Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 14: Lat. vice versa and vertebra

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión vs. diversion: the roots VERT- and VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Lat. vice versa

In English, vice versa is a Latinate adverb meaning something like ‘with the main items in the preceding statement the other way round’ (COED). English borrowed this Latin adverbial phrase in the early 17th century. Its pronunciation can be either [ˈvaɪ̯.sə.ˈvɜɹ.sə] or [ˈvaɪ̯s.ˈvɜɹ.sə]. Spanish viceversa is also a learned borrowing, with the same meaning as that of English vice versa, but note that it is written as one word. Its pronunciation, of course, is [bi.θe.ˈbeɾ.sa]. These expressions are typically added at the end of a sentence preceded by the copulative conjunction, Eng. and and Sp. y. Less fancy equivalents are Eng. and the other way (a)round and Sp. y al revés.

The source of this expression is the Latin ablative absolute phrase vice versā, meaning something like ‘the position having been reversed’. It was formed from vĭce, ablative singular form of the feminine third declension noun vĭcis ‘alternation, turn; time, instance; arrangement, order’ (accusative wordform: vĭcem; source of Sp. vez), plus versā, feminine ablative singular of perfect passive participle versus of the verb vĕrtĕre ‘to turn’. The learned prefix vice‑ in English and Spanish is a cognate of this vice; it comes from Latin vice­‑ ‘in place of’, e.g. Eng. vice-president ~ Sp. vicepresidente.

Lat. vertebra


The cognates Eng. vertebra [ˈvɜɹ.tɪ.bɹə] and Sp. vértebra [ˈbeɾ.t̪e.βɾa] refer to ‘each of the series of small bones forming the backbone’ (COED). They come from Latin vertebra (accusative: vertebram), which meant ‘joint’, namely that which allows an articulation to bend and turn, a more general meaning than the modern words have, though the Latin word could be used for the vertebrae as well.

The Latin word vertebra was obviously derived from the root vert‑. The meaning ‘joint’, which refers to something that turns, makes that perfectly clear. To that root something was added that we recognize as the reflex of an early, Proto-Indo-European instrumental suffix which has been reconstructed as *-dʰrom and which had different reflexes in Latin words, primarily ‑bra and ‑brum, but also ‑bula and ‑bulum.

The nominative plural of vertebra in Latin was vertebræ, and thus the plural of the English word can be vertebrae also, pronounced [ˈvɜɹ.tə.bɹi], [ˈvɜɹ.tə.bɹeɪ̯] or [ˈvɜɹ.tə.bɹaɪ̯], sometimes written vertebræ, with the letter æ, known as ash, originally a ligature of the letters a and e representing the Latin diphthong ae [ai̯]. English also allows the regularized plural vertebras. In Spanish the only option for the plural is the regularized vértebras.

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 13: Lat. vertigo

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión vs. diversion: the roots VERT- and VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


The also identical cognates Eng. vertigo [ˈvɜɹ.tɪ.ɡoʊ̯] and Sp. vértigo [ˈbeɾ.t̪i.ɣo] refer to ‘a sensation of whirling and loss of balance’, which can be due to ‘looking down from a great height or by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve’ (COED). In addition to this literal sense, the words can also have a figurative sense, namely that of ‘confused, disoriented state of mind’ (AHD), something somewhat similar to the literal, physical impairment.

These are learned words that come from the nominative form of the Latin noun vertīgō, which in the accusative was vertīgĭnem (vert+īgĭn+em), which meant ‘a turning round, whirling, rotation movement’ and, figuratively, ‘giddiness, dizziness’. Although the vert part is obviously our old friend that meant ‘to turn’, it is not clear what the ‑īg(in)‑ word part meant or where it came from, though it is thought that it is related to the ‑ĭc‑ in the stem vertĭc‑ we saw in the preceding section. English vertigo was borrowed directly from Latin in the 15th century. Spanish vértigo appears first in the 18th century and it may very well be a borrowing from English, as the antepenultimate stress on this word would suggest (in Latin vertīgō had penultimate stress, cf. Part I, §8.3.3.1).

Although similar in meaning, these cognates are not used in exactly the same way. Eng. vertigo is a somewhat technical, medical term that means ‘a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, caused by looking down from a great height or by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve’ (COED). Sp. vértigo can have that technical meaning but it has other additional uses. It can also meant ‘dizziness, giddiness’, as in Me da vértigo ‘It makes me feel dizzy’, and ‘frenzy, hustle and bustle’, as in el vértigo de la vida moderna ‘the frantic pace of modern life’ (OSD). The modifier phrase de vértigo is used in common collocations such as velocidad de vértigo ‘breakneck speed’ and precios de vértigo ‘skyhigh prices’ (OSD).

Both English and Spanish have adjectives derived from the noun vertigo/vertigo, namely the cognate adjectives Eng. vertiginous [vəɹ.ˈtʰɪ.ʤɪn.əs] and Sp. vertiginoso/a [beɾ.t̪i.xi.ˈno.so], both descended from Lat. vertiginōsus, an adjective derived from the stem vertīgĭn‑ and the suffix ‑ōs‑ that created first-second declension adjectives (vert+īgin+ōs+us; fem. vertiginōsa). Eng. vertiginous entered the language in the early 17th century, through French, where its cognate vertigineux already existed in the 15th century ([vɛʀ.ti.ʒi.ˈnø], fem. vertigineuse [vɛʀ.ti.ʒi.ˈnøz]). Modern Spanish vertiginoso is not attested in a dictionary until the 18th century.

Eng. vertiginous is a formal adjective that means primarily ‘causing or likely to cause a feeling of dizziness especially because of great height’ (MWAL), as in a vertiginous drop or vertiginous heights, though some dictionaries give also other related senses. This is also the sense of Sp. vertiginoso, though, the English word is more formal and less common than the Spanish one. That is why Sp. vertiginoso is often best translated with other words such as dizzy, dizzying, giddy, breakneck, fast-paced, furious, or woozy, e.g. velocidad vertiginosa ‘dizzying speed’, la vertiginosa caída del dólar ‘the dramatic fall in the value of the dollar’ (OSD).

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 12: Lat. vertex and vortex

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión vs. diversion: the roots VERT- and VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Leaving now the verbs derived from vĕrtĕre through prefixation, we find that English and Spanish have a few more cognate words derived from Latin words that contained the roots vert‑ or vers‑. The words Eng. vertex [ˈvɜɹ.təks] (plural: vertices [ˈvɜɹ.tɪ.siz]) and Sp. vértice [ˈbeɾ.t̪i.θe] are technical words referring primarily to ‘the highest point or top of something’ or ‘a point where two lines meet to form an angle, especially the point of a triangle or cone opposite the base’ (OALD), although it also has a few more technical uses in optics and graph theory, for example.

These words come from Latin word that is vertex in the nominative case, the source of the English word, and verticem in the accusative case (vert+ĭc+em), the source of the Spanish word and of the plural of the English word (vertices). (English also borrowed the singular vertice in the 17th century but that form is now obsolete. Also, vortexes .) This Latin word originally meant ‘turning movement, whirlpool’ and it came to also mean ‘highest point, top’ as well as ‘point around which the sky revolves’. The regular stem of Lat. vertex was vertic‑, as we have seen, which indicates that this noun was derived from the root vert‑ by the addition of a suffix-like morpheme ‑ĭc‑.

The Spanish word vértice is used primarily in geometry to refer to the point where the two sides of an angle or polygon meet, or the most elevated part of something (Eng. apex), among other things. In anatomy, vértice refers to the topmost part of a human head (Eng. crown).

Latin vertex had an archaic variant with an o, namely vortex (accusative vorticem), which also meant ‘whirlpool’. This word has given us the learned Eng. vortex [ˈvɔɹ.təks] (plural: vortices or vortexes) and Sp. vórtice, both of which refer to ‘a whirling mass, especially a whirlpool or whirlwind’ (COED), a technical term that became popular in the US in the winter of 2014 due to continuous references in the media to a polar vortex responsible for the unusually cold temperatures. The word vertex was first seen in English in the 16th century and the word vortex in the 17th century. Spanish vértice and the rarer vórtice seem to have entered the language in the 18th century.


The words that we just saw are not very common in English and Spanish, but the descendants of a Latin adjective derived from the noun vertex are indeed very common. The cognates are Eng. vertical [ˈvɜɹ.tɪ.kəl] and Sp. vertical [beɾ.t̪i.ˈkal], and they come from the Late Latin adjective verticālis (verticālem in the accusative case), which is an adjectival form of Lat. vertex, formed with the adjective making suffix ‑āl‑ attached to the regular stem vertĭc‑ (vertĭc+āl+is). The original meaning of the word in Latin would have been ‘whirling’, but in Late Latin it meant something like ‘overhead’. English borrowed this word either from French or directly from Latin in the 16th century with the meaning of ‘of or at the vertex’ and ‘directly overhead’ (French vertical is also from the 16th century). In Spanish, vertical is first attested in the 17th century. The sense of ‘straight up and down’ which this word has now, in both languages, first appeared in English in the early 19th century.

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 11: Other Latin verbs derived from vĕrtĕre

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión vs. diversion: the roots VERT- and VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Latin sometimes derived verbs from other verbs and when it did, it also used the passive participle stem to create the new verb. The verb vĕrtĕre was no exception. From the past participle stem vĕrs‑ of vĕrtĕre, Latin created two closely related verbs:
  • A frequentative verb vĕrsāre, a first conjugation verb in ‑āre (cf. Part I, §8.4.3.6)
    Principal parts: vĕrsō, vĕrsāre, vĕrsavi, vĕrsātusMeaning: ‘to keep turning/going round, spin, whirl’, ‘to turn over and over’, ‘to stir’, ‘to maneuver’
  • A deponent (passive) verb vĕrsārī, a first conjugation verb in ‑ārī (cf. Part I, §8.4.3.2)
    Principal parts: vĕrsor, vĕrsārī, vĕrsātus sum
    Meaning: ‘to move around’, ‘to be active, busy, occupied’, ‘to dwell’

Spanish has the verb versar which some think comes from vĕrsārī ‘to dwell’ (Corominas), though it makes more sense that it comes from vĕrsāre. It is a fancy verb, but it is known to any educated person. It means ‘to be about, deal with’ or ‘to dwell’, typically used when talking about books or discussions. Thus, this verb is synonymous with the more common verb tratar. The verb versar is followed by the preposition sobre, as in Este libro versa sobre la historia de las palabras ‘This book is about the history of words’. Spanish versar is a 15th century learned borrowing from Latin, though it is quite likely that it came through French, which borrowed it centuries earlier. More common than the verb is the adjective versado/a derived from the past participle of this verb, which translates into English as knowledgeable, proficient, well versed.

This last English word, versed, must of course be related to Sp. versado since they share the meaning and the root. In Modern English, versed is an adjective that means ‘acquainted through study or experience; knowledgeable or skilled’, as in She is well versed in classical languages (AHD). This adjective is related to a rare verb to verse that means ‘to familiarize by study or experience’, as in He versed himself in philosophy (AHD). Many of the more complete dictionaries do not even mention this rare verb to verse, though most do mention an equally rare verb to verse that means ‘speak in or compose verse; versify’, some of which indicate is archaic (OAD). The English verb to verse seems to have been borrowed from French verser in the 16th century, the verb that is probably the source of Sp. versar. Three of the senses of this verb are obsolete according to the OED, and the only one that is not is the one we have mentioned. (The OED says that ‘apparently’ the source of this sense of the verb to verse is a back formation of the adjective versed, not the French verb verser itself, though this is not likely.)

From the stem vĕrsāt‑ of the passive participle vĕrsātus of these verbs, the third declension Latin adjective vĕrsātĭlis was derived by means of the adjectival suffix ‑īl‑. This adjective originally meant something like ‘that turns or moves round, revolving, movable’ and, later, figuratively, ‘versatile’, that is, ‘able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities’ (COED). From this come the learned cognate adjectives, and good friends, Eng. versatile [ˈvɜɹ.sə.təl] (British [ˈvɜɹ.sə.ˌtaɪ̯l]) and Sp. versátil [beɾ.ˈsa.t̪il], which today have the figurative sense that we just mentioned. English is said to have borrowed versatile from Latin around 1600, though the word versatile is already attested in French 70 years earlier. The original sense of Eng. versatile was ‘changeable, inconstant’ sense, but soon thereafter the current sense of the word is attested as well. Sp. versátil first appeared in a Spanish dictionary in 1604 and it probably came through French.

Latin also created new verbs from vĕrsāre and vĕrsārī by prefixation. We have already seen two such verbs that were created in Late Latin from vĕrsāre:
  • revĕrsāre (cf. §8.2.5), created in Late Latin with the prefix re‑ and meaning ‘to turn back, turn around, invert’ (revĕrsō, revĕrsāre, revĕrsāvī, revĕrsātum)
  • convĕrsāre (cf. §8.2.2), formed with the prefix con‑ ‘with’, meaning ‘to turn around’, (convĕrsō, convĕrsāre, convĕrsāvī, convĕrsātum)

There was also a deponent version of this latter verb, convĕrsārī (convĕrsor, convĕrsārī, convĕrsatus sum) which meant ‘to consort/associate (with)’, ‘to be constant visitor (to)’, and ‘to conduct oneself, behave/act’. This verb is the ancestor of the cognates Sp. conversar and Eng. converse, which are partial friends. Sp. conversar is a common verb that means ‘to talk, chat, gab’, whereas Eng. converse is a more formal and literary verb that used to mean ‘to engage in social interaction’ but which today means something quite similar to its Spanish cognate, namely ‘to exchange thoughts and opinions in speech’ (MWC), that is, ‘to engage in conversation’, though the these two verbs differ as to the registers they are associated with. The nouns Eng. conversation and Sp. conversación, on the other hand, are much closer, since neither is very formal.

These were not the only deponent verbs that Latin had derived from vĕrsārī. There were four other verbs, which have left us no descendants in either English or Spanish, either through patrimonial transmission (in the case of Spanish) or through borrowing (for either language):
  •  advĕrsārī (principal parts: advĕrsor, advĕrsārī, advĕrsātus sum): ‘to be against, oppose, withstand’ (although this very looks like the word adversary, remember this word came from the adversus, cf. §8.2.7 above)
  • circunvĕrsārī (circunvĕrsor, circunvĕrsārī, circunvĕrsatus sum): ‘to turn about repeatedly; spin/whirl about/around’
  • devĕrsārī (devĕrsor, devĕrsārī, devĕrsatus sum): ‘to lodge, stay, have lodgings; put up at an inn’
  • obvĕrsārī (obvĕrsor, obvĕrsārī, obvĕrsatus sum): ‘to appear before one; go to and fro publicly’

There was another derived deponent verb in Latin that was actually a compound formed from vĕrsārī, that is formed with another root, not a prefix. It was formed with the root terg‑ of the noun tergum ‘back, hind part’. The verb was the first conjugation deponent tergĭvĕrsārī (terg‑ĭ‑vĕrs‑ārī; principal parts: tergivĕrsor, tergivĕrsārī, tergivĕrsatus sum). This verb meant ‘to turn one’s back’, and from it ‘to decline, refuse’, ‘to hang back’, and ‘to evade’. This verb was borrowed by Spanish in the 16th century as the verb tergiversar, very likely through French tergiverser, which borrowed it from Latin first. Its original meaning in French and Spanish was ‘to uselessly try to defend or distort something’. In Modern Spanish the meaning of tergiversar is ‘to twist, distort words or facts’, ‘to give an erroneous or false interpretation to something, typically on purpose’, as in Sus palabras habían sido malinterpretadas y tergiversadas ‘His words had been misinterpreted and twisted’ (VOX).


English also borrowed the word tergiversate ([ˈtɜɹ.ʤɪ.vəɹ.seɪ̯t] or [ˈtɜɹ.ʤɪ.ˌvɜɹ.seɪ̯t]) or, less commonly, tergiverse ([ˈtɜɹ.ʤɪ.ˌvɜɹs]) in the mid-17th century, most likely through French as well. This word is very rare in English, much more so than in Spanish. It seems that the noun tergiversation was borrowed first in English, in the 16th century, and, thus, the verb tergiversate may be a back-formation from the noun, one which was no doubt informed by the existence of the Latin and French verbs. The verb’s main meaning is ‘make evasive statements; equivocate’ and a secondary meaning is ‘change one's loyalties’ (COED). There is also a rare derived noun tergiversator from the early 18th century whose primary meaning is ‘turncoat’, ‘renegade’.

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 10: introvert and extrovert

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión & diversion: the roots VERT- vs. VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Lat. introvert-/introvers- and extrovert-/extrovers-


Finally, there are a number of English-Spanish cognate words that would seem to derive from the root ‑vĕrt‑ and other prepositional prefixes, namely Eng. introvert(ed) and extrovert(ed) and Sp. introvertido and extrovertido. Curiously, however, there are no verbs such as Eng. *to introvert or Sp. *introvertir to go along with those other words. Also there were no verbs *introvĕrtĕre and *extravĕrtĕre in Latin that they could have come from, though there very well could have been, since intrō‑ ‘on the inside, within, to the inside’ and extra‑ ‘outward, to the outside’ are legitimate Latin prefixes, cf. Eng. introduction and extracurricular. These, however, are New Latin words, words created from Latin word parts to look like Latin, but only as adjectives and nouns, not as verbs (cf. Part I, §8.5).

The adjective extroverted was created and first used in English in the 17th century to refer to something protruding in a technical sense in metallurgy. There was even a verb to extrovert created and used in writing only once, in the early 19th century, with the meaning ‘to turn or thrust outwards’ (OED). By all accounts, these words were extremely technical, fancy and rare, but then something happened that would catapult these words into fame.

Around 1918, German psychologist Carl Jung created (or perhaps borrowed) the words as extravertiert and extraversion in German, with the current psychological sense relating to an outgoing, socially confident personality, on the basis of Latin extra‑ and vĕrtĕre.[i] These German words were soon borrowed, with the new sense, into English and Spanish.

English borrowed the German noun extravertiert as extravert (with an a), though soon the spelling was changed to extrovert under the influence of the opposite word introvert (the original extravert spelling is still used in the psychology field). From the noun, English derived the adjective extroverted and the noun extroversion. Spanish too borrowed German extravertiert as extrovertido, as if it was a past participle of a non-existent verb *extrovertir, which can be both an adjective and a noun, and the noun extroversión, to refer to the condition.

Likewise, the verb to introvert and the derived adjective introverted had already been used in English by the 17th century as New Latin words, created on analogy with other existing prefixed Latin vĕrtĕre words, with the meaning ‘to turn inwards’, referring to an activity of the mind or the soul. A sense of physically turning inwards appeared a century later in English for these words. But, again, it was Carl Jung’s introduction of these new psychological personality traits in the early 1900’s that is responsible for the new senses and the popularity of these words. Spanish has borrowed introvertido, which is both an adjective and a noun, whereas English has the noun introvert and the adjective introverted. Both languages also have the cognates Eng. introversion and Sp. introversión to refer to the psychological condition in question.

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 8: Lat. divert- and transvert-

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión & diversion: the roots VERT- vs. VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Lat. divert- and divers-


Another prefixed form of Latin vĕrtĕre is dīvĕrtĕre is formed from the prefix - or dis-, which means ‘aside, in different directions’. This verb had several meanings: ‘to separate’, ‘to divert or turn away’, ‘to digress’, ‘to oppose’, ‘to divorce’, and finally, ‘to visit, live, spend time’. The English and Spanish reflexes of this word are the cognates Eng. divert and Sp. divertir, which are for the most part false friends.

English divert [ˌdaɪ̯.ˈvɜɹt] came from Old French divertir in the 15th century and its main meaning is very close to its original meaning in of the source verb in Latin, ‘to turn aside’. Dictionaries give two major meanings for Modern English divert: (1) a more literal one, ‘cause to change course or make a different use of something’, as in They diverted the river or They diverted the money; (2) a more figurative one, ‘draw the attention of; distract or entertain’ (COED) or ‘to deliberately take someone’s attention from something by making them think about or notice other things’ (DOCE). To the extent that English speakers use this uncommon verb, sense (1) is primary.

In Spanish, on the other hand, something more like sense (2) has become the main sense of what is a very common verb, divertir ‘to amuse, entertain’, which is mostly used intransitively, as the reflexive divertirse ‘to enjoy oneself, to have a good time, to have fun’. Notice that English too can use reflexive expressions to express this meaning, cf. to enjoy oneself, to amuse oneself.

The past participle of Latin dīvĕrtĕre was dīvĕrsus (dī‑vĕrs‑us; fem. dīvĕrsa), which besides its literal meaning ‘turned different ways’, also was an adjective meaning ‘opposite’, ‘separate, apart’, ‘diverse, different’, and even ‘hostile’. From this participle cum adjective we get the cognate adjectives Eng. diverse [ˌdaɪ̯.ˈvɜɹs] and Sp. diverso/a [d̪i.ˈβeɾ.so]. English got it from Old French divers in the late 13th century. Actually, the meanings of these two words are not as similar as one might think. English diverse has two major senses: (1) ‘differing one from another’, as in Spain and France are very diverse countries (from each other), and (2) ‘made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements’, as in Spain is very diverse country (AHD). Sense (2) can translate into Spanish as diverso/a, though variado (lit. ‘varied’) is probably a better equivalent. Sense (1) of Eng. diverse, on the other hand, cannot be translated with Spanish diverso/a, but with distinto or diferente, two synonymous Spanish words, both meaning ‘different’ (they are cognates of Eng. distinct and different, which are not synonymous).

Sp. diverso/a also has several meanings, depending on the context, none of which really translate primarily as diverse. First the ‘different’ or ‘not the same’ sense (synonym: diferente), which is rather formal and rare, as in Juan es diverso de sus amigos ‘Juan is different from his friends’ or Se trata de diverso asunto ‘It’s about a different matter’. The second and most common sense is the ‘dissimilar’ or ‘displaying/containing variety’ one (synonym: variado/a), as in Su obra es muy diversa ‘His works are very varied’ or Tiene un público muy diverso ‘His public is very diverse/varied’. Finally, in the plural, this word has the ‘several, many, wide range’ sense, as in Toca diversos instrumentos ‘She plays several/a wide range of instruments’, or problemas diversos ‘many different problems’.

Derived from the stem of the Latin passive participle dīvĕrsus by means of the nominal suffix ‑iōn‑ we have the cognate nouns Eng. diversion [daɪ̯.ˈvɜɹ.ʃən] and Sp. diversión [d̪i.βeɾ.ˈsi̯on], which are as different in meaning as are the verbs they are related to. English diversion, pronounced [də.ˈvɜɹ.ʒən] or [daɪ̯.ˈvɜɹ.ʃən], means primarily ‘the act of diverting’ and ‘a change in the direction or use of something, or the act of changing it’ (DOCE). In Britain, diversion can be used for ‘an alternative route for use by traffic when the usual road is temporarily closed’ (COED), equivalent to detour [ˈdi.tʊɹ] in American English and to desviación or desvío, in Spanish, two nouns derived from the verb desviar ‘to change course’, cognate with deviate, a false friend (cf. Part II, §18.4). When speaking of illegal diversion of funds, the best translation is malversación (another word containing the root vers‑).

Out of the noun diversion, English has created the adjective diversionary, which means ‘intended to take someone’s attention away from something’ (DOCE), and which is typically found in the collocation diversionary tactic ‘an action which draws attention away from something’. This adjective can be translated into Spanish with the prepositional phrases para distraer la atención, de distracción or de despiste, as in táctica de distracción/despiste ‘diversionary tactic’.

Another sense of Eng. diversion is ‘something intended to distract someone’s attention’ (COED). This sense translates into Spanish as distracción, from the verb distraer ‘to distract’. Finally, sense of Eng. diversion that is related to the ‘distraction’ sense but much less common, is the sense ‘a recreation or pastime’ (COED) or ‘an enjoyable activity that you do to stop yourself from becoming bored’ (DOCE). That is the sense that is closest to the main meaning of Spanish diversión, which translates best as fun, amusement, or entertainment, since Eng. diversion is rarely used this way. Those are exactly the meanings we would expect of this noun, given the meaning of the verb divertir(se) from which it is derived.

There was another word derived from the stem dīvĕrs‑ of the Latin passive participle dīvĕrsus, this one by means of the noun-forming suffix ‑tāt‑ (nominative ‑tas), which gave us Lat. dīversĭtātem (dī+vĕrs+ĭ+tāt+em, nominative dīversĭtas; the ‑ĭ‑ was a linking vowel). This word had two main meanings: ‘contrariety, contradiction, disagreement’ and ‘diversity, difference’. From this noun we get the cognate nouns Eng. diversity (divers+ity) and Sp. diversidad (divers+idad), whose meanings are taken from the second of the two senses of the Latin word. These cognates are good friends since they both refer either to ‘the fact of including many different types of people or things’ or to ‘a range of different people, things, or ideas’ (this latter sense being synonymous with variety) (DOCE).

Sp. diversidad is already found in writing in the late 13th century. Eng. diversity is first attested in the mid-14th century and it is a loanword from French diverseté or diversité, first attested in the 12th century. These words are very popular nowadays and they are often found in collocations such as Eng. cultural diversity ~ Sp. diversidad cultural, Eng. ethnic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad étnica, Eng. racial diversity ~ Sp. diversidad racial, Eng. linguistic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad lingüística, Eng. religious diversity ~ Sp. diversidad religiosa, Eng. genetic diversity ~ Sp. diversidad genética, as well as in the compounds Eng. biodiversity ~ Sp. biodiversidad.

Lat. trānsvert- and trānsvers-


As we saw in Table 158 above, there was one other verb derived from vĕrtĕre, namely trānsvĕrtĕre ‘to turn across’ and, from that, ‘to turn away, avert’, derived by means of the preposition/prefix trāns ‘across’. This verb was a post-Classical Latin creation, from the late antiquity period, between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE. This verb has no descendants in our English or Spanish, however. Actually, transvert is attested in English as a verb already in the late 14th century, but it is now obsolete.

The passive participle of this verb was trānsvĕrsus, meaning ‘turned across, lying across, from side to side; transverse; having been turned across’ (cf. Sp. oblicuo, transversal). This word has left its mark in our languages, especially in Spanish. English has a rare adjective transverse, that obviously descents from the participle trānsvĕrsus. It is pronounced [tɹænz.ˈvɜɹs] or [tɹæns.ˈɹs] and it means ‘situated or extending across something’ (COED). This word is attested in English since the early 15th century. Actually, before transverse we find the derived adjective transversary (c. 1400), derived from the participle’s stem trānsvĕrs‑ and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑ary. The equivalent adjective in Spanish is transversal, formed from the same stem trānsvĕrs‑ and the adjectival ending ‑al.

Also derived from Lat. trānsvĕrsus, Spanish has the patrimonial noun través, which used by itself is quite rare and translates as slant (inclination), crossbeam (piece of wood), or misfortune (equivalent to revés). The noun is extremely common, however, in the complex preposition a través de, meaning ‘through, via’ and ‘all across’, both literally and figuratively, e.g. Se enteró a través de un amigo ‘She heard about it through a friend’, El agua pasa a través de un filtro ‘The water passes through a filter’, and Pusieron barricadas a través de la calle ‘They erected barricades across the street’ (OCS). Other expressions with través are de través and al través, both meaning ‘crossways, sideways’.

Also patrimonially derived from Lat. trānsvĕrsus is the adjective travieso/a ‘mischievous, naughty’ and, more lightly, ‘playful’. Originally, this adjective meant just ‘laid across or sideways’, a meaning that the word may still have, at least according to the dictionary, though hardly anybody uses it that way. The current primary (or only) meaning was derived figuratively from the literal one. Derived from this adjective is the noun travesura ‘prank, mischief’, formed with the suffix ‑ur‑a. Two other nouns derived from través, in Spanish, are (1) travesía meaning ‘crossing’ and (by sea) ‘voyage’, which in Spain can also mean ‘alleyway’ or ‘side street’; and (2) travesaño means ‘rung of a ladder’, ‘crossbeam’, ‘crossbar’, or ‘crosspiece’. The idiomatic expression a campo traviesa translates as cross-country or across the fields, as in esquí a campo traviesa ‘cross-country skiing’.

It seems that Late Latin derived a verb from this adjective, namely trānsvĕrsāre (trānsvĕrsō, trānsvĕrsāre, trānsvĕrsavi, trānsvĕrsātus). This verb seems to be the ultimate source of Eng. traverse and Sp. atravesar. Latin transversāre first changed to *traversāre in Vulgar Latin, by simplification of a complex consonant cluster (nsv > v). This then became Old French traverser, from which English got the verb traverse the 14th century. The primary meaning of Eng. traverse is ‘travel or extend across or through’, such as more specifically ‘ski diagonally across (a slope), losing only a little height’ (COED). It also means ‘move back and forth or sideways’ and, in legal terminology, ‘deny (an allegation) in pleading’ (COED).

Like French, Spanish also received this verb patrimonially, and did some consonant cluster simplification of its own (rs > s). Additionally, it added a pleonastic initial a‑, though this verb is also attested as travessar in Old Spanish (cf. Part I, §5.6.1.1). The result is the Spanish verb atravesar ‘to cross, go across’, which unlike Eng. traverse is a common enough (not fancy) verb, a synonym of cruzar ‘to cross’, as in atravesar la calle ‘to cross (go across) the street’. As we can see Eng. traverse and Sp. atravesar are only partial friends.

The roots VERT- & VERS-, Part 7: Lat. avert and obvert

[This entry is an excerpt from, "Diversión vs. diversion: the roots VERT- & VERS-," Chapter 8 of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Lat. avert- and avers-

Latin āvĕrtĕre ‘to turn away, aside’ was formed with the prefix ā‑ or ab‑ ‘away from’ added to the verb vĕrtĕre. This has resulted in the English verb to avert, which came into English in the 14th century from Old French avertir, which was identical to the verb avertir we just saw that descended from Lat. advĕrtĕre. The French verb has not made it into Modern French, perhaps because it was homonymous with the verb derived from advĕrtĕre.

English avert is a fancy, literary word that has two main senses: (1) ‘turn away (one’s eyes or thoughts)’ and (2) ‘prevent or ward off (an undesirable occurrence)’. Latin āvĕrtĕre has left no reflexes in Spanish, that is, Spanish has no cognates of English avert. English avert translates into Spanish primarily as evitar ‘avoid’, apartar ‘to move away’, or even prevenir ‘to prevent’, as in: to avert one’s eyes = apartar la vista and to avert disaster = evitar el desastre. In French too, Eng. avert translates as prévenir or éviter in the ‘prevent’ sense and as détourner in the sense of ‘turn aside (eyes, thoughts)’.

The past participle of Lat. āvĕrtĕre was āvĕrsus (ā+vĕrs+us), which has given us the English adjective averse [ə.ˈvɜɹs], that means ‘having a feeling of opposition, distaste, or aversion; strongly disinclined’ (AHD), a 16th century borrowing directly from Latin, as in I am averse to taking risks. The closest translations for this word in Spanish are reacio, as in Soy reacio a tomar riesgos ‘I am risk-averse’ or opuesto, as in Estoy opuesto al riesgo ‘I am averse to risk’.

In Latin, the stem of the participle āvĕrsus, namely āvĕrs‑, could be turned into a noun by means of the ending ‑iōn‑ mentioned earlier, giving us the Latin noun āversiōnem (nominative: āversiō), meaning literally ‘turning away’ and, figuratively, ‘loathing, abhorrence’. It has resulted in the fancy cognate nouns Eng. aversion [ə.ˈvɜɹ.ʒən] and Sp. aversión [a.βeɾ.ˈsi̯on], with pretty much the same meaning. The English noun aversion used to mean ‘the act of turning away from an object’ in English but that meaning is now obsolete. Its meaning is ‘a strong dislike of something or someone’ (DOCE), a synonym of hatred. This word is found in the phrase aversion therapy, which is ‘a type of behavior therapy designed to make patients give up a habit by causing them to associate it with an unpleasant effect’ (COED). This type of psychotherapy dates from 1946. Its name in Spanish is calqued from the English one, namely terapia de aversión.

Lat. obvert


Another prefix that was often used to derive Latin verbs was ob‑, meaning ‘towards’ and, not surprisingly, Latin did have a verb obvĕrtĕre meaning ‘to turn towards’. This verb has given us the very fancy English verb obvert, used mostly in philosophical logic with the sense of ‘alter (a proposition) so as to infer another proposition with a contradictory predicate’ (COED). Spanish has not borrowed this verb, however, and thus has no cognate for this rare English word.

The past participle of obvĕrtĕre was, of course, obvĕrsus. This has given us Eng. obverse, which is a fancy word that can be used as an adjective or noun. The English adjective obverse can mean ‘facing or turned toward the observer’ (AHD), when talking of a coin or a statue, or a situation or feeling, for instance. It can also mean ‘serving as a counterpart or complement’ (AHD). As a noun, it is used to refer to ‘The side of a coin, medal, or badge that bears the principal stamp or design’ and to ‘the more conspicuous of two possible alternatives, cases, or sides’, as in the obverse of this issue (AHD). In Logic, the obverse is ‘the counterpart of a proposition obtained by exchanging the affirmative for the negative quality of the whole proposition and then negating the predicate’, so that the obverse of Every act is predictable is No act is unpredictable (AHD).

The Spanish equivalent of obverse in logic is simply (lo) contrario. When talking about coins and other such two-sided objects is anverso, a word that was borrowed from French and whose etymon is Lat. inversus (see above). Latin inversus gave us Old French enverse (Mod.Fr. envers [ɑ̃.ˈvɛʀ]), which at one point was borrowed by Spanish as anverso, used to refer to the opposite of reverse when speaking of things such as coins, a technical term equivalent to Eng. obverse.

Despite the obvious similarity, the English adjective overt ‘done or shown openly’ is unrelated to the English verb obvert. Eng. overt is an early 14th century loanword from Old French overt, past participle of ovrir ‘to open’, from Vulgar Latin *ōperīre, from Lat. aperīre ‘to open’ (the initial o came from the influence of Latin cōperīre ‘to cover’). The Modern French of these words are infinitive ouvrir ‘to open’ and participle/adjective ouvert ‘open(ed)’. These words are cognates of Sp. abrir ‘to open’ and Sp. abierto ‘opened; open’. Eng. overt translates into Spanish as manifiesto/a, declarado, evidente, explícito, claro, palpable, aparente, or patente when it means ‘obvious’, as in overt hostility, and as abierto/a, when it means ‘deliberate’, as in overt criticism.

Finally, Latin had a noun derived from obvĕrtĕre, namely obvĕrsĭo, derived from the passive participle stem obvers‑ and the noun suffix ‑iōn‑ and meaning ‘a turning towards, offering’. English borrowed this noun too to go along with the verb to obvert. The meaning of this very fancy and rare word is ‘an act or instance of obverting’, ‘something that is obverted’. In logic, it refers to ‘a form of inference in which a negative proposition is obtained from an affirmative, or vice versa’ (RHWU).

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Polysemy vs. homonymy, Part 1: Eng. apply and Sp. aplicar

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Part I of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


The English verb to apply is a late 14th century loanword from Old French aplier, which meant ‘apply, use, attach’ (cf. Mod.Fr. semi-learned apliquer). Ultimately, this word comes from Lat. applĭcāre, formed with the prefix ad- ‘towards’ and plicāre ‘to fold’. The original meaning of Lat. applĭcāre was ‘to connect, place near, bring into contact, attach, join’. From this initial sense, other figurative senses developed later in Latin, such as ‘bring into practice’ or ‘come to land (said of a ship)’, both of which are quite different from the original meaning and which reflect figures of speech that are rather opaque to us today.

Eng. apply has four senses, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED), some of which are different enough for us to wonder what they have in common and how a single word could mean such different things. These four senses are listed below, starting with the most common or salient one. We have also indicated when these meanings came into existence in the English word.
  1. make a formal request. put oneself forward as a candidate for a job. [19th century]
  2. be relevant. bring into operation or use [for some task]. [14th century; original meaning]
  3. put (a substance) on a surface. [15th century]
  4. (apply oneself) work hard. [14th century]
In other words, you can (1) apply for a job (or a grant, etc.), or you can (2) apply a rule or the brakes, or you can (3) apply a cream or ointment on your skin (or a coat of paint on a wall, etc.); or you can (4) apply yourself at something to succeed at it.

It is important to realize that this is not the only way to split the senses of the word apply, and other dictionaries do it differently. The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD) have six senses for this word and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (DOCE) has eight. OALD, for instance, splits COED’s sense no. 2 into three:
  1. BE RELEVANT: ‘to concern or relate to somebody/something’, as in That applies to you too.
  2. USE: ‘to use something or make something work in a particular situation’, as in apply sanctions or apply a technology
  3. PRESS HARD:, ‘to press on something hard with your hand, foot, etc. to make something work or have an effect on something’, as in apply the brakes or apply pressure
Probably the most common of these senses nowadays, and the one that first comes to mind when hearing the word out of context, is the first one, which is why it is listed first in the dictionary. According to the COED this sense has a general version, namely make a formal request, and a more specific sub-sense, namely put oneself forth as a candidate for a job. This sense of the word is a relatively new one, since it did not come about until the 19th century, more than 500 years after the word was borrowed from French. However, this first sense of English apply has not replaced the older ones, but rather these exist alongside of it, even if the old ones are secondary and less common.

Spanish has a cognate verb aplicar, a learned word first attested in the 15th century. It may very well have come through French, just like its English cognate, for we know that French was using appliquer, a semi-learned version of O.Fr. applier (the source of Eng. apply) already in the late 13th century. Sp. aplicar has some of the senses that Eng. apply has but, crucially, it lacks sense number 1, the new one, which is an innovation in the English word. Spanish aplicar was never used with the sense of ‘applying to a job, a scholarship, a grant, etc.’, which is the novel (and today, the most common) sense of its English cognate. These are the main senses of Spanish aplicar found in the dictionary:
  1. applying something (liquid, cream, paint, etc.) over something else
  2. to put something into practice (rules, treatment, etc.)
  3. put a lot of effort into something (in Spanish, like in English, this sense is reflexive: aplicarse)
That is why these two cognates are said to be partially false friends or semi-false friends, since three of the senses are shared (though not the main sense of the English word), such as the sense ‘put (a substance) on a surface’ (COED). They are false friends if we think of the main sense of the English word, namely, ‘to make a formal request, usually in writing, for something such as a job, a place at college, university, etc.’ (OALD).

What we just said about the cognates Eng. apply ~ Sp. aplicar is applicable to the cognate nouns derived from them, namely Eng. application and Sp. aplicación. According to COED, the noun application has four senses that correspond to the four senses of the verb apply, the first one of which is ‘a formal request to an authority’. That is, crucially, a sense that Sp. aplicación lacks. In standard Spanish, that sense of Eng. application translates as solicitud.

Additionally, Eng. application has a fifth sense, used in computer science, namely ‘a program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose’, one which has no parallel in the verb apply. This sense is now often shortened to app, particularly in the realm of smartphone software. Not surprisingly, in recent years, Standard Spanish has borrowed this sense for the word aplicación, a semantic calque.

English and Spanish also have cognate adjectives derived from these verbs, namely Eng. applicable ~ Sp. applicable. Their meaning is ‘that can be applied; relevant or appropriate’. As you can see, these adjectives are only related to sense no. 2 of their respective verbs. Thus, one cannot say that a job is ‘applicable’, in the sense that one can apply for it, or that a cream is ‘applicable’, in the sense that it can be applied.

The senses of the verb apply, and in particular the first one, the 'job’ sense, are so different that we must wonder whether we are dealing here with several words that happen to look alike (homonyms) or with one single word that has different senses (a polysemous word). We happen to know that historically the latter is the case and that the ‘petition’ sense of these words is an innovation in English, which is why dictionaries treat apply as a single word. However, language learners, whether they are first or second language learners, do not know this fact and we must wonder how they categorize (in their minds) words that have such different and seemingly unrelated senses. Do they treat them as homonyms, that is, words that are obviously unrelated that happen to look alike, as in the case of the two nouns bark or the two nouns bank? Or do they treat them like other cases of polysemous words where the senses are similar or otherwise related? This is something that linguists, and particular cognitive linguists, are concerned about, since they care about how speakers categorize words, as opposed to what experts on the history of words have to say about them.

Note that not only the ‘petition’ sense but also some of the other senses were not found in the original Latin verb applĭcāre from which the English and Spanish verbs come from. Latin applĭcāre was formed out of the verb plĭcāre, which meant ‘to fold, bend’ and the prefix ad‑ ‘to’. (Lat. plĭcāre is the source of patrimonial llegar ‘to arrive’ and semi-learned Sp. plegar ‘to fold’.) The actual meaning of applĭcāre was, first of all, ‘to connect, place near, bring into contact, attach’, as when you fold something and bring the two sides together. Derived meanings were ‘to lean against’, ‘to draw near’, and the intransitive ‘to arrive, put in (enter port), land’.[1] To these, we must add two figurative senses that the Latin verb applĭcāre had, namely ‘to adapt’ and ‘to devote to’. It is not hard to make a connection between these senses and senses 2-4 of the verb apply discussed earlier.

When we said that the petition sense of Eng. apply does not exist in Sp. aplicar, we should have said that it does not exist in most of the Spanish-speaking world, for as we saw in Chapter 2 (§2.8.3), some dialects of Spanish have borrowed the first sense of the English words apply and application, into the Spanish words aplicar and aplicación. (As we saw, this kind of borrowing of a sense for a word is known as semantic calque.) For some Spanish speakers, particularly those living in the US, Spanish aplicar indeed has acquired the sense of petitioning for things such as jobs or grants as a semantic calque from the English cognate. The vast majority of Spanish speakers, however, would not understand the word aplicar used with this sense and thus this sense is not part of Standard Spanish.

As we have already seen, in Standard Spanish, the petition sense of the verb apply is expressed with different word, such as solicitar, which is not a partial friend of its English cognate solicit and which is quite fancy. The best translation of Eng. application is the noun solicitud ‘request’. This noun is a cognate of Eng. solicitude, a very fancy word that means ‘care and concern for someone’s health, safety etc.’ (DOCE).[2]

Finally, let us mention that there are numerous words in English and Spanish that contain the Latin root ‑plĭc‑, besides the already seen ones, such as the cognates such as Eng. accomplice ~ Sp. cómplice, Eng. complicate ~ Sp. complicar, Eng. deploy ~ Sp. desplegar, and Eng. complex ~ Sp. complejo (these last two words come from the related Latin verb plectĕre ‘to weave, braid, (en)twine’). English also has some words containing this root that do not have Spanish cognates, such as applicant ‘candidato, aspirante, solicitante’ and appliance ‘aparato, etc.’.



[1] The unprefixed verb plĭcāre could mean ‘to land’, said of a ship, a meaning that presumably arose because of the folding of the sails that takes place upon landing a ship, cf. Sp. llegar ‘to arrive’, a further extension of this sense.

[2] The cognate verbs Eng. solicit ~ Sp. solicitar come ultimately from Latin sollĭcĭtāre ‘to stir, disturb; to distress, harass; to solicit, tempt, seduce, attract, induce’, which is derived from the adjective sollĭcĭtus ‘agitated, anxious’, literally ‘thoroughly moved’, from sollus ‘whole, entire’ and citus, passive participle of ciēre ‘to put in motion; move stir, shake; to call upon for help, appeal to; etc.’. English borrowed this word through French in the early 15th century. At first in meant just ‘to disturb, trouble’, but by the 16th century it was being used with the sense ‘to entreat, petition’. Sp. solicitar is a learned word that first appeared in writing in the late 15th century. The main sense of Eng. solicit is ‘to seek to obtain by persuasion, entreaty, or formal application’, which is very much the meaning of its Spanish cognate, but it is a very fancy word, unlike its Spanish cognate.
Even fancier than the English verb solicit is the noun solicitude ‘care or concern’. This noun is truly a false friend of Sp. solicitud. Both come from Latin sollĭcĭtūdo, a noun meaning ‘anxiety, agitation’, derived from the adjective sollĭcĭtus ‘anxious’ that we just mentioned.

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...