Monday, December 31, 2018

The Latin root LAC-, part 1: Latin laqueus and the words derived from it

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 46, "Delicado and delgado: The Latin root -LAC-", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


Latin laqueus and the words derived from it

The Latin root we are going to be exploring in this chapter had several forms, primarily ‑laque‑, ‑lac‑ and ‑lic‑. This morpheme and it has given us many interesting cognates in English and Spanish, such as Eng. delicious ~ Sp. delicioso and Eng. delicate ~ (learned) Sp. delicado ‘delicate’ and (patrimonial) Sp. delgado ‘thin’. The most basic, un-prefixed cognates are, however, Sp. lazo ‘ribbon, bow; snare, trap’ ~ Eng. lasso and lace, which is where we are going to start.

Sp. lazo and Eng. lasso and lace can be traced back to Latin lăquĕus ‘noose, snare’, and its ancestor, the Proto-Italic verbal root *lakw‑ meaning ‘to ensnare’. Actually, the source would be a somewhat changed word in Vulgar Latin which has been reconstructed as *laceum or *lacio from the different reflexes of this word in the Romance languages. In post-classical Latin, the word came to have other related meanings, primarily ‘strap, band, cord (for tying or adorning garment or shoe)’ (OED). Words with this root are not found in any other Indo-European languages, which suggests that this root does not go back to Proto-Indo-European, but its ultimate origin is thus unknown. Descendants of Latin lăquĕus are found in most Romance languages, e.g. Old Occitan latz, Catalan llaç, Portuguese laço, Italian laccio, all of them earliest with the sense ‘noose’ or ‘snare’ when they were first attested in the 12-13th centuries.

The Spanish noun lazo is a direct patrimonial descendant of Lat. lăquĕus, or actually from Vulgar Latin *laceum or *lacio. The main meanings of this word today are ‘ribbon’ (synonymous with cinta) and ‘bow’, that is, a ribbon tied in a decorative knot. However, in the context of hunting, it can still mean ‘snare, trap’, the original meaning of the word, and in the context of animal husbandry, it can mean ‘lasso’. In Mexican Spanish, lazo can also be used with the generic sense of ‘rope’ (cf. Standard Sp. cuerda).

Figure 168: Girl with bow: Glaube ‘believe’, by C. V. Muttich (1873–1924), c. 1914.[i]

The English cognate lasso, pronounced either [ˈlæ.soʊ̯] or, particularly in British English, [lə.ˈsu], is a borrowing from Spanish. A lasso is ‘a long rope with a running noose at one end, used especially to catch horses and cattle’ (DOCE), though this word is associated with the western US. It was borrowed in the 18th or early 19th centuries in the context of cattle raising in the US southwest, a region that was Spanish until the early 1821, when the Mexican War of Independence ended, and Mexican until 1848, when the Mexican-American War ended, which resulted in the annexation of half of Mexico’s territory by the United States.

Another name for this rope used to catch animals in English is lariat [ˈlæɹ.i.ət], a word that curiously also has a Spanish origin and which also came into English in the 19th century. It comes from the Spanish phrase la reata, which includes the feminine definite article la and the noun reata, a mostly dialectal word in Spanish today. The main meaning of Sp. reata is ‘rope, strip or belt that serves to hold some things together’ and, in particular, that used to tie rows of horses pulling on a carriage. This word is still used with the meaning of ‘rope’ in places such as Mexico, though in other American dialects it has adopted derived meanings, such as ‘cartridge belt’ in Colombia. The noun reata is derived from the verb reatar ‘to tie back/again’, derived from the verb atar ‘to tie’, derived from Lat. aptāre ‘to fasten, adapt, accommodate, fit, prepare’, a frequentative version of the verb apĕre ‘fasten; attach, connect; etc.’.[1]

From the noun lasso, English has developed the verb to lasso by conversion, meaning ‘to catch with a lasso’. Some dialects of Spanish also have a verb for this meaning, such as lazar, used in Mexico, and lacear, used in the Southern Cone of South America. Other dialects of Spanish, however, do not have a verb related to the verb lazo. In most dialects, one would probably express this meaning as coger/atrapar con un lazo, lit. ‘to catch with a lasso (rope tied in a bow)’.

Curiously, English is not the only language that has borrowed Sp. lazo with the sense of ‘lariat’. Most curiously, however, some of these loans seem to have come through English, given how common that term was in Western films that were popular all over the world after World War II. Sp. lazo was borrowed directly from Spanish by Italian, as lazo, and by Tagalog, as laso. Loaned through English, we find Czech laso, Finnish lasso, German Lasso, Hungarian lasszó and, again, Italian lasso. It seems Italian borrowed lasso through English, though it had already borrowed lazo from Spanish and although it already had three other words lasso, coming from Lat. lassus ‘weary, tired’, from Latin laxus ‘yielding, loose’, and from Latin lāpsus, perfect participle of lābī ‘to slip, flow’ (see footnote a above).

Spanish has derived another verb from this noun by prefixation, namely enlazar, this one by adding a prefix en‑ (en-laz-ar). This verb means ‘to link, connect, tie together’ and it is quite common. Derived from the verb enlazar is the zero-derived (converted) noun enlace which, not surprisingly, means ‘link’. This noun is extremely common nowadays since it has come to be used to refer to Web links or hyperlinks. Another, less common word for hyperlinks is vínculo.[2]

The opposite of enlazar is desenlazar, which thus means ‘to untie, undo’, a rare synonym of desanudardesatar, and desligar, created by adding the reversal prefix des‑ to the verb enlazar. The intransitive version of this verb is expressed by the reflexive desenlazarse ‘to come untied/undone’. These verbs can also be used figuratively with the sense of ‘unravel, make clear’, as in Desenlazó aquel asunto con su intervención ‘She unraveled that issue with her intervention’ (GDLEL). These words are rather rare and formal, however. In literature and film, desenlazar means ‘to solve the plot of a dramatic, narrative or cinematographic work, reaching its ending’ (DLE). The verb desenlazar itself is not common, but the noun desenlace derived from it is a very common word. It can translate as outcome or result and, in the context of dramatic works, as ending or denouement. This noun is found, for instance, in the collocation desenlace feliz ‘happy ending’.

English has another cognate of Sp. lazo besides lasso, one that is much older and more common, namely lace. English borrowed this word in the early 13th century from Old French laz or las, a patrimonial cognate of Sp. lazo, also meaning ‘string, cord, noose, snare’. Until the 18th century, Eng. lace had a rather broad sense of ‘cord, string’ and ‘band, tie’ used to fasten clothes or footware, but also with the original sense of ‘snare, trap’, as well as the sense ‘cord used to support a hanging object’ (OED).

The meaning of lace somewhat more restricted today, however. It is used with two main senses. One is still the old sense ‘cord or leather strip passed through eyelets or hooks to fasten a shoe or garment’, as in shoelace, equivalent to Sp. cordón, an augmentative of the noun cuerda ‘rope’ (in Mexico, a shoelace is known as agujeta and in Peru as pasador). The other meaning of lace is ‘a fine open fabric of cotton or silk made by looping, twisting, or knitting thread in patterns, used especially as a trimming’, and derived from it, ‘braid used for trimming, especially on military dress uniforms’ (COED). This translates into Spanish as encaje or, when lace is used as a border, as puntilla. When used as a modifier, Spanish turns the noun encaje into a de phrase, as in Sp. pañuelo de encaje ‘lace handkerchief’.

English also has a verb to lace, whose main meaning is ‘fasten or be fastened with a lace or laces’ (COED), as in to lace shoes, Sp. poner cordones or, if already inserted, atar cordones. The verb acordonar, derived from cordon, can also be used with the sense ‘to tie up shoes, etc.’, but this verb has come to mean mostly ‘to cordon off’ in modern Spanish. English has had the verb lace as long as it has had the noun lace and its original source was the Old French verb lacier. The main meaning of this verb still is ‘to fasten or be fastened with a lace or laces’, though another sense, derived from it, is ‘to entwine’ (COED), which translates into Spanish as entrelazar, another verb derived from lazo or lazar, this time by means of the prefix entre‑ ‘between’ (entre‑laz‑ar). Sp. entrelazar also translates into English as to interweave, intertwine, interlace (from lace), or even lock together, interlock, or join, as in entrelazar las manos ‘to join (one’s) hands, hold hands’. Another, derived sense of this verb is quite different, however, namely ‘to add an ingredient, especially alcohol, to (a drink or dish) to enhance its flavor or strength: coffee laced with brandy’ (COED). For this latter sense, Spanish can use a verb such as añadir ‘to add’, echar ‘to dump, pour, etc.’, adulterar ‘lit. to adulterate’, or even aderezar ‘(salad) to dress; (food) to season; (fig.) embellish’, as in Aderezó el relato con detalles obscenos ‘He laced his story with salacious details’ (Harrap’s).

Spanish has a word that looks similar to lazo, namely the adjective lacio/a ‘limp, withered, straight (hair)’, which is not related to Vulgar Latin laciu or its source, Latin laceus, or even to the root laqu‑. This patrimonial adjective is derived from Latin flaccĭdus ‘flaccid, flabby, pendulous; languid, feeble, weak’, which in Old Spanish was llacio, as expected, since initial FL‑ typically became ll‑ in Old Spanish and intervocalic ‑d‑ was often lost. There is a learned cognate of this word in English, namely flaccid [ˈflæk.sɪd], which means pretty much the same thing as the Latin word, namely ‘soft and limp’ (COED). The Spanish word lacio, as you can see, has changed somewhat in meaning and in modern Spanish it is used primarily to refer to a type of hair, namely straight, non-curly hair, as in the phrase pelo lacio ‘straight hair’. Spanish also has a learned reflex of this Latin adjective, namely the learned word flácido, also less commonly fláccido, which has the same meaning as the original (and its English derivate), namely ‘flabby, limp’. This word is uncommon, however, and it is mostly used to refer to the resting state of the male sexual organ.


[1] The first conjugation Latin verb aptāre is a frequentative version of the verb apĕre ‘fasten; attach, connect; etc.’. It is derived from the stem apt‑ of the passive participle aptus of apĕre. It had other meanings besides ‘to fasten’, such as ‘adapt, accommodate, fit’ and ‘prepare’. English and Spanish have borrowed this Latin passive participle as Eng. apt and Sp. apto/a, though French, which borrowed it from Latin first. The two words are false friends, however.

[2] Sp. vínculo is a learned, 14th century loanword from Lat. vincŭlum ‘a means of binding, fastening, band, bond, rope, cord, fetter, tie’, a word with no English cognate. Curiously, this word is a doublet of the noun brinco ‘jump’. Actually, brinco is derived from the verb brincar ‘to skip, jump, bounce’, which is a 16th century loanword from Portuguese, with the same meaning, which derived the verb from the noun brinco ‘jewel, ring’ (and eventually the name for a children’s toy that must have been a ring at first), a patrimonial noun that comes from Lat. vincŭlum. From the meaning of ‘toy’ came the derived verb brincar ‘to play’ and, eventually, ‘to jump around’, which was borrowed into Spanish. The Latin noun vincŭlum is derived from the verb vincīre ‘to bind, to bind or wind about; to fetter, tie, fasten; to surround, encircle, etc.’.

[i] Source: De Kamil Vladislav Muttich - own work, Scan of an old postcard, Dominio público, (2018.12.31)

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