Monday, September 3, 2018

Inspiration and perspiration, Part 14: 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.]

This is Part 14. Go to Part 1

Eng. conspire and Sp. conspirar

Finally, the cognates Eng. conspire and Sp. conspirar are close friends, since they both mean ‘to make secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act’ (COED), as in All six men admitted conspiring to steal cars (DOCE). Synonyms of the first sense of these verbs are to plot and to scheme in English and confabularse and maquinar in Spanish. This is obviously a figurative sense derived from the original literal verb conspīrāre, which was something like ‘to blow or breathe together’, formed with the prefix con‑ ‘with, together’. This Latin verb did have a figurative sense, but it didn’t seem to have the ‘secret’ or ‘illegal’ sense that its descendants have. The figurative sense of Lat. conspīrāre had was ‘to harmonize, agree, accord’. The current connotations of this verb of acting ‘secretly’ or ‘illegally’ seem to have been added to the verb in French, which borrowed it from Latin first, at the end of the 12th century, and then passed it on to English and Spanish.

The sense of Eng. conspire and Sp. conspirar we just mentioned refers to people conspiring secretly for some purpose. There is also a second sense that both words have in which it is not people’s actions but rather circumstances or events that ‘join forces’ or ‘act together’ to produce a result, typically a negative one. This sense can be described as ‘to seem to be acting together, especially with unfortunate results’ (COED), as in Pollution and neglect have conspired to ruin the city (DOCE). Synonyms of this sense of conspire are join, collude, or combine. The preposition used in Spanish for this second sense to indicate the result of the conspiracy is different from the one used for the first sense. For the first sense, the preposition is para, whereas for the second sense it is a, as in La malicia y la ignorancia conspiran a corromper las costumbres ‘Malice and ignorance conspire to pervert customs’ (VOX).

English borrowed the verb conspire [kən.ˈspaɪ̯ɹ] in the 14th century from French, where it was a 12th century loanword from Latin (Mod. Fr. conspirer [kɔ̃s.pi.ˈʀe]). Spanish conspirar [kons.pi.ˈɾaɾ] is attested by the 16th century, also most likely a French loan.

Spanish has a noun with the suffix ‑ción associated with the verb conspirar, namely conspiración, which is attested even earlier than the verb, in the 15th century. This noun was undoubtedly borrowed from French, just like the verb, which itself had borrowed it from Latin in the 13th century. Interestingly, English too borrowed this word, in the early 14th century, as conspiration [ˌkʰɒn.spɪ.ˈɹ̯.ʃən]. This noun, however, has been pretty much fully replaced in Modern English by its synonym conspiracy [kən.ˈspɪɹ.ə.si], which appeared in the language soon after its synonym, in the mid-14th century. It is not clear how the suffix switch from ‑tion to ‑cy took place in this English word. If it had happened in French, the word in that language would have been conspiratie, but that does not seem to have been a word used in that language.

The nouns Eng. conspiracy and Sp. conspiración can refer to both ‘the act of conspiring’, as well as ‘a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful’ (COED). Most dictionaries do not mention the English noun conspiration though, interestingly, those that do, typically (but not always) mention that it is obsolete.

A person who conspires with others is known in Spanish as conspirador/a. A cognate of this word, conspirator [kən.ˈspɪɹ.ə.tər], is also used in English with the same meaning, though its synonym is noun plotter, derived from the verb to plot, is probably more common. Both Eng. conspirator and Sp. conspirador are loanwords from French, which borrowed it first from Lat. conspirator. Another English synonym is the word conspirer [kən.ˈspaɪ̯.ɹəɹ], which is also a loan from Old French conspireur. Perhaps more common than conspirator is the derived word co-conspirator, which translates into Spanish as cómplice, related to  Eng. accomplice. Both of these words derive from Lat. complĭcem, accusative wordform of complex, meaning ‘allied, partner, confederate’. (The ‘prefix’ a­c‑ in Eng. accomplice is spurious and not in the original French sourceword, which was complice, so it must have been added in English  perhaps by a mistaken association with the verb accomplish.

English has also derived an adjective from the noun conspirator, namely conspiratorial [kən.ˌspɪɹ.ə.ˈtʰɔɹ.i.əl]. It translates into Spanish also as conspirador/a, an adjective that is identical  to the noun we just saw, or more commonly, as the phrase de complicidad ‘lit. of complicity’, e.g. Eng. a conspiratorial attitude = Sp. una actitud de complicidad. The noun complicidad is, of course, derived from the adjective/noun cómplice we just saw.


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