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.

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