Monday, May 27, 2019

Intimate intimacy

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 53, "Intimate intimacy", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Eng. intimate and Sp. íntimo


The words intimate and intimacy are quite fashionable in the English-speaking world today. Here we are going to explore the origin and meaning of these words, along with those of their closest relatives in Spanish, íntimo/a and intimidad, which are not exact cognates but, rather, paronyms, since they have different endings (but the same stem and very similar meanings). We will explore the reasons for these differences and similarities below.

Figure 230: Young men engage in cuddling, a form of physical intimacy[i]

The English adjective intimate [ˈɪntɪmət] was borrowed in the first half of the 17th century with the meaning ‘closely acquainted, familiar’, which is still the main meaning of the word, as in intimate friends. A close, related meaning for this adjective is ‘having an informal friendly atmosphere’ (COED). A second, albeit related sense is ‘private and personal’, as in intimate details, which can be used euphemistically for ‘having a sexual relationship’ (COED). Since the early 20th century, the adjective intimate is also used euphemistically in connection to women's underwear and nightclothes, a synonym of lingerie, as in the phrase intimate apparel. This last phrase has been calqued in Spanish as ropa íntima (or moda íntima), though a preferred term is surely ropa interior.

The word intimate would seem to have been borrowed from the passive participle intĭmātus of the Latin verb intĭmāre which meant ‘to put or bring into’ and later also ‘to announce, publish, make known, intimate’. However, as you can see, the meaning of the English word intimate does not seem to be related to this verb at all. That is because the meaning of intimate was really taken from the Latin adjective that the Latin verb was derived from, namely intĭmus, an adjective that meant originally ‘from the deepest part’ and then also ‘inmost, deepest, profound; close, tight (in friendship)’. It seems like whoever borrowed this word wanted to actually borrow Lat. intĭmus, but they went for the form of a related verb’s passive participle instead.

The Spanish equivalent of the English adjective intimate is íntimo/a, which is indeed derived from the ‘right’ word, namely the Latin adjective intĭmus. The meanings of Eng. intimate and Sp. íntimo are very close, however, as we shall see. We say that these words are paronyms and not cognates because their source is not exactly the same source-word, but closely related ones.

The Latin adjective intĭmus (fem. intĭma, neut. intĭmum) meant ‘inmost, innermost, most secret, most profound, most intimate’. This adjective was originally a superlative of the Latin adverb intus ‘within, inside’, which is derived from the preposition in ‘in’ (for more on Latin comparatives and superlatives, see X). The Latin adjective intĭmus used as a noun meant ‘close friend’.

As we said, Lat. intus was an adverb derived from the preposition in and the ablative termination -tus. It meant ‘on the inside, within’, but also ‘to the inside, into, within, in’ and even ‘From within’ (L&S). Latin intus has left no descendants in Romance languages and, contrary to all appearances, it is not related to English into, which is a combination of the prepositions in and to. Actually, the Latin preposition in (source of Spanish en) and the English preposition in, are related, since they both descend from a Proto-Indo-European preposition that has been reconstructed as *h₁én (same meaning). (It was *in in Proto-Germanic, giving us German and Dutch in, and Danish and Norwegian i. Other cognates of these prepositions are Irish i, Welsh yn, Ancient Greek ν (en), and modern Greek εν (en).

The Latin root int‑ of the adverb intus is also found in the Latin verb intrāre ‘to go or walk into, to enter’, the source of the cognates Sp. entrar (patrimonial) ~ Eng. enter (loan from French). Actually, this verb was derived from the preposition intrā ‘within, inside; during’. This intrā comes from an earlier *interus, which is also the source of Lat. interior, source of Eng. interior ~ Sp. interior. The ultimate source of this word is Proto-Indo-European *h₁énteros ‘inner, what is inside’ (note that despite the similarity, this is not the source of Sp. entero ‘whole’, which comes from Lat. integrum, accusative wordform of Lat. integer ‘complete, whole, intact’; cf. learned Sp. íntegro ‘whole, entire, etc.’). (Eng. entire comes from the same Latin source. It is a loanword from patrimonial French entier, with the same meaning. Eng. integer, meaning primarily ‘a whole number’, is a loanword from this Latin word and its Spanish equivalent is número entero.)

Lat. intus is cognate with Ancient Greek ντός (entós) a preposition/postposition and adverb meaning ‘within, inside’. The ancestor of both of these words has been reconstructed as Proto-Indo-European *h₁éntos, from Proto-Indo-European *h₁én, the source of Lat. in, as well as Eng. in. Lat. in is, of course, the source of Sp. en ‘in’.

Lat. *interus, the source of Lat. intrā and interior, was cognate with the Greek adjective *ντερος (énteros) ‘inside’. Greek converted the neuter form of this adjective, ντερον (énteron), into the Greek word for ‘intestine’. In New Latin medical terms, the combining forms of this word, enter‑ and entero‑, are used in dozens of medical terms such as gastroenterology, the name of ‘the branch of medicine dealing with the study of disorders affecting the stomach, intestines, and associated organs’ (AHD).

The word for ‘intestine’ in Latin has a similar, though not totally analogous source. The word in Latin was Lat. intestīnum ‘an intestine, a gut’, which is the source of the cognates Eng. intestine [ɪnˈtɛstɪn ] ~ Sp. intestino. Actually, the word was typically used in the plural, intestīna, meaning ‘the intestines, entrails, bowels’ (L&S). The Latin word intestīnum is a conversion from the neuter form of the adjective intestīnus/a/um ‘inward, internal’ (int‑est‑īn‑us). The cognate adjectives Eng. intestinal [ɪnˈtɛstɪnəl] ~ Sp. intestinal come from medieval or modern Latin intestinālis, an adjective derived from the noun intestīnum by means of the third declension adjectival suffix ‑āl‑(is). The word intestine was borrowed into English probably in the late 16th century. The Spanish word intestino is attested in the mid-13th century as entestinos, and as estentinos in a Leonese source of the same time, which means that intestino is probably a semi-learned word. Note that the descendants of  Lat. intestīnum are also often used in the plural: Eng. the intestines & Sp. los intestinos.

The exact derivation of Lat. intestīnus from the adverb intus is not clear. Besides the morpheme int‑ we can detect the adjectival suffix ‑īn  and the inflection ‑us. However, the source of the middle part ‑est‑ is lost in time. By the way, the word for ‘intestine’ in Old English was hrop, the ancestor of the Modern English word ‘rope’. To this day, rope is a dialectal word in English for ‘a gut, entrail, or intestine, esp. of an animal or bird. Chiefly in plural’ (OED).

We should also mention that the adjective from which the Latin source of Eng. intestine and Sp. intestino was derived has also been borrowed by these two modern languages, though it is a fancy word not known to all speakers. Actually, many dictionaries do not even mention this sense. The AHD defines the adjective intestine as ‘Internal; civil’ and gives as an example the intestine affairs of the nation. Spanish too has the adjective intestino/a with the same meaning as its English cognate. The DLE defines this word as ‘interior, interno’ and ‘civil, doméstico’ and María Moliner adds that this adjective is only used with the nouns such as discordia, querella, or lucha as a synonym of interno, giving us the example un país arruinado por las discordias intestinas ‘a country ruined by internal discord’.

As we said, the Spanish paronym of the English adjective intimate is the adjective íntimo, which is first attested in the mid-15th century and which first appeared in a dictionary in 1607, namely in Tesoro de las dos lenguas francesa y española by César Oudin. We know that French borrowed this Latin word in the second half of the 14th century, so it is quite likely that it entered Spanish through French. Notice that this word first appeared in a dictionary in one for French and Spanish. And it would not be too risky to venture to guess that Eng. intimate is a modified loanword from the French word as well, since it is not attested until the middle of the 17th century.

Note that the meanings and uses of Eng. intimate and Sp. íntimo are very similar but not identical. The most common nouns that are found in collocation with this adjective are amigo, as in amigo íntimo, which can translate into English as intimate friend, but (very) close friend is probably a better translation. Sp. íntimo is also used to refer to diaries, as in diario íntimo, and the best translation for this expression is probably private diary, not intimate diary. Eng. private is also probably the best translation of íntimo in the collocation vida íntima, as in mi vida íntima ‘my private life’. Spanish-English dictionaries do tell us that íntimo may translate into English as intimate when talking about a feeling, an emotion, an atmosphere (Sp. ambiente), or a secret. In the context of friendship, close or very close are usually the best translations, as we saw. There are yet more possible translations. So, for example, una cena íntima might best be translated as a romantic dinner.

As for the ways to translate Eng. intimate into Spanish, some dictionaries say that íntimo is usually the most general translation, as shown by the following examples (collocations): detalles íntimos for intimate details and restaurante íntimo for intimate restaurant. However, as we have seen, these are not always the closest of friends since there are alternatives which may be more accurate translations or more common collocations. In the context of (intimate) links or associations, estrecho is recommended as a translation (in addition to íntimo) and in the context of (intimate) knowledge, profundo is one alternative (OSD). An alternative translation of the collocation have intimate knowledge of something is conocer algo a fondo (Harrap’s).

As for the English collocations to be intimate with somebody and to be on intimate terms with somebody, the OSD recommends the translations tener intimidad con alguien and ser íntimo de alguien, respectively. However, the former is an expression that often has sexual connotations and then the expression is probably best translated as tener relaciones (sexuales) con alguien.

Eng. intimate can also be used as a noun with the meaning ‘a close friend or confidant’ (AHD), though this use is rare. This meaning developed in the mid-17th century. It can translate into Spanish a íntimo/a (‘amigo de confianza’, Clave), as in A la celebración solo fuimos los íntimos (Clave), but this noun is also rare in Spanish. An alternative translation of this noun is allegado/a (Harrap’s).

Eng. intimate ~ Sp. intimar


We said that the English adjective intimate looks like it comes from the passive participle intĭmātus of Latin verb intĭmāre ‘to make known, announce, etc.’ but actually has the meaning of the Latin adjective intĭmus. As we mentioned earlier, it seems like whoever borrowed the Latin adjective intĭmus changed its form by adding the ending ‑ate to it. After all, French and Spanish borrowed intĭmus as intime and íntimo. In other words, it is a bit odd to say that Eng. intimate comes from the passive participle intĭmātus or the verb intĭmāre, although that is what it looks like on the surface.

Actually, English has also borrowed the Latin verb intĭmāre and, as usual, it has borrowed it using the Latin verb’s passive participle form intĭmātus. As usual, English has done this by changing the Latin ending ‑tus to ‑te for reasons that we have seen elsewhere (cf. Part I, Chapter 5). Thus, in English we have a homograph of the adjective intimate, namely the verb intimate, which is pronounced [ˈɪntɪmeɪ̯t] as opposed to [ˈɪntɪmət]. (Because the two words are pronounced differently, they are not homophones or homonyms.) One dictionary defines this rather fancy and uncommon verb as ‘state or make known’, with the sub-sense ‘imply or hint’ (COED). Two examples of this word in context are: She had already intimated to me her wish to leave and He intimated, politely but firmly, that we were not welcome (LDCE). The meaning of this English verb is closely related to the meaning of the Latin source verb.


As we saw earlier, the post-classical transitive Latin verb intĭmāre meant literally ‘to put or bring in(to)’. Figuratively, it meant something like ‘to make known, announce, notify by legal process’ (OED). The verb was derived from the adjective intĭmus that, as we saw, meant ‘inmost, innermost, most intimate’.

The Spanish cognate of the English verb intimate is the also learned intimar, as we would expect. However, the two verbs are false friends. The meaning of the Spanish verb intimar is closely related to that of the adjective íntimo, to the extent that is would seem that Sp. intimar was derived in Spanish out of the adjective and not a loanword from Latin intĭmāre. The main sense of Spanish intimar (con) is ‘to become close (to)’, ‘cosy up to/with’ (Sp. ‘establecer con alguien una relación de confianza y amistad’, DPD; ‘entablar una amistad íntima’, Clave).

Sp. intimar does have a secondary and much less common sense that is closer to the meaning of Lat. intĭmāre, though it is not identical. This meaning is something like ‘to call on’. An example sentence with this verb having this meaning is Le intimó que moderase sus palabras ‘She called on him to moderate his language’ (OSD). This meaning of intimar is not the same as that of the English verb intimate but at least it shares with it that it is a verb of communication.

Eng. intimacy and Sp. intimidad


Both English and Spanish have nouns derived from the adjectives Eng. intimate ~ Sp. íntimo, namely the also paronyms Eng. intimacy and Sp. intimidad. Both of these words were created in the modern languages and are not really loanwords from Latin, although the parts are definitely Latinate in both languages.

Eng. intimacy was created in English in the mid-17th century out of the adjective intimate, minus the ‑(a)te part, and the Latinate suffix ‑cy that means ‘the state or quality of being something’, as in the noun accuracy, derived from the adjective accurate (LDCE). As we can see, the pair accurate ~ accuracy has the same pattern as intimate ~ intimacy. Other pairs of words showing the same pattern are candidate ~ candidacy and pirate ~ piracy. Note that words ending in ‑cy are not always derived from adjectives ending in ‑ate, however, e.g. infant ~ infancy, occupant ~ occupancy, expedient ~ expediency, lunatic ~ lunacy, aristocrat ~ aristocracy, and normal ~ normalcy.

English borrowed the ending ‑cy (spelled ‑cie in Middle English) from Old French ‑cie and ‑tie, which descend from Latin ‑cia and ‑tia, respectively, which consisted of the stem ending ‑c or ‑t plus the abstract noun ending -ia. Actually, these Latin suffixes were loanwords from Greek κια (-kia), -τια (-tia). The equivalent of this suffix in Spanish is the semi-learned ‑cía or ‑cia, depending on the source of the word and the time of its adoption (cf. Chapters 5 and 8).

As for Sp. intimidad, this noun is transparently formed with the stem intim‑ of the adjective íntimo and the Latinate suffix ‑idad, a cognate of the English suffix ‑ity. (The source for both endings is the Latin ending ‑i‑tāt‑em, the accusative form of the suffix ‑i‑tas, where the ‑i‑ was a linking vowel.) The noun intimitas is not attested in Latin, however, so this word must have been created in a Romance language. Sp. intimidad is first attested in a dictionary in 1721 and it is found also in the first edition of the RAE’s dictionary in 1734. However, French has a  cognate of this word, namely intimité [ɛ̃timite], which is first attested in 1684. Thus, it is quite likely that Spanish calqued this word from French, just changing the ending ‑ité for its Spanish equivalent (cognate) ‑idad.

The noun intimacy can be defined as ‘the condition of being intimate’ (AHD) or ‘an intimate quality or state’ (MWALD). The latter definition is expanded in the dictionary by giving some types of intimacy: (1) ‘emotional warmth and closeness’, as in the phrases the intimacy of old friends, the intimacy of their relationship, and a fear of intimacy; (2) ‘a quality that suggests informal warmth or closeness’, as in The band liked the intimacy of the nightclub; (3) ‘sexual relations’, as in sexual/physical intimacy; and (4) something that is very personal and private, usually in the plural, as in They shared intimacies about their private lives (MWALD).

English-Spanish dictionaries give intimidad as the best translation of Eng. intimacy, in particular for the first two sub-senses that we just mentioned (1 and 2 above). As for the other two, when intimacy is used for sexual relations (sense 3), relaciones íntimas, relaciones sexuales, or simply relaciones may be the best equivalent expression. When intimacy is used with the meaning ‘something very personal and private’ (sense 4), in particular a confession, Spanish may use comentario íntimo, for example (Harrap’s).

The word intimacy has become quite common in some parts of American popular culture, with a meaning that corresponds to senses (1) and (2) above. The Spanish equivalent intimidad probably cannot be said to be as common and many Spanish speakers would not understand it as used in translations of English phrases containing the word intimacy. That said, it is probably that many English speakers do not really understand English expressions with the word intimacy as used by some speakers in recent times, men in particular.

Some unrelated words that look related


Finally note that not all words that begin with int- are related to the words that we just saw. For instance, Lat. intus and intimus are not related to the Latin preposition inter that meant ‘between, among’ and ‘during, while’. This preposition is the source of Sp. entre and the learned Latinate prefix inter in English and Spanish, as in the cognates Eng. international ~ Sp. internacional.

These Latin words are also not related to the cognate verbs Eng. intimidate and Sp. intimidar. These verbs are loanwords from Medieval Lat. intimidāre ‘to make afraid, cause to be afraid’ which was formed from the Latin prefix in ‘in’ and the adjective tĭmĭdus ‘afraid, timid’ (fem. tĭmĭda, neut. tĭmĭdum). This verb is first attested in English in the mid-17th century. The Spanish verb intimidar first appears in a dictionary in 1617 and it is found already in the DRAE’s first edition of 1734. These words’ French cognate, intimider, is first attested in 1515, so it is quite likely that its Spanish and English cognates are really copies of the French word. The French adjective timide from Lat. tĭmĭdus is first attested in 1518. English timid is first attested in the mid-1500s. Sp. tímido is attested in the late 1400s (in La Celestina), so this word is not likely to have come through French. Still, there is no doubt that it is a loanword and not a patrimonial word or we would have expected this Latin word to have undergone several sound changes, resulting in something like *tendo, not tímido.

The Latin adjective is related to the verb tĭmēre ‘to be afraid, fear’, source of patrimonial Sp. temer (same meaning). This is a second conjugation Latin verb with no passive participle or passive forms. Its principal parts are thus timeō, timēre, timuī. The adjective tĭmĭdus meant ‘fearful, afraid, faint-hearted, cowardly, timid’ (L&S) and it  is derived from the verb’s stem tĭm‑ plus de first/second declension adjective-forming suffix ‑ĭd‑ that meant ‘tending to’ (‑ĭdus, ‑ĭda, ‑ĭdum). Sp. temer is a patrimonial verb. It is also found in all Romance languages, except in French, curiously, so it is not strange that English does not have a cognate either.

Of course, Lat. tĭmĭdus is the source of the cognates Eng. timid ~ Sp. tímido. These adjectives are close friend, except that Sp. tímido/a is the main word that also translates Eng. shy, which is usually the best translation of Sp. tímido. When tímido does not refer to a person but to a welcome or some other action, its best translation into English is half-hearted, tepid, or lukewarm. Eng. timid always refers to a person and its best translation is tímido, though another option is timorato when timid has negative connotations of disapproval, and huraño, when referring to animals that are not friendly to humans. Sp. timorato is a learned loan from Lat. timōrātus ‘full of reverence towards God, devout’ (L&S).

Latin had a derived noun from the adjective tĭmĭdus to name the condition of being shy, namely tĭmĭdĭtas that meant ‘fearfulness, cowardice, timidity (a favorite word of Cic.)’ (L&S). This word was borrowed into English as timidity. The Spanish equivalent of this word is timidez, which seems to have been derived in Spanish out of the adjective tímido by means of the patrimonial suffix ‑ez that descends from the Latin suffix ‑ĭtĭ‑em which was similar in meaning to the suffix ‑ĭ‑tas (‑ĭtĭ‑em is the accusative form of ‑ĭtĭ‑es; cf. Part I, Chapter 5). Note that a learned version of this noun, timididad, is attested in the late 15th century, but it never caught on and replace timidez (Corominas).

Intimate intimacy

[This entry is an excerpt from Chapter 53, "Intimate intimacy", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: A...