Tuesday, March 27, 2018

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, §
    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, §
    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’.

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