Saturday, September 1, 2018

Inspiration and perspiration, Part 12: Some Latin verbs that had nouns with the suffix -ĭōn-

[This entry comes from Chapter 10, "Inspiration and Perspiration", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Eng. expire ~ Sp. expirar

English expire and Spanish expirar, are also not as good friends as one might have thought. These words come from Lat. exspīrāre, a verb derived from spīrāre by the addition of the prefix ex‑ ‘out’.  Literally it meant ‘to breathe out’, but it also came to mean figuratively ‘to die’ (as in to give one’s last breath).

In Spanish, expirar is primarily a fancy and literary synonym of the verb morir ‘to die’, one that is used exclusively with living beings, typically humans. Although English expire can also have that meaning in literature, the most common meaning of this verb has a more figurative meaning yet, since it is primarily used to say that a thing, not a living being, such as a ticket or a can of soup, cannot or shouldn’t be used because it is no longer valid, is past its expiration date. That metaphorical or figurative sense of Eng. expire is not unheard of with the verb expirar in Spanish, though it is secondary and quite rare. We do find it sometimes in writing, however, to refer to official deadlines in phrases such as El plazo expira hoy ‘The deadline is today’ (lit. ‘The period to do something ends today’), typically with the word plazo ‘period, etc.’ or mes ‘month’. In Spanish America, it is not uncommon to find the word expirar used formally in writing with some of the same uses as Eng. expire, as in the sentence El mandato de Cristina Fernandez expira en 2015, found in a Spanish-language newspaper. (Note that the word mandato as used here is also probably a calque of Eng. mandate’s meaning ‘a command or an authorization given by a political electorate to its representative’, AHD).

Main meaning
Minor meaning
a thing’s usefulness ends
a person dies
a person dies
a thing’s usefulness ends

The figurative sense of English expire (‘come to an end’) is better expressed in Spanish by either vencer, if we’re talking about a contract, for instance, or, more commonly, caducar, though neither of these verbs can be used with deadlines or things like the end of a mandate. For those meanings a simple terminar ‘to end’ is probably preferable, or even the calqued expirar.

The verb caducar is used for products or documents that have an expiration date (Sp. fecha de caducidad ‘expiration date’). Thus, we say things like Esta lata de conserva caduca hoy ‘This tin can expires today’, Mi pasaporte caduca en 2020 My passport expires in 2020’ or Mi licencia de manejo caducó el mes pasado ‘My driver’s license expired last month’. The derived adjective caducado/a ‘out of date, no longer valid’ is also used to talk about expiration dates that have already passed, e.g. Esta lata de sopa está caducada ‘This can of soup is expired’, or Mi pasaporte está caducado ‘My passport is expired’.

The Spanish verb caducar was derived, in Spanish, from the adjective caduco/a that means ‘deciduous’ when speaking of leaves (cf. de hoja caduca ‘deciduous’, cf. also technical Eng. caducous leaves) or ‘outdated’ or ‘decrepit’ in other contexts. This adjective, first attested in the early 15th century, is a loanword from the Latin adjective cădūcus (fem. cădūca, neut. cădūcum), meaning ‘that falls or has fallen, inclined to fall, etc.’. The verb caducar is already present in the late 15th century in the famous tragic comedy La celestina. The Latin adjective cădūcus is derived from the verb cadĕre ‘to fall’, source of patrimonial Sp. caer ‘to fall’, though the derivation is not a regular one.

The French cognate of Sp. caduco/a is masc. caduc fem. caduque, both pronounced [ka.ˈdyk], which is already attested in the mid-14th century and, hence, is probably where Spanish got these words from. On the other hand, there is no French verb *caduquer, which would seem to indicate that it is a Spanish innovation. English has borrowed the Latin adjective cădūcus as caducous, a technical term used primarily in botany and biology, which means ‘(of an organ or part) easily detached and shed at an early stage’ (COED).

The intransitive verb vencer is also used with this meaning in some contexts, primarily when referring to official deadlines and it is used with the noun plazo ‘period’, as in Mañana vence el plazo para solicitor las becas ‘Tomorrow is the deadline for asking for scholarships’. The primary meaning of the verb vencer is ‘to beat; to defeat, conquer, vanquish’. This verb is used transitively, with a required direct object, though unlike its synonym derrotar ‘defeat’, it can be used with an ‘understood’ object, e.g. Ayer venció el Barcelona ‘Yesterday, Barcelona won’ (with an explicit direct object: Ayer venció el Barcelona al Real Madrid ‘Yesterday, Barcelona beat Real Madrid).

Finally, related to the cognate verbs Eng. expire and Sp. expirar, are the nouns Eng. expiration and Sp. expiración. Eng. expiration means first of all ‘the act of coming to a close; termination’ (AHD), as in the expiration of a contract. Sp. expiración does not typically have this meaning, though as in the case of expirar, it may have started to be used that way under the influence of English. Sp. expiración refers to ‘the action and effect of expiring’ (DLE) or, more concretely, ‘end of life or a period of time’, in the latter case typically used with the noun plazo, as in La expiración del plazo cumple dentro de tres días ‘The period to act ends in three days’ (Clave). Eng. expiration can also be a technical medical term that means ‘the act of breathing out; exhalation’ (AHD). This use of the word corresponds not to Sp. expiración but, rather, Sp. espiración, an uncommon word, just like the associated verb espirar (see above). As we saw earlier, Sp. espirar means ‘to breathe out, exhale’ and experts say it is derived from Lat. spīrāre, with the expected addition of the initial prothetic e‑. The meaning, however, would seem to indicate that the verb espirar could have come from Lat. expīrāre ‘to breathe out’, not spīrāre ‘to breathe’. The sound adaptation, namely the loss of the [k] sound of expīrāre, is also something to be expected in Spanish a word coming from Latin.

Finally, just like the verbs Eng. expire and Sp. expirar can mean ‘to die’, also the derived nouns Eng. expiration and Sp. expiración can mean ‘death’, as in one’s last breath. Not all dictionaries give this as a meaning for Eng. expiration, though one that does say that the meaning is archaic (AHD). In Spanish, this sense of expiración is not archaic, though it does sound quite formal and literary.

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