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.

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