Tuesday, March 27, 2018

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).

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