Sunday, May 20, 2018

The word 'insect' and related words of cutting: Part 2

[This entry comes from Chapter 4, "The word insect and related words of cutting", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The Greek word for ‘insect’: ντομον (éntomon) (and entomology)

As we just saw, Latin insĕctum is a loan translation or calque of Greek ἔντομον (éntomon) ‘insect’. Actually, the phrase animal insectum is a calque of Gk. ἔντομος ζῷον (éntomos zôion) ‘animal that is cut or divided into pieces’. Also a calque is the ellipsis of the phrase and the use of just the adjective to name the animal. The Greek word, and phrase, for this class of animals was coined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (Sp. Aristóteles, Greek: Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs), who lived in the 4th century BCE (384-322 BCE).

Thus, ἔντομον (éntomon), the neuter form of the Greek adjective ἔντομος (éntomos), became a noun that meant ‘insect’ in Ancient Greek. The Greek word ἔντομος can be analyzed as consisting of the parts ἐν- (en‑) ‘in’, the root ‎‑τόμ‑ (tom‑), and the inflection ‑ος (tóm‑os). This adjective was originally the passive participle of the verb ντέμνειν (entémnein) ‘to cut in’, and thus the participle adjective ἔντομος (éntomos) meant ‘cut off into pieces’. The verb ντέμνειν (entémnein) was derived by prefixation from τέμνειν (témnein) ‘to cut, separate, etc.’. The participle of τέμνειν (témnein) was τόμος (tómos) and from it a noun was derived by conversion (without affixes) that meant ‘section, slice, piece, cut-off part’.


The root ‑τομ‑ (‑tom‑) in ἔντομος (éntomos) is an allomorph or variant of the root ‑τέμ‑ (‑tem‑) in the verb τέμνειν (témnein) (for the topic of allomorphy or variants of a morpheme, see Part I, Chapter 5). This root has been reconstructed as *tem‑ (*temh₂-) in Proto-Indo-European, also with the meaning ‘to cut’. (For more words from this PIE root, see §5.3 below.)

When the subfield of biology that studies insects was created in the 18th century, it was originally given the name of insectology (Fr. insectologie), a hybrid word created after the Latinate word insect and the derivational morpheme of Greek origin ‑logy (Fr. ‑logie) that means ‘study of’, a loan from Ancient Greek -λογ‑ία (-logía). Eventually, however, came to be known as Fr. entomologie (1764) ~ Eng. entomology ~ Sp. entomología, after the Greek name for ‘insect’ and the same Greek suffix (en‑tom-o-logy). Both words, Fr. insectologie and Fr. entomologie, were originally proposed by an early French entomologist, Charles Bonnet, who dismissed the latter word (Fr. entomologie) because it sounded ‘barbarous’ and ‘terrifying’. Despite this early dismissal, this is the word that caught on in the field of biology and Eng. entomology ~ Sp. entomología are today the names of ‘the branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects’ (COED).

The adjectives that go with the nouns Eng. entomology ~ Sp. entomología are Eng. entomological ~ Sp. entomológico/a and the name of a practitioner of this discipline are Eng. entomologist ~ Sp. entomólogo. Both of these pairs of words are not exactly cognates, but rather, paronyms, since although they share the meanings and the stems, they don’t have the same derivational endings (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). As we have seen before, Eng. ‑logist is typically equivalent to Sp. ‑logo, e.g. Eng. psychologist ~ Sp. sicólogo.

A less common word that contains the morpheme entom‑ is Eng. entomophagy [ˌɛn.tə.ˈmɒ.fə.ʤi] ~ Sp. entomofagia, which refers to ‘the practice of eating insects, especially by people’ (Oxford). Both of these words are quite technical and rare and they are not found in most dictionaries.

The second part of this New Latin compound, Eng. ‑phagy [ˈfeɪ̯.ʤi] ~ Sp. ‑fagia [ˈfa.xi̯a], is a borrowing from ancient Greek ‑ϕαγία (phagia) ‘eating’. These words are derived from adjectives that end in ‑φάγος (-phágos) ‘glutton’, derived from the verb φᾰγεῖν (phageîn) ‘to eat’. Other New Latin technical terms containing this ending are the following:
  • Eng. anthropophagy [ˌan.θɹə.ˈpɒ.fə.ʤi] ~ Sp. antropofagia [an.tɾo.po.ˈfa.xi̯a], another word for cannibalism, ‘the eating of human flesh by other humans’ (COED), formed with the stem of Ancient Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos) ‘man, human’
  • Eng. ichthyophagy [ɪk.θɪ.ˈɒf.ə.ʤi]~ Sp. ictiofagia [ik.t̪i̯o.ˈfa.xi̯a] ‘fish diet’, ‘the practice of eating or subsisting on fish’ (RHW), from Ancient Greek ἰχθύς (ikhthús) ‘fish’
  • Eng. monophagy ~ Sp. monofagia ‘the eating of only one kind of food’ (SOED), from Ancient Greek μόνος (mónos) ‘alone, only, sole, single’
  • Eng. sarcophagy ~ Sp. sarcofagia ‘the practice of feeding on flesh’ (WNTI), from genitive σαρκός (sarkós) of σάρξ (sárx) ‘flesh, meat’; this word is related to the Ancient Greek noun σαρκοφάγος (sarkophágos) ‘coffin of limestone’, so named because supposedly such coffins consumed the flesh of corpses laid in it; originally this was an adjective σαρκοφάγος (sarkophágos) that meant ‘flesh-eating, carnivorous’

 All of these words have companion adjectives and nouns that end in Eng. ‑fagus ~ Sp. ‑fago, such as Eng. anthropophagus ~ Sp. antropófago ‘man-eater, cannibal’, from Lat. anthrōpŏphăgus, a loan from Greek ἀνθρωποφάγος (anthrōpophágos) (see above). As we have seen, this affixoid comes ultimately from Greek ‑φάγος (phágos) ‘glutton’, with the same root ‑φάγ‑ (phág‑) of the verb φᾰγεῖν (phageîn) ‘to eat’ and the second declension inflection‎ ‑ος (-os) that attached to verbal roots, formed o-grade action nouns.[1]

Before leaving the words Eng. entomology ~ Sp. entomología, we should say that some people confuse them with the words Eng. etymology ~ Sp. etimología. As, we saw in Part I, the latter pair refer to the study of the origin or words in general or of particular words and the changes they underwent along the way (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). They come from Latin etymologia, which is a loan from Ancient Greek ἐτυμολογία (etumología), which is derived from the noun ἔτυμον (étumon) ‘true meaning’ (root: ἔτυμ‑), a noun derived from the neuter form of the adjective ἔτῠμος (étumos) ‘true, real, sure’.

Another pair of cognates that may also get confused with Eng. entomology ~ Sp. entomología is Eng. etiology (UK aetiology) ~ Sp. etiología. These words mean (1) the ‘assignment of a cause, an origin, or a reason for something’ or ‘the study of causes or origins’, and most commonly, (2) ‘the cause or origin of a disease or disorder as determined by medical diagnosis’ or ‘the branch of medicine that deals with the causes or origins of disease’ (AHD). These words come from Latin aetiologia, a loanword from Ancient Greek αἰτιολογία (aitiología), which is derived from the noun αἰτία (aitía) ‘cause’.

Go to part 3.

[1] The word Eng. sarcophagus ~ Sp. sarcófago is the name of ‘a stone coffin, often inscribed or decorated with sculpture’ (AHD), so called because the lime stone it was made of consumed the flesh of the corpses put in them. This word is not New Latin, but rather it comes from Lat. sarcophagus, which was a loanword from Greek σαρκοϕάγος, which was originally an adjective.

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