Friday, January 4, 2019

The Latin root LAC-, part 5: Latin dēlĭcātus and its descendants

[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.]


Eng. delicate ~ Sp. delicado and delgado

There is another set of Spanish-English cognates that have been linked to the Latin verb dēlicĕre and to the Latin noun dēliciae, namely Eng. delicate [ˈdɛ.lɪ.kət] on one hand and learned Spanish delicado/a [d̪ˈka.ðo] and its patrimonial doublet delgado [d̪el.ˈɣa.ðo] on the other.

Eng. delicate and Sp. delicate are good friends since they look alike and have very similar meanings. Sp. delgado, on the other hand, does not look that much like delicate and it has a rather different, though not totally unrelated meaning, namely ‘thin, slim’.

All three words descend from Lat. dēlĭcātus (feminine dēlĭcāta) that meant primarily ‘that gives pleasure, alluring, charming, delightful’, ‘luxurious’, ‘voluptuous’ as well as, poetically, ‘soft, tender, delicate’, among other meanings (L&S).



As we just mentioned, Eng. delicate and Sp. delicado are learned borrowings from Latin dēlĭcātus, only displaying the expected adaptations of the Latin inflection (ending). In English loanwords from written Latin, the Latin inflection ‑ātus was typically changed to ‑ate and in Spanish, it was changed to ‑ado, for that is how that ending had evolved in patrimonial words in the case of Spanish and in early French loanwords in the case of English.

Sp. delgado, on the other hand, is a patrimonial descendant of Latin dēlĭcātus, displaying all the expected regular sound changes (cf. Part I, Chapter 10):

1.   Loss of intertonic ‑i‑ (an intertonic vowel is in word internal position next to the stressed vowel (which here was ā)
2.   Voicing of intervocalic ‑c‑ [k] to ‑g‑ [ɡ]
3.   Voicing of intervocalic ‑t‑ [t] to ‑d‑ [d]
4.   Replacement of the masculine inflection ‑us (actually, its accusative version ‑um) with ‑o

What is not totally clear is how Lat. dēlĭcātus is related to the verb dēlicĕre and to the noun dēliciae, though the similarity of meanings and forms suggest strongly that they are. The exact type of relation or derivation is not clear, however. This adjective has all the looks of a past participle of a first conjugation (‑ar) verb, because of the ending ‑ātus, but remember that dēlicĕre did not have a past participle and it is a third conjugation verb, anyway. If it had had a passive participle it would have probably been *dēlectus, not dēlĭcātus. The OED mentions the difficulties in tracing this word’s origin:
The etymology of Latin dēlicātus appears to be quite uncertain: several distinct suggestions are current. Even the primary sense is doubtful; but, if not originally connected with dēliciæ (delice n.), it seems to have been subsequently associated therewith. The word had undergone considerable development of meaning already in ancient Latin; in Romanic it received further extension in the line of meaning ‘dainty, tenderly fine, slender, slight, easily affected or hurt’; these Latin and Romanic senses have at various times been adopted in English, often as literal adaptations of the Latin word in the Vulgate [the original Latin version of the New Testament], etc.; and the history of the word here is involved and difficult to trace.
Note that there is a second word dēlicātus in Late and Vulgar Latin, which is the regular past participle of the verb dēlicāre (dēlicō, dēlicāre, dēlicāvī, dēlicātum), but this verb has an unrelated meaning, namely ‘to clear off a turbid liquid, to clarify, to strain’ and, derived from it, ‘to clear up by speaking, to explain’ (L&S). This verb is clearly not related to our Lat. dēlĭcātus, and it is definitely unrelated to the Latin verb dēlĭcĕre. As we saw earlier, this verb dēlĭcāre was a corruption of Classical Latin dēlĭquāre (same meaning as dēlicāre above).

Curiously, French did not borrow this Latin word until the late 15th century, much later than English, in the form of delicat. In the 15th century, this French word meant ‘daintie, pleasing, prettie, delicious, tender, nice, effeminate, of a weake complexion’ (OED), but its modern descendant délicat [ˈka] (fem. delicate [ˈkat]) means ‘of exquisite fineness’ (OED). French, however, had a much earlier version of this word, from the 12th century, namely délié (fem. déliée) that meant ‘fine, slender; nimble, agile’. This word was supposedly borrowed and adapted from Lat. dēlicātus under the influence of the French verb délier ‘to untie, undo’ (GR; cf. Sp. desliar).

Latin dēlicātus had several related meanings, from ‘addicted to pleasure’ and ‘spoiled with overindulgence’ to ‘soft, tender, delicate’, and even ‘effeminate’. The ‘tender, delicate’ sense is the main sense that has survived through the ages in the Spanish and English reflexes of this word, though this wasn’t always the case. The adjective delicate entered English in the late 14th century with the meanings ‘self-indulgent, loving ease’, ‘delightful’, ‘sensitive, easily hurt’, and  ‘feeble’. The meaning ‘easily broken’, said of objects, dates from the 16th century.

We said that Eng. delicate and Sp. delicado are good friends, since their primary and most common meanings do match. The two words are typically, though not always, good translations of each other. Dictionaries differ as to the number of senses each of these words has and how to divide them. The American Heritage Dictionary for instance gives us ten senses for delicate but the Concise Oxford English Dictionary gives us only three. The Academy’s Diccionario de la Lengua Española (DLE) gives us eleven senses for delicado. However, entries with many senses contain some that could easily be collapsed, senses that could be divided differently, or even senses that are rare in normal speech. Also, some of the senses may only be found in idiomatic expressions, which may very well be calques of expressions in other languages. Overall, the mapping of the different senses of this word turns out to be a rather tricky affair.

Bilingual English-Spanish dictionaries also recognize the multiple senses of these words, but they tend to show that the cognate word is usually a possible translation for each of the senses, though it may not be the best option. For some of the senses, these dictionaries provide alternative translations which may be more appropriate.

Let us look at one possible way to divide the senses of Eng. delicate and the different ways to express them in Spanish. This division borrows from those found in several different English and English-Spanish dictionaries, but it is adapted primarily from the entry for delicate in Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary since it provides examples. Several senses of delicate from this dictionary entry have been left out, including very rare, and archaic and obsolete ones. Note that although the most common senses of Eng. delicate translate as delicado, not all the senses do. Thus, although these two words are good friends, they are not perfect friends, which is not at all something unexpected.

                 1.  fine in texture, quality, construction, etc.: a delicate lace collar.
[This sense of delicate, used primarily for small, dainty things, is probably best expressed in Spanish as fino or esmerado, not delicado]
                 2.  fragile; easily damaged; frail: delicate porcelain; a delicate child. [also, delicate skin, etc.]
[This sense of delicate is best translated into Spanish as delicado]
                 3.  so fine as to be scarcely perceptible; subtle: a delicate flavor.
[This ‘subtle, not strong’ sense of delicate is probably not best translated as delicado but as fino, or suave ‘lit. soft’ if it is scarcely perceptible to the touch or even to sight]
                 4.  soft or faint, as color: a delicate shade of pink.
[This sense is related to the previous one, as applied to colors, and suave is also probably the best translation, cf. un tono de rosa suave]
                 5.  fine or precise in action or execution; capable of responding to the slightest influence: a delicate instrument.
[This sense would definitely not be translated into Spanish as delicado; in Spanish, instrumento delicado could only refer to an instrument that breaks easily; a better translation of delicate here would be preciso]
                 6.  [sensitive] requiring great care, caution, or tact: a delicate international situation.
[This sense or senses (‘needing care’, ‘needing skill’, ‘needing tact’) is/are obviously related to from sense #2 and some dictionaries collapse them. They mostly translate into Spanish as delicado]
                 7.  distinguishing subtle differences: a delicate eye; a delicate sense of smell.
[Similar to sense #5; the best translation of this sense of delicate is fino]
                 8.  dainty or choice, as food: delicate tidbits.
[This sense does not translate as delicado either, but as exquisito or fino; cf. the discussion on Eng. delicacy below]

Finally, let us return to the Spanish adjective delgado ‘thin, slim, fine’. This is a patrimonial descendant of Lat. dēlicātum which has narrowed and specialized its meaning a great deal, one that arose presumably because things and people that are thin tend to be more delicate (easily broken in the case of objects and less healthy in the case of people).

Spanish delgado/a today can be used to describe people, in which case it translates as ‘thin’, but also to describe other things for which we would not necessarily use the adjective thin in English, such as cloth or thread, e.g. hilo delgado ‘fine thread’. Occasionally delgado is used with the sense of ‘slim’, ‘trim’, or ‘slender’, i.e. as ‘gracefully thin’ (COED), rather than just ‘thin’. In this sense, delgado/a is synonymous with esbelto/a.

Sp. delgado is often a synonym of flaco/a, a semi-learned descendant of Latin flaccus ‘flabby, flaccid, hanging down’, a word of unknown origin. In the Middle Ages, flaco meant ‘weak’, but by the 15th century this word already had the meaning it has today, ‘thin’. However, Sp. flaco has managed to retain a somewhat negative connotation, more like Eng. skinny (‘excessively thin’) or even scrawny (cf. Sp. flacucho, delgaducho, esquelético, escuchimizado, etc.).

Eng. delicacy and other related words

The English noun delicacy [ˈdɛ.lɪ.kə.si] (pl. delicacies) was created in English in the 14th century out of the Middle English adjective delicat(e) and the Latinate suffix ‑cy, which is a descendant of Lat. ‑cia or ‑tia (and Ancient Greek ‑κια ‑kia, ‑τια ‑tia) and which creates abstract nouns. (It is cognate with semi-learned Spanish ‑cia and ‑cía , as well as patrimonial ‑ez and ‑eza, cf. Part I, Chapter 5.) The loss of the final ‑t‑ sound of delicate in delicacy is also found in derivations of other words ending in the sound [t] with this suffix, such as obstinacy, from obstinate, and privacy, from private.

Since Eng. delicacy is an English creation, it is not surprising that it does not have a cognate in Spanish. Thus, the several senses of this word translate by means of different words into Spanish. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) gives four senses for delicacy, the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) gives eight, and the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (RHWUD) gives eleven (one of them obsolete), and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (DOCE) has only three.

The most common sense for Eng. delicacy for most modern speakers of English is probably the food-related one, which means ‘a choice or expensive food’, as in a Greek delicacy. This sense translates into Spanish as manjar or, less commonly, as exquisitez or bocado exquisito (see the discussion below regarding the word delicatessen). This sense of delicacy is perhaps the most common one today, and it is a rather old one, since it appeared in writing soon after the word was created, in the early 15th century.

Another major sense of Eng. delicacy is, undoubtedly, ‘the quality of being delicate’, with any of the various senses of the word delicate that we saw in the preceding section, including the sense of ‘beauty based on fragility, slightness, or softness’, or the sense of ‘requiring great care, caution, or tact’. All these senses tend to be translated into Spanish as delicadeza, a noun derived in Spanish from the adjective delicado with the patrimonial Spanish suffix ‑eza that creates abstract nouns and which is derived from Lat. ĭ‑tĭa very much like the Eng. ‑cy suffix in delicacy. The ‘tact’ sense of the word delicacy, for instance, as in the phrase We broached the subject with great delicacy, translates into Spanish as delicadeza, cf. Abordamos el tema con gran delicadeza. Another way to translate this sense of delicacy in some cases is with a nominalized form of the adjective delicado, with the nominalizing neuter article lo, as in lo delicado del tema ‘the delicacy of the subject’. However, Sp. delicadeza does not always translate as delicacy, but rather as thoughtfulness when referring to tact (synonymous with amabilidad ‘kindness’), or frailty when referring to health.

In addition, there are some idiomatic expressions with the word delicadeza in Spanish, such as tener la delicadeza de ‘to be kind enough to’, as in Tenga la delicadeza de venir a tiempo ‘Be kind enough to arrive on time’, and con delicadeza ‘delicately, gently’.

Spanish has created a negative version of delicadeza with the negative prefix in‑, namely indelicadeza, which has a cognate in English indelicacy [ɪn.ˈdɛ.lɪ.kə.sɪ], but they are both very rare. Both languages seem to prefer to use phrases to express the antonyms of Eng. delicacy and Sp. delicadeza. Thus, for English, we have lack of tack to refer to a person’s indelicate behavior, or as tactless act when referring to an action. The Spanish equivalents would be falta de delicadeza/tacto, for both senses.

There is also a less common masculine version of the Spanish noun delicadeza, namely delicadez. This noun is sometimes used as a synonym of delicadeza in some contexts, but it also has some more negative senses, such as ‘physical or character weakness’, and ‘susceptibility, sensitivity’, which are perhaps more common.

Note that English also has another abstract noun derived from the adjective delicate, this one derived by means of a native (Germanic) suffix, namely ‑ness, i.e. delicateness [ˈdɛ.lɪ.kət.nɪs]. The OED defines is as ‘The quality of being delicate, delicacy. The opposite of roughness, coarseness, grossness’. This noun is already attested in the first half of the 16th century, but it is still much less common than delicacy. This noun too typically translates into Spanish as delicadeza.

Finally, English has the word delicatessen, which is obviously related to the word delicate and delicacy, because of the similarity in form and in meaning. This word’s meaning is ‘a shop selling cooked meats, cheeses, and unusual or foreign prepared foods’ (COED). This word is a fairly recent (1889) borrowing from German delikatessen, plural of delikatesse ‘a delicacy, fine food’, which itself is a 16th century borrowing from French délicatesse, a noun derived from the learned adjective délicat, meaning ‘fine’ (see above), from Latin dēlicātus (see above).

In recent years, Spanish has borrowed the word delicatessen from English, also spelled delicatesen (with one s), which is the preferred spelling according to the Academy’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas now that the word is no longer considered a foreign word (Sp. extranjerismo). (Note that the DLE still only has the version of the word with two s’s.)

Spanish has changed the meaning of the English word somewhat, however. Like its English source, Sp. delicatesen can mean ‘store where fine foods are sold’ (‘establecimiento donde se venden manjares selectos’, DPD; ‘tienda donde se venden delicatessen’, DLE). However, like in the German original, the word can also mean ‘fine foods’ (‘alimentos selectos’, DLE). When used to refer to a store, the word can be masculine or feminine and does not change in the plural: el/la delicatesen, los/las delicatesen (DPD). But when the word is used to refer to ‘fine foods’, it is strictly plural, just like it was in German, and feminine: unas delicatesen ‘some fine foods’.

The Academy’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas tells us, however, that the traditional Spanish term exquisiteces (plural of exquisitez) can be used instead in most contexts (see above). In other words, it is an unnecessary loanword. However, because it has become established in some contexts, and because it is used by more ‘respectable’ members of society, we may add, the word is not considered a barbarism.[a]  

[a] The noun esquisitez is derived from the adjective exquisito/a, by means of the suffix ‑ez that we just saw. This word means ‘exquisite’ when referring to most high-quality things, such as music or cloth; ‘delicious’, when referring to food; and ‘refined’ when describing a person’s manners. The noun exquisitez can mean either ‘the quality of being exquisito’ or ‘something that is exquisito’, in particular delicious foods.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Latin root LAC-, part 4: Verbs derived from the root -laqu-/-lac- (iii)

[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.]


Lat. dēlĭcĕre

The Latin verb dēlĭcĕre was derived from the verb lăcĕre by the addition of the prefix dē‑ ‘from, away from, etc.’ (dē‑lĭc‑ĕre). It was a rare verb, with no perfect or supine forms that we know of, so its principal parts were dēlicĭō, dēlicĕre, -, -. Its meanings were ‘to entice away, allure from the right way’ and ‘delight’. Surprisingly, however, this verb has left us more descendants in Spanish and English than any of its sisters, including some cognates. The descendants we are referring do not come from the Latin verb itself, however, but rather from Latin words derived from this verb.

From the verbal stem dēlĭc‑, Latin derived a number of words. One was the masculine noun dēlĭcĭus, formed with the derivational suffix ‑ĭ‑ that meant ‘pleasure, delight, fun, activity affording enjoyment’ as well as ‘curiosities of art’, lit. ‘something enticing, alluring’ (dē‑lĭc‑ĭ‑us). This noun is found in a single Roman inscription. There was also a feminine version, dēlĭcĭa, with seemingly several meanings: ‘pleasure/delight/fun’, ‘activity affording enjoyment’, ‘luxuries’, ‘ornaments, decorations’, ‘toys’, ‘erotic verse’ and, perhaps more generally, ‘object of affection’. This feminine noun was typically used in the plural, whose nominative form was dēlĭcĭae, but with the singular meanings ‘delight, pleasure’, and it was also used as a term of endearment that we could translated as darling or sweetheart. Note that there was another word dēlĭcĭa or dēlĭquĭa in Latin that meant ‘corner-beam supporting an edifice’ and ‘gutter’, but this seems to have come from the first conjugation verb dēlĭcāre or deliquāre, unrelated to the words we just saw.

The noun dēlĭcĭa was borrowed into Spanish in the early 15th century as delicia with the meaning ‘delight, pleasure, treat’. The noun delicia seems to have replaced in part the traditional noun deleite ‘delight’, which is related to the noun delicia and is a cognate of Eng. delight, as we will see in the next section. Actually, Sp. delicia can be said to have two senses since it can refer to a feeling and to something that causes that feeling. The senses can be paraphrased as: ‘vivid and intense sensation of pleasure’ and ‘thing that causes a vivid and intense sensation of pleasure’. The first sense is often found in the expression ¡Qué delicia (…)! ‘What a delight (…)’, as in ¡Qué delicia estar aquí sentados! ‘How nice it is sitting here!’. The second sense of this noun is often equivalent to the derived English adjective delightful, e.g. Ese niño es una delicia ‘That boy is delightful’ or El circo es la delicia de los chiquillos ‘The circus is delightful to children’ (MM). There is even a common tag with this word that can be added to any statement, namely …que es una delicia, as in Canta que es una delicia ‘She sings delightfully’.

By adding the adjective-forming suffix -ōs‑ (masc. -ōsus, fem. -ōsa) to this noun, Late Latin derived the adjective dēlicĭōsus ‘delicious, delicate’, fem. dēlicĭōsa (dē‑lic‑ĭ‑ōs‑us/a). The original literal meaning was probably ‘enticing, alluring’. This adjective has given us the learned but today very common cognates Eng. delicious [də.ˈlɪ.ʃəs] and Sp. delicioso/a [d̪ˈθi̯]. English

Spanish delicioso/a is first attested in writing in the first half of the 13th century, two centuries before the noun delicia. English delicious [də.ˈlɪ.ʃəs]] entered the language around 1300 from French delicieus (Mod.Fr. délicieux [ˈsjø], fem. délicieuse [ˈsjøz]), which is attested in the early 12th century and is a loanword from Latin. This suggests that Spanish also probably borrowed this Latin word through French as well. The spelling of the English word already contained the ‑ous spelling from the very beginning, just like other English borrowings of Latin adjectives with the suffix ‑ōs‑(us/a) (and many that didn’t, as we have already seen).

The cognates Eng. delicious ~ Sp. delicioso/a are quite good friends, that is, they have very similar primary meanings, namely ‘highly pleasant to the taste’ (COED), which was not the original meaning of the Latin source-word. Both of these cognates can also be used figuratively, mostly in literature, with the meaning ‘delightful’, as in a delicious revenge or a delicious irony in English. In Spanish, one also often hears things such as El agua está deliciosa ‘The water is delightful’. Do note that Spanish has other very common expressions to express the meaning ‘delicious’ referring to things that taste very well, such as sabroso and riquísimo/a (superlative of rico/a). The adjective divino/a is often used for the non-taste related sense, equivalent to Eng. delightful. The use of the word delicious for the apple variety in American English dates from 1903. There is a colloquial shortening of this word, namely delish, which dates to 1920.

Lat. dēlectāre

As we mentioned earlier, there was a Latin verb dēlectāre that meant ‘to allure, attract, delight, charm, please’. This word seems to have been derived from lactāre (see above) by addition of the prefix , ‘from, away from, etc.’ and not from dēlĭcĕre. Lat. dēlectāre looks like it could have been a frequentative verb, but it cannot be a frequentative form of dēlĭcĕre, for it would have to come from the stem of a passive participle *delectus but there is no such word related to the words we are looking at. There was a passive participle dēlectus in Latin, but it was the participle of the verb dēlĭgĕre ‘to pick off; select, choose’ and thus meant ‘picked off, selected, chosen’ and was unrelated to dēlectāre or any of the verbs we’re analyzing here. There is always the possibility, of course, that there had been some contamination between dēlĭcĕre and dēlĭgĕre due to sound and meaning similarities.

The principal parts of Lat. dēlectāre were dēlectō, dēlectāre, dēlectāvī, dēlectātum. This verb has given us a semi-learned word in Spanish, namely the verb deleitar ‘to delight, please, enchant’, a verb often used reflexively as deleitarse, which renders it intransitive, which translates as ‘enjoy a great deal, to take delight in’, e.g. La música nos deleitó ‘The music delighted us’, Nos deleitamos con música de Bach ‘We delighted in listening to Bach’.

Sp. deleitar is attested in writings of the 13th century already. Actually, Spanish also has a learned version of this verb, namely delectar, which restores the post-vocalic (syllable-final) ‑c‑ that many Romance languages converted to the semivowel ‑i‑. This is not a different verb and if you look for delectar in a Spanish dictionary, you won’t find it in most of them, but at least one of the major ones, María Moliner, has it as an entry, and it sends you to deleitar to look for its meaning.

The sound change from Latin ‑ct‑ to ‑it‑ was one of the early sound changes found in many Romance languages and thus is very old. In Spanish patrimonial words, however, the ‑it‑ then additionally changed to ‑ch‑ [ʧ], which is not what we find here. If this was a purely patrimonial verb, one that descended orally from Vulgar Latin to Old Spanish, we would have expected it to be delechar instead of deleitar. In other words, Sp. deleitar seems to be a Latin borrowing which came in early enough to have undergone some sound adaptations to the phonology of Spanish, but not the full range of sound changes expected in patrimonial words. So either it is a semi-learned word or else it came from another Romance language, such as Occitan or Portuguese, that underwent the ­‑ct‑ to ‑it‑ change but not the ‑it‑ to ‑ch‑ change. Corominas believes this is a semi-learned word, but others argue that it is a loanword, probably from Occitan. Some have argued that the ultimate source of Sp. deleite is Lat. delectum, but the only such Latin word is related to the verb dēlĭgĕre, not to the verbs dēlĭcĕre or dēlectāre. Besides, if that was the source, the noun would have been *deleito or *delecho, not deleite, with a final e. But do note that the Italian equivalent of Sp. deleite is diletto, with an ‑o, which suggests it comes from a Latin word ending in ‑um, which could have developed in Late or Vulgal Latin of which we have no record.[1]

In addition to the verb deleitar, Spanish has a noun deleite ‘delight, pleasure (to any of the senses), delectation’, as in Tocó el piano para nuestro deleite ‘She played the piano to our delight’. This noun is already found in 13th century writings in the form deleit (Berceo).[2] It came to replace a related word deliçio which was used four times in the poem of the Cid, for instance, and which came from Lat. delicium, a variant of delicia and deliciae. Old Spanish delicio is now fully obsolete.

Sp. deleite typically translates into English as delight. The two words are most likely cognates, that is, come the same exact source word. We don’t know for sure because it is not clear whether Sp. deleite was derived in Spanish from the verb deleitar by conversion, or whether it was borrowed from another language, such as Provençal deliet. It does not seem, however, that the nouns deleite and delight descend from a common Latin noun related to the verb dēlectāre, however, since the only Latin nouns derived from this verb are dēlectātiō ‘delight, pleasure, amusement’ and dēlectāmentum ‘amusement, pastime’. These two nouns cannot be the source of Sp. deleite, but one of them is interesting to us since it resulted in words in English and Spanish.

Lat. dēlectāmentum, formed with the suffix ‑mentum that indicated ‘instrument, medium, or result’, has not made it into English or Spanish but Lat. dēlectātĭō has. This word is formed with the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ attached to the passive participle stem dēlectāt‑ (accusative: dēlectātĭōnem). Both English and Spanish have borrowed this word, which is very fancy and formal in both languages. One dictionary tells us that Eng. delectation, which means ‘pleasure and delight’, was borrowed in the mid-14th century through French is formal and chiefly humorous (COED). Old French borrowed this word from Latin in the early 12th century (Modern French: délectation [de.lɛk.tɑ.sjɔ̃]). The also very rare Sp. delectación is also attested by the end of the 14th century and most likely it came through French as well. We also find a semi-learned version of Sp. delectación, namely deleitación, which is just as rare, if not more.

Let us look now at the source of Eng. delight, which is pronounced today as [dɪ.ˈlaɪ̯t] or [də.ˈlaɪ̯t]. In Old French, Lat. dēlectāre resulted in the patrimonial verb delitier (also spelled deleitier, deleter, and deliter), first attested in the 12th century, with the same meaning as its Spanish cognate deleitar, namely ‘to please (greatly), charm’. In addition to Spanish deleitar (and delectar), other cognates of this verb include Provençal delechar, delettar or delectar, Portuguese deleitar, and Italian delettare or dilettare. This verb was borrowed into English as delite in the 13th century, also spelled delit or delyt(e), among other ways, and pronounced [də.ˈlit] at the time. In the 16th century the spelling of this word was changed to delight, under the influence of the fixing of the spelling of unrelated patrimonial Germanic words such as night and light, both of which had multiple different possible spellings in Middle English (OED). This change was obviously erroneous from an etymological perspective, unlike in the case of night and flight.[3]

Note that in the 14th century, French replaced this patrimonial verb with a learned version of itself borrowed from written Latin, namely délecter, which is a literary word and is only used in reflexive form as se délecter à ‘to delight in’. This French word is no doubt the source of the very rare verbs Sp. delectar and Eng. delect [dɪ'lɛkt], fancy alternatives to deleitar and delight.

In English, delight can also be a noun, which in Middle English was spelled delit or delite and also pronounced [də.ˈlit], just like the verb. The noun presumably comes not from the English verb by conversion but from Old French delit or deleit, which was a noun derived from the stem of the Old French verb deliter, which would make the noun delight a cognate of Provençal deliet, Spanish deleite, and Italian diletto. The form and pronunciation of the verb and the noun converged in English, although they were different in Old French from where English took them. Thus, in modern English, delight can be a verb meaning ‘to please greatly’, as in She delighted us with a song, or a noun meaning ‘great pleasure’, as in I felt delight, or ‘source of pleasure’, as in That child is a delight. (Note that Old French replaced

to delight

The respective cognates are close in meaning, but not always similar in use. The noun delight, for instance, can be translated as deleite, but usually better translations are placer, gusto, alegría, when talking about the pleasure itself, and as encanto, delicia or placer when talking about a source of pleasure (e.g. Este niño es un encanto / una delicia ‘That child is a delight’). The intransitive, reflexive form of Sp. deleitar, namely deleitarse, translates as ‘to take delight/pleasure, to revel/delight in’, as in Nos deleitamos con los sabrosos manjares ‘We delighted in the tasty delicacies’.

There is a Latin adjective related to and derived from the verb dēlectāre that has been borrowed into English and Spanish, resulting in fancy learned cognates. Latin dēlectābĭlis, which is derived with the third-declension adjectival suffix ‑bĭl‑ (dē‑lect‑ā‑bĭl‑is) has given us the rare Eng. delectable and the even rarer Sp. delectable. Eng. delectable can be synonymous of delicious, when referring to food, and of delightful ‘highly pleasing’ in other contexts. Both of these synonyms are much more common than the rare, fancy delectable, however. Sp. delectable is obsolete and one dictionary that mentions it, María Moliner, says it’s a less-preferred variant of deleitable ‘that causes delight’ and another dictionary, the DLE, says it’s a variant of deleitoso/a, which is perhaps even rarer than delectable.

A much more common adjective for the meaning ‘that causes delight’ in English is delighting and, especially, Eng. delightful, which are derived in English from the noun delight by means of native English suffixes. Sp. deleitante is a possible equivalent of delightful. It is formed in Spanish using the present participle ending ‑ante, but it is also quite rare compared to Eng. delightful. The already mentioned synonym deleitoso/a is even rarer. The most common translations of the English adjective delightful ‘that causes delight’ are other, unrelated words, such as encantador, when referring to a person or a place, delicioso when referring to food or a meal, muy agradable or maravilloso/a (e.g. a time), precioso/a (e.g. a dress), etc.


[1] It. diletto can be a noun meaning ‘delight, pleasure’ and also a noun and adjective meaning ‘beloved (one)’. Note that there are two other words diletto in Italian. One is related to the words we have been studying here, namely the diletto that is the first-person singular present indicative of the verb dilettare ‘to please, delight’ (cognate of Sp. deleitar), often used reflexively as dilettarsi ‘to delight in, to dabble’, as in dilettarsi a fare or facendo ‘to delight in doing, to enjoy doing’ or dilettarsi di musica ‘to dabble in music’ (cf. Sp. deleitarse). The other diletto is the past participle of the verb diligere ‘to respect’.

[2] The loss of the final ‑e was common in Old Spanish. Final e was highly unstable in two periods of the history of Castilian. First in the 10th-11th centuries we find loss of final ‑e after a dental or alveolar consonant (except t, which came from an earlier tt), e.g. pane ‘bread’ > pan, mare ‘sea’ > mar, mese ‘month’ > mes, pace ‘peace’ > paz. Then, in the 13th century, some varieties of Castilian displayed los of ‑e after almost any consonant or consonant cluster. This seems to be the source of the attested word deleit instead of deleite. By the 15th century, however, the lost (apocopated) vowels in this second round had all been restored in all dialects of Spanish.

The word deleit(e) does not seem to be found in the Cid, despite what Corominas says about it. In the Cid poem one finds deliçio four times, which seems to be equivalent to modern deleite, though. Some modern versions of the poem in Modern Spanish translate this deliçio as deleite.

[3] The spellings night and flight had actually been used before when when the gh represented the sound [x] which existed in Old English. These letters are silent in these words today, of course. Eng. delight never had this sound, however. Other words that received a non-etymological gh spelling at this time were inveigh and sprightly.

The Latin root LAC-, part 3: Verbs derived from the root -laqu-/-lac- (ii)

[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.]


Lat. allĭcĕre

The verb allĭcĕre was derived from the verb lăcĕre by the preposition/prefix ad ‘to’. It meant ‘to draw gently to, entice, lure, induce (sleep), attract, win over, encourage’. Its principal parts were allicio, allicĕre, allexi, allectum. This verb has not been passed on as a verb to English or Spanish. However, one of the forms of this verb has been borrowed by Spanish in recent times, namely the present participle of this verb which had the regular stem allĭciēnt‑ (nom. allĭc‑ĭēn‑s, acc. allĭc‑ĭēnt‑em) and which was an adjective meaning ‘enticing’. This word was borrowed into Spanish directly from Latin as the noun aliciente, which originally was a fancy word though today it is a very common one (DRAE: 1770).

Sp. aliciente has two primary senses: ‘incentive’ and ‘attraction’. The ‘incentive’ sense is synonymous with incentivo and estímulo, among others, and it translates into English as incentive or inducement, as in No ven aliciente en los estudios ‘They have no incentive to study’ (OSD). The ‘attraction’ sense is less common, and it is synonymous with atractivo and encanto, among others, which can be translated into English as enticement, lure and charm, as in Volver a su pueblo no tiene ningún aliciente para ella ‘Going back to her village holds no attraction for her’ (OSD).

Interestingly, this present participle was borrowed into English at one point as well according to the Oxford English Dictionary, though it does not appear in any other of the major dictionaries of English and the OED marks it as rare. This cognate of the Spanish noun aliciente is the adjective cum noun allicient, pronounced [ǝ.ˈlɪ.ʃɪ.ǝnt], which is primarily an adjective meaning ‘attracting’, according to the OED, first attested in 1831. The noun use of this word is even rarer, and it is first attested in 1658 (OED).

French does have a cognate adjective, which is ‘very literary and rare’ (GR). Its form is alliciant [ˈsjɑ̃] (fem. alliciante [ˈsjɑ̃t]). This adjective is first attested in 1866 and thus cannot be the source of the Spanish noun aliciente or the English noun/adjective allicient.

Lat. ēlĭcĕre

The Latin verb ēlĭcĕre was formed with the variant ē‑ of the prefix ex‑ and, according to Festus Grammaticus, the Latin verb lăcĕre that was obsolete in Classical Latin times. Its meaning was ‘to entice, elicit or coax’ or ‘to draw forth, pull out’. The first three principal parts were ēlĭcĭō, ēlĭcĕre, ēlĭcŭī, ēlicitum. (Note that this derived verb does have a perfect form ēlĭcŭī and even a supine form ēlicitum. This Latin verb was borrowed by English as the verb elicit [ɪ.ˈlɪ.sɪt] in the 17th century with the meaning ‘to evoke or draw out (a response or answer [or reaction])’ (COED). As usual, the English verb was borrowed from the passive participle ēlicitus form of the Latin verb. This verb is homophonous with the unrelated adjective illicit.

Originally this English verb seems to have had the added sense of drawing out or obtaining something by trickery, though that is not the case anymore. This verb has no Spanish cognate. English elicit translates into Spanish by several different verbs, depending on the context, such as sonsacar ‘to winkle out, coax, wheedle’, obtener ‘obtain, get’, when referring to eliciting facts or information, as in obtener información ‘to elicit information’ or sonsacar la verdad ‘to elicit the truth’. Eng. elicit translates as provocar ‘to cause, to start (a fire), to spark off, prompt’ (also ‘to provoke’), evocar ‘to evoke, invoke, etc.’, or suscitar ‘to stir up, arouse, raise, etc.’, among others, when referring to reactions from an individual, as in suscitar un comentario ‘to elicit a comment’ or arrancarle una sonrisa a alguien ‘to elicit a smile from someone’ (Sp. arrancar means literally means ‘to pull off, tear out, etc.)

There is a noun derived from the verb elicit, namely elicitation [ɪˌ.lɪ.sɪ.ˈtʰeɪ̯.ʃən] which means ‘the act or result of eliciting’. This noun is used primarily with the ‘obtain information’ sense of the verb elicit and thus translates into Spanish as obtención or adquisición, or with verbs like sonsacar or obtener used as nouns, as in The elicitation of the true story took time ‘Llevó tiempo obtener la verdadera historia’. This noun was derived in English, from the verb elicit and the Latinate suffix ‑ation (cf. Lat. ‑ĭōn‑). Spanish does not have a cognate of this noun either. Eng. elicitation can be translated into Spanish as obtención, adquisición, when translating the process sense of the word, or respuesta, when translating the result sense.

The verb elicit is used in linguistics and other social sciences to refer to the act of obtaining information from human beings. In linguistics, one elicits information about a language from native speakers, who in linguistic parlance are known as informants (Sp. informante).[1] The techniques used to obtain information from human beings in these sciences go by the name of elicitation techniques, which include interviews, brain storming, focus groups, observation, surveys, and questionnaires, among others. There is no simple and straightforward way to translate the noun elicitation in this context. One possible Spanish translation of Eng. elicitation is obtención (de información, etc.). The term elicitation technique could thus be translated as técnica para obtener información or técnica para la obtención de información.

Another noun derived from the verb elicit is elicitor which refers to ‘someone or something that elicits’. This noun is much less common than the verb elicit or even the noun elicitation. There is also no single word to translate this meaning into Spanish and how the term is translated will depend on the contexts and type of elicitation.


[1] Eng. informant can also be used as a synonym of informer, that is, ‘a person who gives information to the police about secret or criminal activities’ (MWALD). This sense translates into Spanish as delator, confidente, or soplón, among other possibilities.

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...