Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Latin root TEND-, part 2: Lat. tĕndĕre

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 51, "From extend to pretend: The Latin root -TEND-", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

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Lat. tĕndĕre: Sp. tender and Eng. tend and other derivates


The Latin verb tĕndĕre was passed on to Spanish by word of mouth, resulting in the patrimonial verb tender, an e > ie stem-changing verb, cf. yo tiendo, etc. This verb has different senses or uses, which result in different translations into English. This polysemous verb has the following major meanings:

  1. ‘to hang (clothes) to dry’, as in tender la ropa ‘to hang up the clothes’
  2. ‘to spread something out horizontally (a tablecloth, a blanket, etc.)’, as in tender el mantel ‘to spread out the tablecloth’
  3. ‘to stretch out, hold out reaching out (a hand)’, primarily in tender la mano (synonymous with but less common than extender)
  4. ‘to lay/hang something between two points’, as in tender cable ‘to lay/hang cable’
  5. ‘to lay down’, as in tender a un enfermo en la cama ‘to lay a sick person down on a bed’ (synonym: tumbar); used reflexively and, thus, intransitively, cf. tenderse en la cama ‘to lie down in bed’ (synonym: tumbarse).
  6. ‘to lay out/set up’ used with objects such as trampa ‘trap’ or emboscada ‘ambush’
  7. ‘to tend to, have a tendency, inclination or propensity towards’ (with a): e.g. tiende a aburrirse pronto ‘he usually gets bored fast; he tends to bore fast’

Additionally, the verb tender is found in some common dialectal expressions such as tender la cama ‘to make the bed’ (México; synonym: hacer la cama), tender la mesa ‘to set the table’ (Central and South America; synonym: poner la mesa), both uses being obviously related to sense #2 above.

As we can gather from the last of these senses, #7, English has a cognate of this verb, namely tend, which was borrowed from Old French tendre in the early 14th century, but only with one of the meanings this word had in French and only one of the senses its Spanish cognate has, namely meaning #7. The sense can be defined as ‘frequently behave in a particular way or have a certain characteristic’, as in Written language tends to be formal (COED), cf. Sp. La lengua escrita tiende a ser formal. Derived from this sense is the related sense ‘to be liable to possess (a particular characteristic)’ (COED), as in Juan tends to talk too much (Sp. Juan tiende a hablar demasiado).

Although Sp. tender can often be a good translation of Eng. tend, this is not always the case. So, for instance, Eng. tend has an additional related subsense, namely ‘to move or extend in a particular direction’, used with motion adverbs, as in Our ship tended northward (AHD) or Interest rates are tending upwards (DOCE). In Spanish, this particular use of Eng. tend does not translate as tender. More generally, Sp. tender prefers to be followed by a verb.

There are also somewhat idiomatic expressions with Eng. tend that could be rendered into Spanish with tender, but which should usually be rendered by other idiomatic Spanish expressions. Thus, the collocation tend to agree, as in I tend to agree with you on that, is probably best translated into Spanish with the verb inclinarse a, as in Me inclino a pensar lo mismo (Harraps). Also, when tend is used to indicate habitual actions, a better translation of the expression in Spanish would be one with the verb soler, at least some dialects of Spanish, as in That tends to be the case, cf. Sp. Eso suele ser así, or We tend to go to Puerto Rico for vacation, cf. Sp. Solemos ir a Puerto Rico de vacaciones.

From this sense of Sp. tender, the adjective tendiente or tendente has been developed, meaning ‘tending, that tends’ or ‘aimed at, that aims to’ (cf. Eng. tending). The form tendente is preferred in Spain and tendiente in Spanish America. In a way, this adjective would seem to be equivalent to the inflection tending of the verb to tend in English. The two are not equivalent, however. Eng. tending is best translated by other words, as  in red tending to orange, cf. Sp. rojo tirando a naranja (Harraps). And Sp. tend(i)ente is best translated by other words, such as aimed, a in propuestas tendentes a mejorar las viviendas ‘proposals aimed at improving housing’ (Vox).

Sp. tendiente and tendente were formed in Spanish with the ‑(i)ente suffix that descends from the accusative ending of Latin present participle verb-form, a verbal adjective, namely ‑ĕnt-em (nominative ‑ēns). The present participle of tĕndĕre was tendēns, meaning ‘extending, stretching (out), spreading’ and the accusative form was tendĕntem (or also tendēns), which can be seen as the source of the two Spanish variants.

In Medieval Latin (late 13th century), a noun was derived from this Latin participle’s regular stem tendĕnt‑ by means of the suffix ‑i‑a that formed abstract nouns, resulting in tendentia meaning something like ‘inclination, leaning, tendency’. This word was borrowed into Spanish as tendencia, with the typical adjustment of the ‑t‑ in the ending to ‑c‑, and into English as tendency or tendence. Actually, tendency is the form this English word appears with in the early 17th century. Two centuries earlier it was spelled tendaunce, having been borrowed from Old French tendance. Eng. tendence is still a possible variant of tendency, though it is ‘rare or literary’, according to the OED.

The English verb tend and the sense of Spanish tender that is cognate with that verb, are sometimes replaced by synonymous verbal expressions using the nouns tendency and tendencia, respectively. The English expression is to have a tendency to and the Spanish one is tener tendencia a (without the article). So, for example The handle tends to fall is synonymous with The hand has a tendency to fall. The same thing happens in Spanish, where El asa tiende a caerse is synonymous with El asa tiene tendencia a caerse. Actually, the Spanish expression may be even more common than the English one, which is not surprising, given the polysemous nature of the Spanish verb.

The cognates Sp. tendencia ~ Eng. tendency share a main meaning that is ‘an inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behavior’ (COED) or, what is the same, ‘a predisposition to think, act, behave, or proceed in a particular way’ (AHD). A secondary sense is ‘a group within a larger political party or movement’ (COED). From this sense of the noun tendency comes the derived English adjective tendentious ‘marked by a strong implicit point of view; partisan’ (AHD) or ‘calculated to promote a particular cause or point of view’ (COED), first attested in the late 19th century (also spelled tendencious in British English). This word is a calque from German tendenziös, derived in German from the noun Tendenz ‘tendency’, a cognate of English tendency, also borrowed from Medieval Latin tendentia. Spanish also borrowed this adjective, as tendencioso/a (DRAE, 1925) (cf. Fr. tendancieux/tendancieuse, 1904).

English has a second verb to tend whose meaning can be defined as ‘to give your attention to and take care of (something or someone)’, as in She tends her garden daily or He tended his ailing mother (MWALD). This second verb to tend was in origin a shortening of the verb attend (see below). In North America, this verb was commonly used in the sense of managing or directing an establishment, such as a store, as in to tend a store or to tend bar, from which comes the expression bartender. Because the source of this verb is Lat. attĕndĕre, not Lat. tĕndĕre, we will look at this verb again in the following section, which deals with that verb.

The passive participle of Lat. tĕndĕre was originally tentus and, later, tensus, meaning ‘stretched’ (see the almost identical supine forms above). In its origin, these verbal forms are formed by adding the suffix ‑t‑ to the main root, so we can reconstruct these verb forms as coming from an earlier (unattested) *tend-t-us. The change of ‑d‑t‑ to ‑s‑ or ‑ss‑ in these verb forms is well attested. The change of the ‑d‑t‑ consonant cluster to ‑t‑ is also not surprising after the consonant ‑n. It seems quite likely that the two forms tentus and tensus coexisted in (perhaps different varieties of) the Latin language, with the latter eventually becoming the only one.

The version tensus of this Latin participle was borrowed into English in the mid-17th century as tense meaning ‘tightly stretched, taut’, especially when referring to a muscle. A figurative sense was added to this verb in the early 19th century, namely ‘unable to relax’ and, from it derived the sense ‘causing or showing anxiety and nervousness’ (COED). Soon after borrowing this adjective English also came to have a verb to tense, which it may have developed out of the adjective by conversion, though it may well have been borrowed the verb from Vulgar Latin *tensāre, a first conjugation verb that was derived from the stem tēns‑ of the passive participle tēnsus ‘stretched’ of the verb tĕndĕre.

Note that this English adjective tense is not related to the homonymous noun tense that means ‘a set of forms taken by a verb to indicate the time (and sometimes the continuance or completeness) of the action in relation to the time of the utterance’ (COED). This second word tense comes from Old French tens ‘time, period of time, era; weather; etc.’, a word cognate with Sp. tiempo, since both of them derive from Lat. tempus ‘a portion of time’ (Mod. Fr. temps).

Spanish too borrowed the Latin adjective tenso/a, probably through English. It first appears in the DRAE in 1803. Just like its English cognate, it is used to refer to things displaying ‘physical, moral, or spiritual’ tension (DLE). Synonyms of this adjective’s literal meaning include estirado/a ‘pulled’, tirante ‘tight’, tieso/a (see below), and rígido/a ‘rigid’. Some synonyms of the emotional or nervous sense are nervioso/a ‘nervous’, angustiado/a ‘distressed, upset’, and estresado/a ‘stressed (out)’. Spanish has also obtained from Vulgar Latin or developed on its own a verb tensar, lit. ‘to make tense’, which can translate as to tense (a muscle), to tauten/tighten (a rope, string, or cable), to draw (an arch), or to strain (a relationship).

Lat. tensus changed to tēsus in Vulgar Latin, which was passed patrimonially on to Old Spanish as teso, a word that is rare today. As a masculine noun, it has two meanings: ‘something that protrudes from a flat surface’ and ‘low hill with a flat surface at the top’. As an adjective, teso/a is a variant of the much more common adjective tieso/a that means ‘stiff, rigid’ (synonym: rígido/a) as well as ‘upright, erect’ (synonym: erguido/a) and ‘taut, tight’ (synonym: tenso/a). The form teso is obviously the original one in Spanish and the form tieso must have formed by analogy. In other words, the change of Latin ē to Spanish ie can only be explained by analogy with forms of the patrimonial verb tender, which have the diphthong ie derived from stressed Latin short ĕ (cf. Part I, Chapter 10).

There is a Spanish noun related to the adjective teso/tieso, namely tesura or tiesura, which is not a very common word today. Its main meaning is ‘stiffness, rigidity’ or ‘hardness’ (synonyms: dureza, rigidez). The word-form tiesura came later than that of tesura, as in the case of the related adjectives. The loss of the ‑n‑ in patrimonial Spanish words that come from words that had ‑ns‑ clusters in Latin clusters is well attested since that is how we get Sp. mesa ‘table’ from Lat. mensa and Sp. pesar ‘to weigh’ from Lat. pensāre. A second meaning for tiesura is ‘exceedingly serious or affected behavior’ (synonym: seriedad, sequedad, altanería; antonym: cordialidad). The source of this word is Lat. tēnsūra, ‘a stretching out, a straining, tension, etc.’, a noun derived from the stem tēns‑ of the passive participle tēnsus and the noun-forming suffix ‑ūr‑a. English borrowed this Latin word as tensure [ˈtɛn.ʃəɹ] in the early 17th century with the meaning ‘stretching, strain’, but that word is now obsolete, having been replaced by one that comes from a Latin synonym of this word, namely tension.

Speaking of which, another Latin noun derived from the same stem tēns‑ is tēnsĭō (accusative tēnsĭōnem), formed with the also suffix ‑ĭōn‑ that formed third-declension feminine abstract nouns in Latin. English borrowed it as tension [ˈtɛn.ʃən] in the first half of the 16th century with the meaning ‘a stretched condition’. It was borrowed through French, which had borrowed it from Latin in the late 15th century, originally only with a physiological sense of muscular tension. Modern Eng. tension can refer to ‘the state of being tense’, caused either by physical strain or mental or emotional strain. In the field of electricity, the noun tension came to be used in the late 18th century to refer to ‘voltage’ or ‘electromotive force’ (AHD) and it is found in phrases such as high-tension cable (Sp. cable de alta tensión).

Spanish too has borrowed this Latin word, as tensión [ten.ˈsi̯on], probably through French, and the senses of the cognate words in all three languages are pretty much equivalent, all having the senses just discussed above. Spanish, however, uses the word tensión in one way that does not typically translate into English as tension, namely to refer to ‘blood pressure’, as in tensión arterial ‘arterial blood pressure’ (cf. tomarle la tensión a alguien ‘to take somebody’s blood pressure’, tener baja/alta la tensión ‘to have low/high blood pressure’. Do note that although English does not normally use the word tension to refer to blood pressure, the technical term for ‘high blood pressure’ in English is hypertension, first attested in the late 19th century, a word derived from tension by means of the Greek prefix hyper‑ (equivalent to and cognate with the Latin prefix super‑). The opposite of hypertension is hypotension ‘abnormally low blood pressure’ (COED), formed in English with the Greek suffix hypo‑ (equivalent to and cognate with the Latin prefix sub‑). The Spanish equivalent of Eng. hypertension is hipertensión, an obvious calque of the English or French equivalent expression, which first appeared in the DRAE in 1947. This word’s antonym is hipotensión (DRAE, 1956). (Spanish also uses tensión in the expression tensión nerviosa, which translates into some dialects of English as nervous tension but into other as nervous strain.)

Spanish has a word that looks like it could be a patrimonial version of the word tensión, namely tesón ‘tenacity, determination, firmness’, as in the expression trabajar con tesón ‘to work hard’, a word attested in the 16th century. The form of this word, however, does not seem to be what Lat. tēnsĭō would have turned into as a patrimonial word. Sp. tesón it is first attested in the 16th century, replacing the now obsolete words tesonía or tesonería (Corominas). Thus, Corominas thinks that tesón is derived from teso by means of the augmentative suffix ‑ón, though this is by no means a common type of derivation.[1]

Sp. tesonería (Nebrija, 1495; DRAE, 1739) is a rare word today but it is still in the DLE with the meaning ‘obstinacy, stubbornness; tenacity’ (synonyms: terquedad, pertinacia). This word’s synonym tesonía is also found in the DLE but it is said to be archaic if not obsolete (Sp. desusado; DRAE, 1803). These two words obviously contain the root tes‑ that we are looking into here and, although Corominas tells us that tesón is attested later than tesonía and tesonería, it is obvious that the latter two must have been derived from the former. Also derived from tesón is the word tesonero which is used in some dialects of Spanish to refer to ‘a person that has tenacity and perseverance’, though this word did not enter a dictionary until 1917 and the DRAE until 1925 (DLE: ‘Dicho de una persona: Que tiene tesón o constancia’). A dialectal variant of tesonero is atesonado, which is not found in any dictionary (Corominas).

At some point a derived adjective was created in New Latin out of the adjective tensus by means of the Latin suffix ‑īl‑ that created third conjugation adjectives. The adjective was tensīlis (tens‑īl‑is), which was borrowed into English in the early 17th century with the meaning ‘stretchable’. In the mid-19th century, it acquired the meaning ‘pertaining to tension’. The ‘stretchable’ sense of tensible translates into Spanish as elástico/a or flexible. The ‘pertaining to tension’ sense translates into Spanish by means of the noun tensión, as in the phrase tensile strength:  Sp. resistencia a la tensión (also elasticidad).


Another New Latin word was derived from the Latin adjective tensus in the early 18th century, namely tensor, which was derived by the noun-forming suffix ‑ōr‑ (nom.: ‑or, gen. ‑ōr-is). This word was borrowed into both English and Spanish where it was used in Anatomy to refer to ‘a muscle that tightens or stretches a part of the body’ (COED; cf. Sp. tensor or músculo tensor). The Spanish word tensor has also come to be used to refer to ‘chest pull’ or ‘chest expander’.

The Spanish word tienda, meaning both ‘tent’ and ‘store’ and its cognate Eng. tent (meaning just ‘tent’) are also related to the Latin verb tĕndĕre and their history is quite fascinating, though it is by no means all clear. The sense ‘tent’ can be defined more fully as ‘a portable shelter made of fabric, supported by one or more poles and stretched tight by cords attached to pegs driven into the ground’ (COED). The ‘stretched tight’ part should give us a clue as to the origin of the word. Supposedly, in ancient times stores were for the most part open-air stalls at the marketplace which were protected from the elements by such a cloth placed over them supported by poles, which would explain the ‘store’ sense of the Spanish word. It has also been said that the word referred to a cloth spread over the seller’s bench where the wares were placed for sale (remember that ‘spread’ is another sense of Lat. tĕndĕre). English borrowed tent from Old French tente in the 12th century.

The source of Sp. tienda and Eng. tent was not a word in Classical Latin, but it is attested as tenda as early as the 7th century (Late Latin). It is quite possible that this noun is derived from the plural tenta of the supine wordform tentum. Spanish tienda is attested very early, in the late 10th century. The word tienda has given us the derived nouns tendero/a ‘storekeeper, shopkeeper’ and trastienda ‘back room (of a shop)’. Both of these words are not as common today as they once were.

Finally, there are two words derived in Spanish from the verb tender, both having to do with clothes hanging. One is tenderete, first attested in the early 17th century, which can mean ‘clotheshorse (to hang clothes)’. Interestingly, the most common meaning for this word is ‘stall in the marketplace’ (synonym: puesto). The other words is tendedero, attested in the 15th century, which refers to ‘a place to hang clothes to dry’ as well as to ‘clothesline’ or ‘clotheshorse’.

Before leaving this section on Lat. tĕndĕre, we should mention that this verb’s Ancient Greek cognate τείνειν (teínein) has left some traces in English and Spanish as well. The cognate words Eng. tetanus ~ Sp. tétano(s) referring to ‘a bacterial disease-causing rigidity and spasms of the voluntary muscles’ (COED) come from Latin word tetanus meaning ‘convulsive tension of the muscles’ (Pliny), a loanword from Ancient Greek τέτανος (tétanos), an adjective meaning ‘taut, stretched’ formed by reduplicated of the zero grade of the root of τείνειν ‘to stretch’.

Also derived from the Ancient Greek verb τείνειν (teínein) ‘to stretch’ was the noun τόνος (tónos), which had a large number of senses: ‘stretching, tension, raising of voice, pitch of voice, accent, musical mode or key, exertion of physical or mental energy’ (OED). This noun was a strong grade of the verbal (ablaut) series of root allomorphs (variants) τεν- ~ τον- ~ τα-, of this verb’s root. Latin borrowed this word from Greek as tonus (accusative: tonum), with the meanings ‘stretching, quality of sound, tone, accent, tone in painting’.

In Medieval Latin it was used in particular as a term in music referring to sound. This Latin word was borrowed into Spanish as tono and into English as tone. Eng. tone came into the language with the meaning ‘musical sound or note’ in the 13th century through Old French ton. The sense ‘a modulation of the voice expressing a feeling or mood’ of Eng. tone first appeared around the year 1600 (COED). Spanish tone also shares that sense today. The sense ‘the normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle’ of Eng. tone, as in muscle tone, is from the 17th century. From this sense of the noun, English derived the verb to tone ‘to give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a muscle)’ (COED), as well as the derived adjective tonic ‘characterized by muscular tension’ and, later, ‘producing vigor and well-being’, which also became a noun meaning ‘a medicinal substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being’ (COED) after the shortening of the phrase tonic medicine (c. 1800) and tonic water (1861), as in gin and tonic (cf. Sp. tónico; DRAE, 1832).

The musical sense of tonic, meaning ‘the first note in a scale which, in conventional harmony, provides the keynote of a piece of music’ (COED), is from around 1760. This sense of tonic translates into Spanish as tónica (since the word nota ‘note’ is feminine). Note that Sp. tónica can also be short for agua tónica ‘tonic water’.

In English, the derived verb tone down is from the mid-19th century. This verb translates into Spanish as moderar ‘moderate’, atenuar ‘atenuate’, or suavizar ‘soften’, cf. tone down one’s criticism, Sp. moderar la crítica, rebajar la crítica, atenuar la crítica (GU).

Eng. tune (Am.Eng. [ˈtʰ(j)un], Br.Eng. [ˈtʰjun], [ˈʧʰun]), is an unexplained ‘peculiar phonetic variant of [the word] tone’, which first appears in 14th century. This word came to mean ‘a melody, especially one which characterizes a certain piece of music’ (COED). One of the possible Spanish translations of Eng. tune is tonada (synonym: melodía), which can also mean ‘ballad, song’ (synonym: canto, cantar, copla, etc.) and, in Spanish America, ‘speech accent’ (synonyms: dejo, sonsonete). The word tonada is obviously derived from the noun tono by means of the suffix ‑ada that creates derived nouns (such as limonada ‘lemonade’ from limón ‘lemon’ and cucharada ‘spoonful’ from cuchara ‘spoon’).

Finally, there is one more word that seems to be related, albeit indirectly, to the Latin verb tendĕre ‘to stretch’. Eng. tendon ~ Sp. tendón come from medieval Latin tendo, whose regular stem was tendon‑ or tendin‑, since both options are found. A tendon is ‘a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous tissue attaching a muscle to a bone’ (COED). Latin tendo was a loanword from Ancient Greek τένων (tenon), regular stem τενοντ‑ (tenont-), meaning ‘sinew, tendon’. Interestingly, it would seem that the loanword’s form (in particular the added d) was influenced by the form of the Latin verb tendĕre ‘to stretch’. Greek τένων (tenon) obviously descends from the same Proto-Indo-European root *ten. According to the AHD, the source of Ancient Greek τένων (tenon) was the Proto-Indo-European suffixed form *ten‑ōn‑. This connection between the Greek and Latin words is something that the Romans must have recognized when they borrowed this word, which is why a ‑d‑ was added to the loanword, making the loanword a calque of sorts. Interestingly, the fact that tendons are somewhat flexible but rather inelastic bands of tissue (that thus cannot be stretched much) would seem to make the source of their name somewhat of a misnomer.

Derived from the noun tendon, of course, is the noun tendonitis [ˌtʰɛn.dɪ.'naɪ̯.ɾɪs], referring to the inflammation of a tendon. The word is also spelled tendinitis, particularly in the US, whereas tendonitis is a bit more common than tendinitis in the UK. The Spanish equivalent is also tendinitis, as in the US. Note that, in Spanish, tenonitis (without a d) is a possible alternative to tendinitis. The tendinitis spelling comes after the word’s regular stem tendin‑ for this word in Medieval Latin.

Before leaving the verb tendĕre ‘to stretch’, we should mention that it has been suggested that Latin had a frequentative verb derived from it, namely temptāre ‘to handle, touch, feel, try the strength of, put to the test, try, attempt’, source of Eng. tempt and Sp. tentar. (For more on frequentative verbs, see Part I, Chapter 8, §8.4.3.6.) The reason for this belief is that temptāre was often spelled temtāre in Latin, which naturally became eventually tentāre in Romance by simplification of the consonant cluster and assimilation of the nasal, and more importantly, after the 13th century scribes began to write the Latin verb as tentāre as well, creating confusion as to the actual spelling or source of this Latin verb (OED). If the original Latin verb had been tentāre, it could conceivably have been a frequentative first-conjugation verb derived from the passive participle stem tent‑, which is how frequentative verbs were form. (Note that for this would have had to come from the old passive participle tentus, not from the more recent tensus, which would have resulted in tensāre, a verb we find in Late Latin, as we saw.) The derivation tendĕre > tentāre would not have been a far-fetched one if we consider that analogous derivations happened to verbs derived from tendĕre. Thus, for example, Lat. intentāre is considered to be a frequentative version of intendĕre, as we shall see below.

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[1] Confirmation that Sp. tesón does not come from Lat. tension‑ comes from these nouns’ gender (tesón is masculine and tension feminine). Portuguese has a cognate of tesón, namely tesão, which could not come from Lat. tension‑ either, or it would have become *teijão, for Lat. ‑sion always became ‑jão in Portuguese patrimonial words, e.g. mansion‑ > meijão (Corominas).

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