the 17th century. Both English and Spanish use the original Latin plural form of this word, namely desiderata (in both languages), which has a collective sense, not just a plural one, and it thus means something like ‘list/compendium of things that are needed or wanted’.

Let us finish our overview of words of desire by mentioning the French woman’s given name Désirée [de.zi.ˈʀe], borrowed into English as Desiree or Desirée [ˈdɛ.zi.ˌɹeɪ̯]. This name is identical to the feminine form of the past participle of the French verb désirer ‘to desire’ and, thus, its meaning is ‘desired’. The masculine form of this past participle is désiré (same pronunciation), which has also been used as a name for males in French, though less commonly than its feminine counterpart. Other languages have borrowed this French name besides English and the name became somewhat popular in the 19th century because it was the name of a French-born queen of Sweden. In the English-speaking world, the name was made popular by the movie Désirée (1954). The creative variants Desirae and Deziree have been used in English as well.

Actually, the French woman’s name Désirée is a modern form of the Latin name Desideria, which is the feminine form of the saint’s name Desiderius, a late Roman, male given name, related to the word dēsīdĕrĭum we just saw and which can thus be translated as ‘someone or something desired or longed for’. Modern versions of the name Desiderius, besides Eng. Desiderious [ˌdɛ.zɪ.ˈdɪə̯.ɹɪə̯s], include modern French Didier, Italian Desiderio, Spanish Desiderio (shortened to Desi),[4] Portuguese Desidério, and Hungarian Dezső.

[1] Derived from this verb were the adjective cŭpĭdus ‘longing, desiring, desirous, eager, in a good and bad sense, wishing, loving, fond, etc.’ and the noun cupīdō (gen. cupīdinis, regular root cupīdin‑), meaning ‘desire, longing, wish, eagerness’, usually in a negative sense. A related noun was cŭpĭdĭtās ‘a desire, wish, longing’, derived from the, derived from the adjective cŭpĭdus. By the way, Cupīdō was ‘the Roman god of sexual love [son of Venus], represented as a beautiful boy with wings who is carrying a bow and arrow’ (DOCE).

[2] There is one rare verb with the root ‑sīdĕr‑ which seems to be connected to the noun sīdus, namely praesīdĕrāre, formed with the prefix prae‑ ‘before’ (praesīdĕro, praesīdĕrāre, praesīdĕrāvi, praesīdĕrātum). It is not clear what is meaning is, whether it is ‘to be in advance of the constellations’ (L&S) or ‘to move forward the winter or the season’. There is another verb in Medieval Latin that follows this pattern, namely assiderare, from which comes the identical Italian verb meaning ‘to freeze’, but this verb does not help us much to determine the source of dēsīdĕrāre or cōnsīdĕrāre.

[3] Lat. tŏlĕrāre ‘to bear, endure, tolerate, sustain, support’ (tŏlĕro, tŏlĕrāre, tŏlĕrāvi, tŏlĕrātus) has the stem tŏlĕr‑, which would be a lengthened version of the root toll‑ of the verb tollĕre ‘raise, lift up, elevate, etc.’ (tollō, tollĕre, sustulī, sublātum), cf. Eng. extol.

Lat. rĕcĭpĕrāre ‘to get or obtain again; to regain, recover’ (rĕcĭpĕrō, rĕcĭpĕrāre, rĕcĭpĕrāvī, rĕcĭpĕrātum) has the stem rĕ‑cĭpĕr‑, which would be a lengthened version of the stem rĕ‑cĭp‑ of the verb rĕcĭpĕre ‘to take back, to receive’ (rĕcĭpĭō, rĕcĭpĕre, rĕcēpī, rĕcĕptum), cf. Eng. receive ~ Sp. recibir. The root cĭp‑ is an allomorph of the root cap‑ found in the unprefixed verb capĕre ‘to take’ (căpĭo, capĕre, cēpi, captum; cf. Part II, Chapter 11).

Another version of Lat. rĕcĭpĕrāre was rĕcŭpĕrāre, where the root cap‑ has the allomorph ‑cŭp‑. It is hard not to notice the similarity between this verb and the verb cŭpĕre that was perhaps the main verb that meant ‘to desire’ in Latin.

[4] The diminutive of Sp. Desiderio is Desi and it was made popular by Desi Arnaz, a Cuban-born American entertainer, 1917–1986, who is perhaps best known for being the co-star along with Lucille Ball, his real life wife, in the American television sitcom I Love Lucy (1957-1960), one of the most influential TV shows in American history.

[i] A proponent of the verbs dēsīdĕrāre and cōnsīdĕrāre containing the root sīd‑ is Benjamín García-Hernández, cf. “Considero: Propuestas etimológicas y contenido semántico”, Cuadernos de Filología Clásica (Estudios latinos), Editorial Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1991, pp. 87-98.

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