Friday, April 12, 2019

Greek letters in the names of fraternities and honor societies

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 52, "The names of fraternities and honor societies", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

The most basic and general meaning of the word fraternity is ‘a group of people sharing a common profession or interests’ (COED), sort of like a social club. Modern fraternities developed from the medieval artisan guilds. However, in the United States, the word fraternity is used nowadays primarily to refer to ‘a male students’ society in a university or college’ (COED), in particular one that has a fraternity house (or frat house) where its members reside, a sort of glorified residence hall. Such societies have existed in the US since the 1770s. The word fraternity comes from Old French fraternite (Modern French fraternité), equivalent to the native English word brotherhood. It comes from Latin fraternitas ‘brotherhood’, a noun derived from the adjective fraternus ‘fraternal’, itself derived from the noun frater ‘brother’.

The female equivalent of a fraternity in US colleges and universities is a sorority, a name derived in recent times from the Latin word for sister, soror. The term sorority means ‘a society for female students in a university or college’ (COED) and it is only used in North America, since, as in the case of fraternities, this institution does not exist in other countries, even in the English-speaking world.
Figure 229: The Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter house at the University of Illinois [i]

Not all universities in the US have fraternities or sororities, however. And although fraternities and sororities are often associated with Ivy Leage schools, it is not the case that only they have them. Public colleges and universities typically do not have fraternities. For example, Salem State University does not have fraternity houses, though it does have some student organizations that are considered ‘fraternities’ in some sense, at least on its University website, though they are more like clubs. Two of these are ‘men’s organizations’, namely Alpha Sigma Phi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and two are ‘women’s organizations’, Phi Sigma Sigma and Theta Phi Alpha.[ii]

University fraternities in the US are known for using Greek letters in the names, which is why their members are sometimes known as Greeks. A fraternity may have chapters in different universities. The ten largest fraternities in the US are the following, with the number of members and number of chapters: Sigma Alpha Epsilon, 304,000 and 246; Sigma Chi, 300,000 and 246; Sigma Phi Epsilon, 289,000 and 234; Lambda Chi Alpha, 280,000 and 218; Tau Kappa Epsilon, 265,000 and 290; Pi Kappa Alpha, 240,000 and 220; Sigma Nu, 225,000 and 184; Beta Theta Pi, 183,769 and 138; Alpha Tau Omega, 181,000 and 141; and Alpha Phi Alpha, 70,000, 796.[iii]

Modern university fraternities started as (academic) honor societies and their Greek-letter names have that origin as well. An honor society is ‘a society for the recognition of scholarly achievement especially of undergraduates’ (MWC).[iv] One such honor society is Phi Sigma Iota, the International Foreign Language Honor Society which includes “modern foreign languages, but also Classics, Linguistics, Philology, Comparative Literature, Bilingual Education, Second Language Acquisition and other interdisciplinary programs with a significant foreign language component”.[v] Phi, Sigma and Iota are the Latinized names of the Greek letters Φ (Phi), Σ (Sigma), and Ι (Iota), as we will see in some detail below.

Two other well-known honor societies are Beta Beta Beta, for biology, known for its initials ΒΒΒ, and Beta Kappa Chi, for natural sciences and mathematics, known for the initials ΒΚΧ. (Note that the upper-case versions of these letters in these two names are identical to the Latin alphabet letters. This is not surprising, since the Latin alphabet is derived from a version of the Ancient Greek alphabet. The lower-case version of Greek Β is β, and of Κ is κ, and of Χ is χ.) In the field of language, in addition to Phi Sigma Iota, there is also an honor society for Literature of all Languages called Lambda Iota Tau (ΛΙΤ). A few honor societies only contain only two Greek letters in their names, such as Psi Chi (ΨΧ) for psychology or Kappa Pi (ΚΠ) for art. In all, there are 68 honor societies associated in the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS).[vi]

To understand the use of Greek letter names in the names of these honor societies and fraternities we need to understand first of all the importance of classical languages in education prior to the 19th century. Until the early 1800s, higher education in the West involved primarily the study of Classical Latin and Ancient Greek. Students were required to have studied Latin for many years before they could even apply to enter a college or university to get an undergraduate education where Latin figured prominently. In college, Ancient Greek was considered to be even more prestigious than Latin, since even the Romans, the original speakers of Latin, considered Greek culture and language to be the pinnacle of civilization and borrowed copiously from the Greeks. But whereas Latin was a major subject in high school for the few planning to go to college in those days, one had to go to a university in order to learn Greek. These two classical languages and the study of “the classics”, that is to say, “the works of ancient Greek and Latin writers and philosophers” (COED), was central to higher education before the development of the modern sciences.

By the way, Ancient (Biblical) Hebrew was another language that was often added to this language mix at the university, typically only after one already knew Latin and Greek well. The reason for the importance of Hebrew is that this was the language of the Christians’ Old Testament, what for the Jews is the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and religion was immensely important in those days before the expansion of modern sciences to universities.[vii]

Many of the older Ivy League universities have words in their crests or logos in one of those classical languages. Thus, for instance, the “crest or arms” for Harvard University, which was founded in 1636, contains a shield, three books, and the word the single Latin word veritas, which means ‘truth’. There have been two other mottos for Harvard University in the past, both in Latin: In Christi Gloriam ‘For the glory of Christ’ and Christo et Ecclesiae ‘For Christ in the Church’, but Veritas seems to have been the earliest one and it is also the current one.

The official motto of Yale University, founded in 1702, which appears in the university logo, is actually in Hebrew, namely אורים ותמים which is transliterated into the Latin alphabet as Ūrīm wə-Tummīm. It is a phrase from the Hebrew Bible, found in the breastplate worn by the High Priest. It has been translated as Lights and Perfections or Light and Truth. The official crest of Yale University also has a Latin version of this logo, Lux et Veritas ‘light and truth’, added for good measure, as you can see below.

As we mentioned earlier, honor societies—and thus fraternities—came to be characterized by names containing Greek letters, typically three of them. The first honor society to use Greek letters in its name was the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an academic honor society founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary. Instead of choosing a Latin motto, like most other such academic organizations did at the time, they chose the Ancient Greek motto Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης, which is transliterated into Latin script as Philosophía Bíou Kybernḗtēs. This phrase translates into English as Philosophy is the Guide of Life. This three-word phrase was abbreviated by using the first letters of the words in this phrase, ΦBK, transliterated into Latin as Phi Beta Kappa, and eventually that became the name of the honor society.

Other organizations started imitating Phi Beta Kappa’s naming format, resulting in numerous other honor societies with Greek letters in their names. At first, these societies were elite academic organizations or societies at colleges and universities, and their three letter names stood for actual mottos, as in the case of Phi Beta Kappa. Such societies came to be called fraternities after the Latinate word fraternity, as we saw earlier. The first all-female societies were known as female fraternities, though later they came to be known as sororities. Fraternities and sororities are also known as Greek letter organizations (GLOs).

As we just said, originally fraternities were more like social clubs, literary societies, and honor societies, from which they had developed. Eventually, some of these societies came to have buildings or residential houses where their members resided while attending college. That was the origin of fraternities as we know them today. The first one such fraternity house is believed to have been the chapter of Alpha Delta Phi at Cornell University, in the late 1800s.

As we saw, it wasn’t until the mid-to-late 19th century, when the study of Ancient Greek and Latin ceased to be a major part of higher education, that the use of Greek letters in the names of these Ivy League schools’ social organizations or fraternities really took off. Eventually, the Greek-letter names of the new societies did not really stand for anything or represent a motto like they did in the case of Phi Beta Kappa, though in some cases words were derived from the letters in the names after the fact. Note that not all honor societies and fraternities are named this way, though most of them are. Some societies that started with other names, such as Adelphean Society, founded in 1851 at Wesleyan, a women’s college in central Georgia, was later renamed Alpha Delta Phi.

Let us go back now to the name Phi Sigma Iota, the main honor society in the US for students of foreign languages. This society was created in 1922 and currently has 161 chapters and over 40 thousand members, some of them at Salem State University. It is not clear that those Greek letters stood for anything in the beginning, but eventually they came to stand for the words φῐλότης (philótēs), meaning ‘friendship, love, affection’, σπουδή (spoudḗ), meaning ‘zeal; haste; earnestness’ (and in Modern Greek, ‘education’), and ῐ̓δῐ́ωμᾰ (idíōma) meaning ‘peculiarity, specific property, unique feature’ in Ancient Greek.

Speakers of Spanish will recognize this last word as being the word for ‘(foreign) language’ in this language and in other languages, such as English, this word has come to have meanings related to language as well. In later versions of Greek, ιδίωμα (idíoma) came to mean ‘dialect (language variety)’and ‘idiom, peculiar phrase’, in addition to ‘peculiarity, habit’. This Greek word was borrowed into Latin as ĭdĭōma with the first two of these meanings, namely ‘a peculiarity in language, an individual’s peculiar form of speaking’ and also ‘phrase with a peculiar meaning or idiom’. The English word idiom, borrowed from Latin through French, still has those two meanings, though the second one is more common.

In Spanish, the word was borrowed from Latin some 500 years ago as idioma, with the same meanings, but eventually it came to be used for ‘the language of a nation’, synonymous with lengua ‘language’, which also means ‘tongue’. However, the Spanish word idioma is typically only in the context of foreign languages. So children in Spanish-speaking countries take classes of lengua española ‘Spanish language’ but of idiomas extranjeros ‘foreign languages’.

Let us look at the three letters of the name Phi Sigma Iota. In Archaic and Classical Greek, the letter Phi (ϕε in Greek), written uppercase Φ and lowercase φ or ϕ, was pronounced like an aspirated P, much like the English P in the word pan. This letter came to be pronounced as our F in the later part of Classical Antiquity, in Koiné Greek, the Greek used in the eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of our era as a lingua franca when the Romans took over this region. The Romans did not have the aspirated P sound. The Latin letter P represented the sound of an unaspirated P, like the Greek π (pi), and like the P in the Spanish word pan, the Italian word pane, or the French word pain, all of them meaning 'bread'.

The Romans borrowed many words from Greek that had this letter, and rather than borrow the letter itself, as they did with other Greek letters that did not exist in Latin, they transliterated it into their alphabet as PH. English has borrowed many of these Greek words from Latin too. Actually, any English word that has PH in it, from photography to physics, ultimately comes from Greek (usually through Latin). In English, we pronounce PH in such words like an F, of course, the way Phi came to be pronounced in Koiné Greek. Spanish also borrowed many of the same words, but in the 19th century it was decided to change the PH spelling of these words to F, for the sake of consistency. Hence photography in Spanish is fotografía, and physics is física. The letter is known in English as Phi, pronounced like fye, though in the name of the honor society, the more common pronunciation is like fee.

The Greek letter Sigma (σίγμα) had the upper-case form Σ and two possible lower-case forms, σ and ς (the latter is used only in word-final position and the former, elsewhere). In Hellenistic times, a stylized version of these letters was used, which look like the Latin letter C: upper-case C and lower-case c. This is the source of the letter for the s sound in the Cyrillic alphabet used in Slavic countries such as Russia and Bulgaria which was derived from the Greek alphabet. Greek Σ was equivalent in sound to the Latin letter S.

Finally, the Greek letter Iota (ιώτα) was (upper-case) Ι or (lower-case) ι, was fully equivalent to the Latin letter I. Note, however, that the lower-case Greek ι did not have a dot, and neither did the Latin I. The dot would not become part of the letter I in languages with the Latin alphabet either until much later in the 11th century as a way to distinguish the I’s stroke from other letters’ strokes in cursive. A variant of this letter would much later become a separate letter, namely J. The name of this letter in Spanish is jota, which comes from the Greek name Iota.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Patrimony-matrimony, part 5: the roots patr- and matr- (2): padrino and madrina

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 19, " Patrimony and matrimony", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Sp. padrino and madrina

The Spanish words padrino and madrina, which translate as godfather and godmother, have no cognates in English either. They do not derive from Classical Latin words but rather were created in western Vulgar Latin out of the words māter (accusative mātr‑em) and păter (accusative: pătr‑em) and the adjective-forming suffix ‑īn‑ that added the sense of ‘of or pertaining to’, indicating some kind of relationship, such as origin, but also others (variants of this suffix were ‑ān‑, ‑ēn‑, ‑iān‑, and ‑ūn‑). This together with the masculine ‑us and feminine ‑a inflections resulted in the words *pătrīnus and mātrīna (the latter attested in the 6th century), which meant ‘godfather’ and ‘godmother’ respectively, just like their descendants do today. (Corominas mentions that there is an attested patrinius in early Spanish glosses with the meaning ‘stepfather’.) Cognates of Sp. padrino in other Romance languages include French parrain, Italian padrino, Portuguese padrinho, Catalan padrí, and Occitan pairin. Cognates of Sp. madrina in other Romance languages include Italian madrina, Occitan mairina, Portuguese madrinha. Curiously, the Catalan word for ‘godmother’ is padrina, not madrina, an innovation only found in this Romance language.

The primary meaning of Sp. padrino is ‘godfather’, that is, ‘a man who sponsors a person at baptism’ (AHD), a concept found in the Catholic and other Christian traditions that comes from late Roman times. In Spanish, the word has expanded its meanings and can now also mean any man who ‘sponsors’, ‘introduces’, or assists another person in any of the other Catholic sacraments, such as confirmation, matrimony, or priestly ordination, though those uses are much less common and some, such as confirmation, is outdated. Thus, for example, it is the word used for (typically) the bride’s father giving his daughter away at a wedding. The term godfather in the religious sense in English is typically restricted to baptism, not to the other sacraments.

Wikipedia explains the role of godparent, which includes a godfather and a godmother, in the following way:
in many denominations of Christianity, is someone who bears witness to a child’s baptism and then aids in their catechesis, as well as their lifelong spiritual formation. In the past, in some countries, the role carried some legal obligations as well as religious responsibilities. In both religious and civil views, a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child’s upbringing and personal development, to offer mentorship or claim legal guardianship of the child should anything happen to the parents.[i]
Among the Christian denominations that still follow the tradition of having godparents are the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (Church of England), the Lutheran churches, the Methodist Church, and the Orthodox Church(es).

Interestingly, until the 5th century the godparents in baptism were the child’s parents, but by the 6th century they had been replaced by other individuals. The godparents were the ‘spiritual parents’ of the child and by the end of the 6th century we find that they were being referred to as co-parents, giving rise to the Latin terms compater ‘co-father’ and commater ‘co-mother’ that we will see in the next section. The sacrament of confirmation arose in the western Christian (Catholic) Church in the 8th century and a different set of godparents were to be chosen for that purpose, a tradition that is not as common today.

One Christian sacrament besides baptism in which the figures of the padrino and the madrina have not disappeared is the wedding (Sp. boda), where people are joined in ‘holy matrimony’ (Sp. santo matrimonio), which is another one of the Catholic sacraments. A padrino and a madrina are traditionally chosen in Catholic weddings and often the padrino is the father of the bride and the madrina the mother of the groom, though the roles can be filled by other relatives or close friends. These roles are somewhat analogous to the roles of best man and maid of honor in modern Anglo cultures, though in the latter, the roles are typically played by the groom and bride’s best friends of the same gender. The role of padrino at a wedding is also somewhat analogous to the role of father of the bride, who ‘gives away’ the bride. In some countries in the Spanish-speaking world that have weddings that are modelled more on the Anglo style, the term padrino is used for all the groomsmen or ushers and the term madrina is used for all of the bridesmaids, though another term for them is testigos ‘witnesses’.

Derived from the sacramental sense, a second sense of padrino is that of ‘man who introduces and accompanies another one who is receiving some honor or degree’ or who enters in ‘literary competitions, tournaments, duels, and other challenges’ (DLE). Although Spanish-English dictionaries typically give godfather as the single possible translation of Sp. padrino, the best translation for this sense of Sp. padrino is sponsor, not godfather.

Eng. godfather does have other senses besides the baptismal one. A second sense of Eng. godfather is, according to one dictionary, ‘one having a relation to someone or something analogous to that of a male sponsor to his godchild: such as a : one that founds, supports, or inspires’, as in the phrase the godfather of a whole generation of rebels (MWC), that is, ‘a man who is influential or pioneering in a movement or organization’ (COED). Sp. padrino is not used with this sense.

A third sense of Eng. godfather is ‘a head of an illegal organization, especially a leader of the American Mafia’ (COED). This sense was started as slang in the US and many connect it to the use of this word in the title of the 1972 Hollywood blockbuster film The Godfather, based on a 1968 novel by Mario Puzo. Mafia bosses (Sp. capo), such as the one in the New York crime family depicted in the film, Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), were often asked to be the godfather of children by their parents in the hopes that that way they would be the beneficiaries of their largesse. Although the title of this film was translated into Spanish as El padrino, the word padrino is not used with this sense in Spanish and neither can its Italian cognate padrino.

As we saw, the woman’s analog of padrino is madrina ‘godmother’. In baptisms, and sometimes in other Christian sacraments, such as at Christian weddings, there is a madrina along a padrino, as we saw above. The term madrina is also used for a woman who accompanies another person who receives a degree or some other honor, much as in the case of a padrino. The term madrina is also used for a woman who helps or protects another person in their aims or designs. Hence the common figure found in fairy tales, el hada madrina ‘fairy godmother’. Another related role of the madrina, this one specific to godmothers and not godfathers, is that of being the one who launches a boat or ship, typically by smashing a bottle of champagne against its haul. (The verb for to launch a boat is botar un barco in Spanish.) Those are the main senses of the Spanish noun madrina.

The act of becoming someone’s padrino is called in Spanish apadrinar ‘to be a godfather for (someone)’, as in Apadriné a mi nieta en su bautizo ‘I was my niece’s godfather in her baptism’, or also ‘to sponsor (someone)’, as in El veterano director apadrinó al joven realizador en sus primeras películas ‘The veteran director sponsored the young producer in his early films’ (Vox). This verb is formed from the root with the prefix a‑ and the verbal suffix ‑ar (see the discussion on parasynthetic verbs in Part I, Section English too turned the noun godfather into a verb, to godfather, since at least the late 18th century, with the meaning ‘to act as godfather to’, but it is not a common word. Note, for instance, that we wouldn’t use this verb to translate Sp. apadrinar in the next to the last sentence.

And just like the noun padrino was turned into the verb apadrinar, so the noun madrina was turned into the verb amadrinar. In the context of baptism, this verbs means ‘to be the godmother to’, as in Amadrinó a su nieta ‘She was her granddaughter’s godmother’. In the context of a wedding, amadrinar refers to filling the role of madrina at a wedding as explained above, whose main function is to assist the bridegroom and accompany him to the church. Finally, amadrinar is used in the context of the launching of boats and is thus equivalent to Eng. launch or christen.[1]

The English terms godfather, godmother, and godparents go back to Old English and were created by prefixing god‑ to the words father, mother, and so on. That is because godparents were supposed to be involved in teaching Christian values (and doctrine) to their godchildren. Analogous forms with the same prefix are used in other Germanic languages, such as Dutch, Old Icelandic, and Swedish.[2] In some of the Germanic languages, however, these analogous (cognate) terms have become archaic or obsolete today.

Along with the terms we just saw formed with the prefix god‑, English also had the terms godson, goddaughter, and godchild. The Spanish equivalents of these terms are ahijado and ahijada. These nouns are look identical to the past participles of the verb ahijar derived from the root hij‑ of the words hijo ‘son’ and hija ‘daughter’. Sp. ahijar is first attested in the 11th century but it is archaic if not obsolete today, though it is still found in dictionaries and its meaning is ‘to adopt’ (cf. Modern Sp. adoptar). Sp. ahijar also has additional related dictionary meanings that are even less common today than the main one, such as ‘to procreate, have children’. This verb can be described as containing the root hij‑ (of hijo and hija), the same prefix a‑ that we saw in the verb apadrinar, and first conjugation verbal inflections.

Actually, the word ahijado/a descends from an adjective created in Late Latin, affiliātus/a ‘adopted as son/daughter’ derived from the verb affīlĭāre ‘to adopt (as son/daughter)’, which was derived from the root fīlĭ‑ of fīlĭus/a ‘son/daughter’ and the prefix ad‑ ‘to’. This verb was borrowed into Spanish in the 19th century from Latin (a cultismo) as afiliar, meaning ‘to make somebody a member of an organization’, which is most commonly conjugated reflexively, as afiliarse ‘to join or become a member of an organization’, as in becoming a card-carrying member of an organization, as in for example Yo nunca me afilié al Partido Comunista ‘I never (officially) joined the Communist Party’. The verb no doubt came through French, which borrowed it first, in the early 18th century, from Medieval Latin, cf. Fr. affilier, with the same meaning it has in Spanish. (Actually, French adopted this verb with the meaning ‘to adopt’ in the 15th century, but then reborrowed it again in the 18th century with the sense ‘to join an organization’.)

Along with this verb,  Spanish got the past participle afiliado/a of this verb, which can be used as an adjective, as in No estoy afiliado ‘I am not a member’, but also as a noun with the meaning ‘member (of a club or association)’, as in los afiliados al club ‘the (official) club members’. This word is a cognate—and false-friend—of the English noun affiliate [ə.ˈfɪ.lɪə̯t], which is a mid-18th century loan from Latin affiliātus. It means ‘a person, organization, or establishment associated with another as a subordinate, subsidiary, or member’ (AHD), as in the phrase a network affiliate, and its Spanish equivalent is the feminine noun filial, cf. Sp. una filial televisiva, director de filial ‘branch head’.[3]

English also borrowed the Latin verb affīlĭāre in the 18th century, though French no doubt. As usual, English borrowed this Latin verb by copying its passive participle verb form affiliātus and converting it into affiliate, spelled like the noun we just saw but pronounced slightly differently: [ə.ˈfɪ.li.eɪ̯t]. One dictionary says that this verb means ‘to officially attach or connect to an organization’ (COED), just like its French and Spanish cognates, though other dictionaries are perhaps more correct when they say that the attachment may be unofficial, as in the definition ‘to join or become connected with a larger group or organization’, as in She affiliated herself with the Impressionist school of painting (DOCE), which doesn’t mean that she was an official or card-carrying member of an organization. This means that these two cognates are not equivalent in use, although their dictionary meanings seem very similar. Besides afiliarse, other verbs that translate Eng. affiliate when the affiliation is not a formal one but more of a informal connection are adherirse, asociarse, and unirse (all followed by the preposition a).

Both of these verbs have participles that can be used as adjectives, namely Eng. afiliated and Sp. afiliado/a, as in Eng. to be affiliated to something ~ Sp. estar afiliado/a a algo. Note that the Spanish word is identical to the noun we saw above that was cognate with the English noun affiliate. These adjectives are are ‘close friends’ semantically but, again, they are not used the same way. When affiliated is used in the ‘being connected to/with’ sense, rather than the ‘formally attached as a member’ sense, Eng. affiliated translates most commonly into Spanish as asociado/a, not afiliado/a, which has more the sense of being a formal member of an organization, such as a card-carrying member.


[1] The verb christen [ˈkʰɹɪsən] today can be used with the meaning ‘to give something or someone a name’, as in His fans christened him the king of rock (DOCE) which in the case of ships at least involves a ceremonial dedication. This verb’s original meaning, which is still current, is ‘to officially give a child its name at a Christian religious ceremony’, as in She was christened Sarah (DOCE). After all, this verb comes from Old English cristnian ‘to baptize’ or, literally ‘to make Christian’, derived from Old English cristen ‘Christian’. In some dialects of English at least, the verb christen can be used informally with the meaning ‘to use something for the first time’, equivalent to inaugurar in Spanish, as in We haven’t christened the new garden chairs yet (DOCE).

[2] Old English also had a word godsibb, later godsib, derived from the Old English sibb, which could be an adjective meaning ‘Related by blood or descent; akin’ and a noun meaning ‘a kinsman or kinswoman’ (OED). The compound godsibb meant ‘godparent’. This word evolved into the modern word gossip. The story of the meaning change is quite interesting. First, by the 14th century, the noun came to be used to refer to ‘a familiar acquaintance, friend, chum. Formerly applied to both sexes… [and later only] to women’ (OED). Then by the 16th century the word was being used for ‘a person, mostly a woman, of light and trifling character, esp. one who delights in idle talk; a newsmonger, a tattler’ (OED). By the early 19th century the meaning had evolved to ‘the conversation of such a person; idle talk; trifling or groundless rumour; tittle-tattle’ (OED).

[3] A snonym of this noun filial is sucursal in some contexts. The word filial can also be used as an adjective in Spanish, in which case it means ‘of the son, filial’, as in amor filial ‘filial love’, ‘a child’s love’ or else, in the world of commerce, ‘subsidiary’, as in una empresa filial ‘a subsidiary company’.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Patrimony-matrimony, part 4: the roots patr- and matr- (1): padrastro and madrastra

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 19, "Patrimony and matrimony", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Other Spanish words from the roots patr- and matr- and related words

There are several other words derived from Latin roots patr‑ and matr‑ in Spanish and a few in English as well. In this section we are going to look at the main ones. Some of these words are patrimonial in Spanish, in which case the root is padr‑ and madr‑, not patr‑ and matr‑, that is, they have a ‑d‑ instead of a ‑t‑. That is because in patrimonial Spanish words, a Latin t between two vowels or between a vowel and a liquid consonant (l or r) always changed to d (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.3). In loanwords from Latin, on the other hand, what we call learned words or cultismos in Spanish, such a t didn’t change, since it bypassed the period in which such changes occurred in patrimonial words and such words came to be pronounced with a spelling pronunciation. That is why we said that the Spanish words patrimonio and patrimonial and matrimonio and matrimonial are obviously learned words, whereas padre and madre are patrimonial words.

Sp. padrastro and madrastra

The words padrastro and madrastra mean ‘stepfather’ and ‘stepmother’ respectively. The fact that they have a ‑d‑ in the root instead of a ‑t‑ indicate that they are probably patrimonial words. Either that or the words were derived in Spanish from the pre-existing words padre ‘father’ and madre ‘mother’, which we know is not the case. Let us look at the too words in turn.

Sp. padrastro comes from Lat. pătrastrum, accusative case wordform of Lat. pătraster. As we can see the ‑t‑ changed to ‑d‑ and the ‑ŭm inflection change to ‑o, just as expected by loss of the final ‑m and lowering of the vowel (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). This Latin word was derived from the root pătr‑ and the suffix ‑astr‑, which meant something like ‘incomplete resemblance’ and thus often added a pejorative meaning to words derived by means of this suffix (‘expressing contempt or disapproval’, COED) (cf. pătr‑astr‑um).

Interestingly, in Classical Latin, the word pătraster didn’t mean ‘stepfather’ but rather, ‘father-in-law’ and the word for ‘stepfather’ was vītrĭcus. However, in Vulgar Latin pătraster came to be used for ‘stepfather’. Historically, the word padrastro often underwent a dissimilation of the two r’s in many Spanish dialects, like the word orquesta did for example (cf. Lat. orchestra), resulting in padrasto, but that variant form never fully replaced padrastro, which is now the only accepted form in the standard language, though padrasto is still heard in some dialects of Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.4.5). Note that until very recent times, stepfathers were not common since divorces were quite rare and, thus, the word padrastro (and stepfather in English) pretty much only applied in cases in which a man married a widow with children.

The Latin suffix ‑aster (‑astr‑ in regular wordforms) was not a common one in Latin. It seems it was borrowed from Ancient Greek where it was found in nouns derived from verbs ending in ‑άζειν (‑ázein) in the infinitive and later came to be used as a diminutive/pejorative suffix forming nouns and adjectives (see Part II, Chapter 6). This suffix is unrelated to the poetic Latin words astēr ‘star’ or astrum ‘star, constellation’, which are loanwords from Ancient Greek ἀστήρ (astḗr) ‘star’ and ἄστρον (ástron) ‘star, heavenly body (including the planets)’.[1]

The suffix ‑aster is also found in another Classical Latin word for family-relations, namely fīlĭaster ‘stepson’, derived from fīlĭus ‘son’ (source of Sp. hijo) by means of this suffix. Lat. fīlĭaster a synonym of prīvignus, another word for ‘stepson’. There was no word for ‘stepdaughter’ formed with this suffix, perhaps because the word for ‘daughter’ was  was fīlĭa, only differing from the word for ‘son’ in the inflection, and thus the resulting word would have also been fīlĭaster. The word for ‘stepdaughter’ was prīvigna, analogous to the other word that meant ‘stepson’, namely prīvignus. The word for ‘stepson’ in Spanish is hijastro ‘stepson’, which may descend directly from fīlĭaster, though it is not attested in early writings and thus may have been formed in Spanish by analogy with words like padrastro. Spanish has also developed a feminine form of this word, namely hijastra ‘stepdaughter’ by changing the masculine ‑o inflection to the feminine ‑a one.

This suffix is also found in the Spanish word madrastra ‘stepmother’, which is attested as early as the 13th century and which has cognates in all Iberian and Gallic Romance languages (cf. Portuguese madrasta, Occitan mairastra, Old French marastre, and Modern French marâtre). However, this word is not attested in Classical Latin and *matraster is thought to have developed in Vulgar Latin. To complete the set of words for step-relatives, Spanish has the words hermanastro and hermanastra for ‘stepbrother’ and ‘stepsister’, which are also used for ‘half-brother’ and ‘half-sister’, respectively (also medio hermano and medio hermana). These words too do not descend from Latin words, but were rather developed in Old Spanish from the words hermano ‘brother’ and hermana ‘sister’, by analog with words such as padrastro, which is a patrimonial word.

Actually, the words hermanastro and hermanastra could not descend from Latin because the words hermano and hermana do not descend from the Latin words for ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, which were frater and soror. These words descend from the Latin adjective germānus and germāna, masculine and feminine adjectives meaning ‘full, and they are shorternings of the phrases frater germānus ‘full brother’ and soror germāna ‘full sister’, phrases that came to be used to differentiate full brothers and sisters from half-brothers and half-sisters and stepbrothers and stepsisters (cf. Part II, Chapter 7, §7.4 and §7.7).

Going back to madrastra, we should mention that much like the word stepmother in English, this word has rather negative connotations associated with it, since it has been associated with mistreatment of and cruelty to children since the Middle Ages, as popular fairy tales show. Stepfathers too have gotten a bad rap as being more prone to child-abuse than biological fathers. Recent studies have confirmed this is true to some extent. For example, one study claimed that stepfathers were much more likely to beat their children to death than biological fathers were. Some have even claimed that having stepparents is the strongest risk factor for child abuse. This higher risk for stepchildren is known as the Cinderella effect and psychologists think it can be explained in evolutionary terms. Other studies have found that although the higher risk from stepparents exists, it is nowhere near as high as it some have claimed and that one should not generalize since there are other factors involved.

Finally, let us note that there were a handful of additional Latin words formed with the suffix ‑aster, but they have not survived in the modern Romance languages and with one exception they have not been borrowed either, though at least one new one has been created in New Latin and has been borrowed into English. These are the main Latin words with the suffix ‑aster. Note that some of them are adjectives, not nouns.
  • cānaster ‘half-gray, grizzled’, from cānus ‘white, hoary; old, aged’ (cf. Sp. cano/a ‘(culto) white; (rare) gray-haired, white-haired’ and canoso/a ‘gray-haired, white-haired’)
  • cătŭlaster or catlaster ‘a boy, lad, stripling’, from cătŭlus ‘whelp; young dog, puppy’
  • claudasteradj. little lame’, from claudus ‘lame’
  • fulvaster ‘adj. yellowish’, from fulvus ‘yellow’
  • lōtaster ‘wild lotus, of which javelins were made’, from lōtus or lōtos from Gk. λωτός ‘the African lotus, edible nettle-tree’ (there was another word lōtus that was the passive participle of lavāre ‘to wash’)
  • nŏvellaster ‘rather new’, from nŏvellus, diminutive of nŏvus ‘new’ (cf. Sp. nuevo)
  • ŏlĕaster ‘wild olivetree, oleaster’, from olea ‘olive tree’
  • părăsītaster ‘a mean, sorry parasite’, from părăsītus ‘guest; sponger, parasite’ (cf. Eng. parasite ~ Sp. parásito), a loanword from Ancient Greek παράσιτος (parásitos) ‘person who eats at the table of another’[2]
  • phĭlŏsŏphaster ‘a bad philosopher’, from philosophus ‘philosopher’; this Late Latin word was borrowed into English in the early 17th century and can be found in English dictionaries
  • pīnaster ‘a wild pine’, from pīnus ‘pine tree, etc.’ (English has borrowed this word for ‘a Mediterranean pine (Pinus pinaster) with paired needles and prickly cones’
  • poētaster ‘bad poet’, this word was created in New Latin around 1600 on the model of words like philosophaster (see above); English has also borrowed this word[3]
  • pŭĕraster ‘a stout lad’ and in Medieval Latin ‘preadolescent or adolescent boy'
  • rĕcalvaster (Late Latin) ‘that has a bald forehead, bald in front’, from re‑ +‎ calvus ‘bald’
  • surdaster ‘somewhat deaf, hard of hearing’, from surdus/a ‘deaf’ (cf. Sp. sordo/a)
Finally, we should mention that on this same model, a new word was developed in English, namely the word criticaster for ‘a petty or inferior critic (used in contempt)’ (OED). It first appeared in 1684.

[1] Ancient Greek ̓́στρον (ástron), typically used in the plural, was derived from στήρ (astḗr). The root of these Greek words is found in the English words astronomy and astrology, and their Spanish cognates astronomía and astrología, which are loanwords from Latin. The former come from Latin astronomia, itself a loanword from Ancient Greek στρονομία (astronomía), derived from στρονόμος (astronómos) ‘astronomer’. The latter come from Latin astrologia, which in Classical Latin was a synonym of astronomía and thus referred to the ‘study of celestial objects, astronomy, book on astronomy’. In post-classical Latin, astrologia came to have the meaning it has today, namely ‘the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world’ (COED).

The same root is also found in the words Eng. disaster ~ Sp. desastre, which ultimately come from Italian disastro ‘catastrophe, calamity, misfortune’, a word created at the end of the 13th century from the prefix dis‑ and the word for ‘star’. The Spanish and English words came through French loan from this word, désastre (1537). English disaster came into the language in the late 16th century. Spanish has derived two common adjectives from this noun: desastrado/a ‘untidy, slovenly, unkempt, scruffy’ and desastroso/a ‘appalling ; calamitous ; disastrous ; ruinous ; abysmal’.
Spanish and English have also borrowed the Greek word directly, Spanish as astro ‘heavenly body, (especially) a star’, in the late 16th century. Eng. aster ~ Sp. áster are used for ‘any of various plants of the genus Aster in the composite family, having radiate flower heads with white, pink, or violet rays and a usually yellow disk’ (AHD).

[2] Greek παράσιτος (parásitos) also came to mean ‘a person who lives at another's expense and repays him or her with flattery, a person who dines with a superior officer, a priest who is permitted meals at the public expense’ (OED). It is formed from the prefix παρα‑ (para‑) and the noun στος (sîtos) ‘grain, bread, food’. In the early 18th century this term started to be used in Western languages in the fields of Botany and Zoology.

[3] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary defines the English word poetaster simply as ‘an inferior poet’. Other dictionaries have more disparaging definitions, such as the American Heritage dictionary, which defines it as ‘a writer of insignificant, meretricious, or shoddy poetry’, and Webster's New Third International Unabridged Dictionary, which defines it as ‘a writer of worthless or inferior verses : a pretended poet’, and the Oxford English Dictionary, with ‘a petty or paltry poet; a writer of poor or trashy verse; a rimester’.

Patrimony-matrimony, part 3: Sp. matrimonio - Eng. matrimony

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 19, "Patrimony and matrimony", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Sp. matrimonio ~ Eng. matrimony

The Latin word mātrĭmōnĭum has given us the cognates Eng. matrimony [ˈmæ.tʰɹɪ.ˌmoʊ̯.ni] ~ Sp. matrimonio [ma.tɾi.ˈ̯o]. The descendants, just like the original source-word, refer to the state or social institution of being married or, in other words, marriage or wedlock. Sp. matrimonio is a loanword from Latin, attested first in the 14th century. Eng. matrimony came from the Anglo-Norman version of Old French, variously spelled matermoine, matremoine, matrimoigne, matrimone, or matrimonie (OED), also a Latin loanword, first attested in English in the 14th century.  Curiously, the Old French source-word, attested in the 12th century, did not mean what these words mean today or what they meant in Latin, but was rather the analog of the descendant of patrimonium, namely ‘property inherited from one’s mother’ (OED).

As we mentioned earlier, Latin mātrĭmōnĭum is derived from the root mātr‑ of the word māter ‘mother’ (mātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑um, the first ‑ĭ‑ was a linking vowel). Thus, Lat. mātrĭmōnĭum is totally analogous to the source of Eng. patrimony, Lat. pātrĭmōnĭum, but its meaning is quite unexpectedly different. How could that be? How did a word with the root meaning ‘mother’ came to mean ‘marriage’? Our best guess as to how mātrĭmōnĭum came to mean ‘marriage’ is that it originally meant what its parts indicate, namely something like ‘motherhood’ (‘the state of being a mother’) and that there must have been an expression that described marriage as ‘the leading by a man of a woman into motherhood’. In other words, originally mātrĭmōnĭum meant ‘marriage’, but only for the woman in a patriarchal society. Eventually, however, the word came to signify ‘marriage’ for both spouses, losing the original connection to motherhood.

The cognates Eng. matrimony ~ Sp. matrimonio are close friends since their meanings are probably identical in the abstract. However, the two words are not used the same way, if for no other reason that English has another word that means ‘marriage’, namely marriage, a 12th century loanword from Old French (mariage in Old French and Middle English). This noun was derived in French from the verb marier ‘to marry’, which was also borrowed into English as (to) marry. The equivalent of this verb in Spanish is casarse, a verb derived from the noun casa ‘house, home’. (The verb casar thus originally meant something like ‘to set up a separate home (for the married couple)’.) And although there is a noun casamiento derived from this verb, it is rarely equivalent to English marriage, but rather typically refers to the act of marrying and is thus equivalent to Eng. wedding.

Spanish matrimonio sometimes translates into English as matrimony, but this is a very rare word in English, a fancy synonym of marriage, the most common translation of Sp. matrimonio, as in the set phrases unidos en matrimonio ‘united in marriage’, matrimonio civil ‘civil marriage’, matrimonio mixto ‘mixed marriage’, contraer matrimonio (a fancy way to say) ‘to get married’ (cf. casarse), matrimonio consensuado ‘common-law marriage’, matrimonio de conveniencia ‘marriage of convenience’, consumar el matrimonio ‘to consummate the marriage’, proponer matrimonio ‘to pop the question’, proposición/propuesta de matrimonio ‘marriage proposal’, and matrimonio gay ‘gay marriage’.

Sp. matrimonio can be used to refer to a married couple as well, a synonym of pareja (de casados), as in el matrimonio García ‘Mr. and Mrs. García’, as in Vamos a salir esta noche con otro matrimonio ‘we are going out tonight with another (married) couple’, or as in Son un matrimonio muy bien avenido ‘They get along well as a married couple’. Finally, on some countries of South America, the word matrimonio can be used as equivalent of boda ‘wedding’.

By the way, the English words marry [ˈmæ.ɹi] and marriage [ˈmæ.ɹɪʤ] are not related to the word matrimony. As we just saw, Eng. marriage comes from Old French mariage (pronounced [ma.ˈʀjaʒ] in Modern French), which is derived from the verb marier, which means ‘to marry’ and is the source of Eng. marry. French mariage seems to have been derived in French by means of the suffix ‑age that descends from the Late Latin suffix ‑aticum (cf. Part II, Chapter 18). (The age ending was often Latinized in medieval Latin writing as ‑agium and thus we find the word mariagium ‘dowry’ in 12th century Latin writings.) Spanish also borrowed or calqued this French word, as maridaje, as well as the verb maridar, but this happened rather late, in the 17th century, and these words did not really take hold, though they are still found in the dictionary with rather specialized meanings.

The French verb marier ‘to marry’ descends patrimonially from the Latin verb marītāre ‘to wed, marry, give in marriage’. (Note that marier was transitive, just like Sp. casar, and the meaning ‘to get married’ was rendered by the verb’s reflexive conjugation, infinitive: se marier, cf. Sp. casarse.) The Latin verb maritāre comes from marītus, which as an adjective meant ‘marital, matrimonial, conjugal’, but which as a noun meant ‘husband, married man’. It is, after all, derived from the noun mās meaning ‘male’ (cf. Eng. masculine, Sp. macho, etc.). The patrimonial descendant of marītus in Spanish is marido, also meaning ‘husband’.

Since marido ‘husband’ comes from a Latin word derived from the word for ‘male’, this explains why there is no word *marida in Spanish for ‘wife’. The word for ‘wife’ in Spanish is either esposa, a patrimonial word that comes from Lat. spōnsa ‘promised’ (cf. Eng. spouse, a French loan) or with the patrimonial word mujer. The word for ‘wife’ in Latin was uxor, which has not left a descendant in Spanish (or in English). It seems that in Vulgar Latin mŭlĭer (nominative) ‘woman’ came to be used both for ‘wife’ as well as for ‘woman’ (whether married or not) and that usage has been maintained in Spanish, so that the descendant of Lat. mŭlĭer in Spanish, namely mujer, means both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’. The original word for ‘woman’ in Latin was fēmina (accusative fēminam), from where Spanish gets the patrimonial word hembra ‘female’, which suffered several sound changes (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). Latin mŭlĭer is of obscure etymology, though some think it comes from the same root as mŏllis meaning ‘soft’.[1]

Finally, we should add that just like there was a derived adjective patrimonial for the noun patrimonio/patrimony, there is also a derived adjective matrimonial derived from the noun matrimonio/matrimony. These adjectives can be seen as containing the derivational suffix ‑al attached to the word’s stem, after removing the inflection ‑o in the case of Spanish. The two cognate adjectives are identical in the spelling, matrimonial, if not its pronunciation, cf. Eng. [ˌmætɹəˈmoʊ̯niə̯l] vs. Sp. [matɾimoˈni̯al]. These words are loanwords from classical Lat. mātrĭmōnĭālis ‘of or relating to marriage’ (mātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑āl‑is). Eng. matrimonial is first attested in the 15th century, as a loanword from French, which borrowed the word from Latin in the 14th century. Sp. matrimonial is also first attested in the 15th century and it is very likely that it also came through French.

The dictionary defines Eng. matrimonial as ‘of or relating to marriage, the married state, or married persons’ (MWC) but it is obvious that this is a rather fancy word and that it is much less common than Sp. matrimonial, a difference in usage that is analogous to the difference that exists between the nouns Eng. matrimony and Sp. matrimonio. That is because the Eng. matrimonial has several synonyms that are more common, such as first of all marital, another fancy words that also means ‘relating to marriage or the relations between husband and wife’ (COED) and that is found in just a few expressions, but also because the adjective married (derived from the past participle of the verb marry) and even the noun marriage can be used as alternatives as modifiers. Thus, Sp. problemas matrimoniales translates into English as marital problems, vida matrimonial as married life, and agencia matrimonial and acta matrimonial as marriage agency (or bureau) and marriage certificate. There are also other common collocations in Spanish with this adjective that translate by means of very different words in English, such as cama matrimonial ‘double bed’, and compromiso matrimonial ‘engagement’.

[1] The traditional formula for marrying a heterosexual couple in Spanish is Ahora los/os declaro marido y mujer ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’. In some dialects of Spanish, women may to some extent refer to their husbands as mi hombre ‘my man’, but marido is the more common and standard term.


Patrimony-matrimony, part 2: Sp. patrimonio ~ Eng. patrimony

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 19, "Patrimony and matrimony", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]



Sp. patrimonio ~ Eng. patrimony

As we have often seen in this book, there are two types of Latinate words in Spanish, one of which we have been calling patrimonial words, after the traditional Spanish term for these words, namely palabras patrimoniales. These are those words that were passed down orally from Latin to Old Spanish. They contrast with learned words or cultismos, that were borrowed from written Classical Latin during the last thousand years of the language’s history. In this chapter we are going to take a close look at the word patrimonial and a few related ones. We will look first at the cognates Eng. patrimony ~ Sp. patrimonio and their respective, derived adjectives, both written patrimonial. Next, we will look at other (mostly cognate) words that have the root patr- in them, which means ‘father’ in Latin. Finally, from there we will move on to several words with the ending ‑mony, such as matrimony as well as other words that contain the root matr‑, which means ‘mother’ in Latin.

Spanish patrimonio [pa.tɾi.ˈ̯o] and English patrimony [ˈpʰæ.tɹɪ.mə.nɪ] come from the second declension neuter Latin noun pātrĭmōnĭum, which looks the same in the nominative and in the accusative singular wordforms (cases). English patrimony means either ‘property inherited from one's father or male ancestor’ or, typically ‘heritage’ (COED). This word referred in Latin primarily to ‘an estate inherited from a father, a paternal estate, inheritance, patrimony’. Such an estate inheritance was typically in the form of land and buildings, not money. English synonyms of patrimony are birthright, inheritance, heirloom, and legacy (M-W), which are more common than patrimony. This word falls into the category of fancy vocabulary, not familiar to many speakers.

If you look patrimony in an English-Spanish dictionary it will say it translates as patrominio. However, this Spanish cognate is more common word in the Spanish-speaking world than its English counterpart and their meanings are not identical. In Spanish, patrimonio is a common term meaning ‘the (inherited) assets of a physical person or legal entity [Sp. persona jurídica]’. It is not a fancy or solely legal term, but rather a common word. Sp. patrimonio is first attested around 1300 and it is no doubt a loanword from Latin, perhaps under the influence of French, which borrowed it first.

Figure 130: Logo of the governmental organization Patrimonio Nacional of the Spanish State

Sp. patrimonio is often used to refer a person’s or a family’s material worth, e.g. el patrimonio familiar. Metaphorically, in both languages, but especially in Spanish, the word can be extended to a nation’s accumulated wealth in the form of art, national treasures, archeological findings, or even national parks, all of which are typically protected by special legislation. Thus, in Spanish we can talk about the patrimonio nacional, which includes land, museums, and works of art, or about the patrimonio artístico. In English, one can also talk about the national patrimony, though it is not a common collocation of words.

Lat. pātrĭmōnĭum is formed from the base pātr- and the suffix ‑mōn‑ĭ‑um, feminine ‑mōn‑ĭ‑a, which we will see in more detail below (pātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑um). The root pātr- means ‘father’. The nominative of the word for ‘father’ is pater, but all the other forms of the word have the root patr-, the regular root for this word. The accusative singular is patrem, for example, from which we get Spanish padre (which is a patrimonial word, as evidenced by the d, which comes from Latin t, cf. Part I, Chapter 10). The adjective for padre in Spanish, just like the adjective for father in English is paternal: [pa.teɾ.ˈnal] in Spanish and [pə.ˈtʰɜɹ.nəl] in English. These too are, obviously, not patrimonial words, but rather learned ones.

In both English and Spanish, the related, derived adjectival word is patrimonial, pronounced [ˌpʰæ.tɹɪ.ˈmoʊ̯.nɪə̯l] in English and [pa.tɾˈni̯al] in Spanish. They come from the Latin adjective pātrĭmōnĭālis, derived by means of the third declension adjectival suffix ‑āl(is) from the noun pātrĭmōnĭum: pātr‑ĭ‑mōn‑ĭ‑āl‑is. In both languages, these words were adopted from written Latin in the 14th century, so patrimonial is not a patrimonial word in Spanish (nor patrimonial cannot be a patrimonial word in English, since English does not descend from Latin).


Greek letters in the names of fraternities and honor societies

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 52, "The names of fraternities and honor societies", of Part II of the open-source textbook...