Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Infectious diseases, Part 24: Tuberculosis

[This entry comes from a section of the chapter "Words about infectious diseases" in Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


The English word tuberculosis and its Spanish cognate tuberculosis refer to an infectious disease typically caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB), though there are four other mycobacteria that can cause, M. bovis, M. africanum, M. canetti, and M. microti. Tuberculosis, often abbreviated to TB in English, primarily affects the lungs, but it may affect other parts of the body as well. The cause of this disease was found by German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch in 1882, when he discovered the tuberculosis bacillus, for which he received the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1905. The pulmonary form of the disease had already been described in 1689 by English physician Richard Morton. who described the tubercles or nodular lesions in the lungs of affected patients. It was not until the 1820’s, however, that tuberculosis was found to be a single disease and it received its current name in 1839 (see below).

About 90% of all tuberculosis infections result in no symptoms and thus the bacteria is said to be latent (and non-contagious). In the remaining 10%, the disease becomes active and about half of those patients will die if not treated. Currently, about a quarter of the world population has the latent form of the disease. Active TB can be diagnosed by means of X-Rays and cultures of bodily fluids and latent TB (LTBI), by means of the tuberculin skin test (TST) or blood tests. There is a preventive vaccine for TB and the disease can now be treated by means of multiple antibiotics administered during a long period of time, though antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem.

The word tuberculosis

The name tuberculosis is a New Latin noun created in the 1839 by German professor of medicine Johann Lukas Schönlein. Interestingly, Dr. Schönlein was also one of the first German medical professors to lecture in German rather than in Latin. From German, the name tuberculosis spread to other European languages, including English tuberculosis [tə.ˌbɜɹ.kjə.ˈloʊ̯s.əs], French tuberculose [ty.bɛr.ky.ˈloz], and Spanish tuberculosis [tu.βeɾ.ku.ˈlo.sis].

This New Latin word was formed from the stem tūbercŭl‑ of the classical Latin noun tūbĕrcŭlum ‘a small swelling, bump, or protuberance; a boil, pimple, tubercle’ (L&S), a diminutive of the third declension noun tūber (gen. tūbĕr‑is) that meant primarily ‘a hump, bump, swelling, tumor, protuberance on animal bodies, whether natural or caused by disease’ (L&S) (cf. tūbĕr‑cŭl‑um, with the diminutive suffix ‑cŭl‑). To this stem, the scientific New Latin suffix ‑osis was added, which adds the meaning ‘diseased or abnormal condition’ (AHD). The source of this suffix is the Greek ending -ωσις (-ōsis) ‘state, abnormal condition, or action’, from ‑όω (-óō) stem of causative verbs, and the noun-forming ending ‑σις (-sis). The reason for the name is the tubercules (lumps) in the lungs that result from the disease.

English and Spanish have also borrowed the Latin source words from which the word tuberculosis is derived, directly from written Latin. Spanish has the word tubérculo, from Lat. tūbercŭlum, and English has both tuber, from Lat. tūber, and tubercle, from Lat. tūbercŭlum. Eng. tuber (first attested in the mid-15th century) means ‘a round swollen part on the stem of some plants, such as the potato, that grows below the ground and from which new plants grow’ (LDCE). The English word tubercle (first attested in the mid-16th century) is mostly a technical one used in anatomy, zoology, botany, and medicine (pathology). In the latter of these fields, it has the meaning ‘a small nodular lesion in the lungs or other tissues, characteristic of tuberculosis’ (COED) and in the former ones, ‘a small rounded projection or protuberance, especially on a bone or on the surface of an animal or plant’ (COED). The word tuber can also be used with the last of these meanings of the word tubercle, namely for ‘a rounded swelling or protuberance; a tuberosity; a tubercle’ (RHWU). The Spanish equivalent of both of these English words is tubérculo, since Spanish never borrowed the Latin word tuber.

From the noun tuber, Latin derived an adjective and from it, another noun, both of which have made it into English and Spanish. The adjective was tūbĕrōsus/a, formed with the first/second adjective-forming suffix ‑ōs‑, which meant ‘full of humps, lumps, or protuberances’ (L&S). From this, we get the synonymous English adjectives tuberous and tuberose that mean ‘producing or bearing tubers’ or ‘being or resembling a tuber’ (AHD). Spanish has also borrowed this noun as tuberoso/a. From this adjective and the abstract-noun-forming suffix ‑ĭ‑tāt‑, Latin could form the noun tūbĕrōsĭtāt‑, which English has borrowed as tuberosity, which refers to ‘the quality or condition of being tuberous’ but can also mean ‘a projection or protuberance, especially one at the end of a bone for the attachment of a muscle or tendon’ (AHD). The Spanish cognate of this word is tuberosidad.

There may be another pair words in English and Spanish that are derived ultimately from Lat. tūber, namely the cognate words (paronyms, not full cognates) Eng. truffle and Sp. trufa. These words are good friends semantically and they have two rather different meanings in each of these modern languages, namely (1) ‘a strong-smelling underground fungus that resembles a rough-skinned potato, considered a culinary delicacy. [Family Tuberaceae.]’; and (2) ‘a soft sweet made of a chocolate mixture’ (COED). The second sense of these words is derived from the first one, in the 20th century and it is based on the visual similarity between the fungus and the chocolate confection. Both of these words have been hypothesized to come from Old Provençal trufa, a descendant of a vulgar Latin tufera, with metathesis of the r, a descendant of the neuter plural wordform tūbĕra of the noun tūber ‘edible root’. French would have borrowed the term from Occitan at the end of the 14th century, cf. Mod. Fr. truffe [ˈtʀyf]. Spanish and French both borrowed the word from Occitan and English borrowed it from French to which it later added the suffix ‑le (OED). (The English word without the suffix did exist in English as truff, but it is now obsolete, OED.) The Spanish word trufa has another sense in colloquial dialectal Spanish, namely ‘lie, hoax, jest’, a meaning that is quite old and exists also in the French word (Sp. ‘mentira, patraña, embuste, engaño’; cf. Cat. trufa ‘joke, kidding’). Actually, the ‘trick, jest’ meaning of this French word precedes the ‘edible fungus’ one. The former is found already in the 13th century, whereas the latter is not found until the 15th century.

Earlier names in English

The traditional name for the tuberculosis disease in English before its modern name was borrowed from German was consumption [kənˈsʌmpʃən]. English borrowed this word in the 14th century from Old French consumpcion or consumption (Modern French consomption [kɔ̃sɔ̃psjɔ̃]), where it meant ‘wasting of the body’, ‘destruction’ and, eventually, ‘wasting disease, especially pulmonary tuberculosis’ (OED). The word consumption to refer to tuberculosis is now ‘dated’ (COED), ‘old-fashioned’ (MWALD), and ‘no longer in scientific use’ (AHD).

The original source of this word was classical Latin cōnsūmptiōn-, a noun meaning ‘the process of consuming or wearing away’ in classical Latin, and in post-classical Latin also ‘destruction’, ‘death’, and ‘a disease in which the body wastes away’ (for the most part, what we now know as tuberculosis). This noun was derived from the participial stem cōnsūmpt‑ of the passive participle cōnsūmptus of the verb cōnsūmĕre (principal parts: consūmo, consūmĕre, consumpsi, consumptus). The original meaning of this Latin verb was ‘to take wholly or completely’ (L&S), from which other meanings derived over time such as ‘to consume, devour’, ‘to waste, squander, annihilate’, ‘to kill, destroy’ and ‘to eat’. This Latin verb is, of course, the source of the cognates Eng. consume ~ Sp. consumir, which are close friends semantically in the modern languages.

The 3rd conjugation Latin verb cōnsūmĕre was derived from the verb sūmĕre ‘to take, take up, take in hand, etc.’ by means of the prefix con‑ ‘with, together; completely’ (con+sūmĕre; principal parts: sūmo, sūmĕre, sumpsi, sumptus). This verb was passed on to Spanish as sumir, a fancy word today that means primarily ‘to sink, plunge, submerge’, used mostly in a figurative sense, e.g. Al caer al río el anillo, se sumió con rapidez ‘As the ring fell into the river, it quickly sank’, La guerra sumió a muchas personas en el hambre ‘The war plunged many people into hunger’ (both examples from Larousse). Other verbs derived from this Latin verb by prefixation were: (1) assūmĕre ‘to take up, receive, adopt or accept’, source of (partial friends) Eng. assume and Sp. asumir, from ad ‘to’ + sūmĕre); (2) praessūmĕre ‘to take first; to take for granted, etc.’, source of (partial friends) Eng. presume ~ Sp. presumir, from prae‑ ‘before’ + sūmĕre; and (3) īnsūmere ‘to take for any thing; hence to apply to, expend upon’ (L&S), source of the rare cognate verbs Eng. insume ~ Sp. insumir both meaning ‘to take in, absorb’ (from in‑ ‘in’+sūmĕre). Interestingly, Spanish has adopted a noun derived from the rare verb insumir, namely insumo, as the most common way to translate the very common English word input. Medieval Latin has also created a verb subsūmĕre ‘to take under’ from which comes Eng. subsume, a verb not borrowed by Spanish (the Spanish translations of Eng. subsume are englobar and incluir).

In the early 16th century, English borrowed another name for this disease that had been used in Late Latin, namely phthisis. Although rare, this word is still used in English for ‘pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease’ (COED). The Late Latin word phthisis was a loanword from Greek φθῐ́σῐς (phthísis), the name for tuberculosis and tuberculosis-like wasting diseases in this language, though this noun had a more basic original meaning, namely ‘decline, decay, wasting away’, since it was derived from the verb φαίνειν (phaínein) ‘to decay, waste away’ by means of the noun-forming suffix ‑σις (‑sis). The English word phthisis, typically pronounced [ˈθ̯sɪs] or [ˈ̯sɪs], among other possible spelling pronunciations, was never a common one in English, but rather a medical one and most dictionaries classify it as archaic or rare today, though not obsolete. As we will see below, its Spanish cognate was quite a bit more common.

Two adjectives were derived from the noun phthisis in English, namely phthisic and phthisical. The former is a loanword through Old French tisike or phtisique ‘consumptive’ (11th century), which comes from the Latin adjective phthĭsĭcus/a ‘consumptive, related to consumption’, a loanword from Gk. φθισικός (phthisikós) ‘consumptive, phthisical’, both containing cognate adjective-forming suffixes, namely Grk ‑ικ‑ and Lat. ĭc (phthĭs‑is + ‑ĭc‑ = phthĭsĭcus). The adjective phthisical was created in English from the earlier phthisic by the addition of the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑al, a common addition to Latinate adjectives ending in ‑ic in this language (cf. Eng. physical vs. Sp. físico/a, Eng. logical vs. Sp. lógico/a). Interestingly, English borrowed the adjective phthisic even earlier than the noun phthisis, in the late 14th century. (As we will see, Spanish did too.)

Not only that but the adjective phthisic was also used as a noun to refer the disease, as a variant of the noun phthisis (AHD). Actually, it wasn’t just tuberculosis that the name phthisic and/or phthsis referred too, for at the time these diseases were not properly understood. The dictionary tells us that the noun phthisic was used in English not just for tuberculosis but also for ‘any illness of the lungs or throat, such as asthma or a cough’ (AHD). The same thing is true of the name consumption, which could refer to any wasting disease, of which tuberculosis was the most common. It is thus not surprising that the newly-coined word tuberculosis was so readily adopted once the cause of the disease was discovered in the 19th century.

Earlier names in Spanish

The two English words for this disease that we just discussed have cognates in Spanish, which were also used to refer to the disease in this language. The earliest name for the disease in Spanish was consunción, a semi-learned word that comes from the same Latin source as Eng. consumption, with simplification of the Latin consonant cluster (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). This word is rare in Modern Spanish and dictionaries do not give it as another name for tuberculosis but rather define it more vaguely as, first, ‘deterioration and extinction of something, generally by combustion, evaporation or wear’ and, secondly, in medicine, as the ‘progressive physical deterioration of a person or animal, accompanied by a visible loss of weight and energy’ (Vox).[1]

The connection of this noun to the modern Spanish verb consumir is obvious but the semantic connection is only partial. The verb consumir is polysemous since it has between 5 and 7 senses, depending on the dictionary. According to the DLE, which gives 7 senses for consumir, some quite rare, the two main ones are ‘to destroy, extinguish’ and ‘using groceries or other goods to satisfy needs or wants’.[2] María Moliner’s dictionary, which only gives 5 senses for this verb, does give one that the DLE does not, perhaps because it is archaic, namely ‘to make someone skinny or weak’, which is relevant to us since this is the sense that relates to the Spanish noun consunción.[3]

Note that Spanish has created other nouns from the verb consumir that relate to the main senses of the verb consumir, namely consumo and consumición, both meaning ‘consumption, the act of consuming’. The noun consumición can also be used in some dialects, such as in Spain, to refer to what one consumes at establishments such as bars, coffeeshops, or discotheques, the word being very common in that context, e.g. Cuesta mil pesetas la entrada con consumición ‘The cost of entrance and a drink (etc.) is one thousand pesetas’ (María Moliner).

Before tuberculosis became the normal name for this disease in Spanish in the 19th century, the more common name was no longer consunción but rather tisis, which is an adaptation of Lat. phthisis (see above). This word is somewhat archaic now in Spanish, but it is still found in dictionaries, which tell us that the word is still used in medicine as a synonym of tuberculosis, but also to refer to any ‘disease in which there is gradual and slow consumption, hectic fever and ulceration in some organ’ (DLE). In other words, tisis was the word that was used for tuberculosis and similar diseases that resulted in patients wasting away before the causes of these diseases was known and the diseases were given unambiguous names.

An even earlier word for the tuberculosis disease in Spanish, now obsolete, is tísica, a noun derived from the adjective tísico/a used to refer to people with the disease, much like the noun física ‘physics’, the name of the branch of science, is derived from the feminine form of the adjective físico/a ‘physical’. As we saw, English also used a cognate of this word, namely phthisic, to refer to the disease in the 14th century, even before it borrowed the noun phthisis. Nebrija’s 1495 dictionary gives tísica as the name for the disease, but not tisis, which was obviously not in use at the time. Nebrija also mentions the noun tísico/a as the name for someone who suffers from the disease (DCEH), much like Sp. físico/a ‘physicist’ is used to refer to someone who practices physics.

It seems that Old French did use early on the word tesie or tisie derived from the Latin name phthisis, which in the mid-16th century came to be spelled phtisie, its current form. It is very likely that Sp. tisis and Eng. phthisis were adopted under the joint influence of the cognate Latin and French words after the words Sp. tísica ~ Eng. phthisic were already in use as names for the disease.

Names for tuberculosis sufferers

Since we just mentioned that tísico/a was used to refer to a sufferer of this disease, we should ask if there are any other names for such sufferers. In English, there is no single word for them today and thus the only options are tuberculosis sufferer or tuberculosis patient. Spanish, on the other hand, uses the noun tuberculoso/a for such a meaning. This noun is derived by conversion from the identical adjective formed with the adjective-forming suffix ‑oso/a. The Spanish adjective tuberculoso/a translates into English as tuberous in Botany and as tubercular or tuberculous in Medicine. But the English cognate of the adjective tuberculoso/a, namely tuberculous, cannot be used as a noun in English. Actually, this is not surprising since this is something applicable to all adjectives containing the cognate suffix that descends from Lat. ‑ōs‑. In Spanish, adjectives formed with the ending ‑­oso/a that describe people are often used as nouns too, as in this case, but not so their English cognates, e.g. Sp. avaricioso/a ‘avaricious; avaricious person’ ~ Eng. avaricious, Sp. goloso/a ‘sweet-toothed (person)’, Sp. cauteloso/a ‘cautious (person)’.

As we saw above, in Spanish, the adjective tísico/a could also be used as a noun in earlier times to refer to a person affected by tuberculosis, a ‘sufferer of phthisis’. In English, the word consumptive was used to refer to someone suffering from consumption. Eng. consumptive was primarily an adjective meaning ‘of, relating to, or afflicted with consumption’, but in earlier times, since around the middle of the 17th century, it was also used as a noun for ‘a person afflicted with consumption’ (AHD). Some dictionaries warn us that the noun consumptive is today ‘old-fashioned’ to refer to a person afflicted with consumption, but other dictionaries do not give any such usage warnings.[4]

[1] In Spanish: ‘Deterioro y extinción de algo, generalmente por combustión, evaporación o desgaste’ and ‘Deterioro físico progresivo de una persona o animal, acompañado de una pérdida visible de peso y energía’.

[2] In Spanish: ‘tr. Destruir, extinguir. U. t. c. prnl’ and ‘Utilizar comestibles u otros bienes para satisfacer necesidades o deseos’.

[3] In Spanish: ‘tr. Poner *flaco o *débil a ↘alguien.’

[4] It is The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English that tells us that this use is ‘old-fashioned’ today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Sp. olvidar and Eng. oblivion, Part 6

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 6. Go to Part 5. Go to Part 1.

Sp. obliterar and Eng. obliterate

To conclude this chapter, let us look at a pair of cognates that because of their form and meaning, one might think are related to the words olvidar and oblivion, namely the cognates Eng. obliterate ~ Sp. obliterar. Eng. obliterate [əˈblɪɾəɹeɪ̯t] is a fancy and uncommon word. Although some dictionaries give more than one meaning for this word, the various senses are all closely related and can be reduced to a single definition: ‘to destroy (something) completely so that nothing is left’ (MWALD). But some dictionaries prefer to divide this definition into at least two meanings: ‘destroy utterly; wipe out’ and ‘blot out; erase’ (COED). And that splitting of the senses of obliterate is good for us to keep separate when comparing this word to its Spanish cognate obliterar. That is because this Spanish word only has the second of these meanings, not the first one, which makes it synonymous with borrar. Note that this is also the verb’s original meaning in Latin, whereas the first meaning of Eng. obliterate mentioned earlier was derived from the second one as a figurative one. That secondary meaning (first in the dictionary) wasn’t developed in English until the late 18th century. That sense translates into Spanish as destruir, arrasar, asolar, or eliminar, but not as obliterar.

We can see a formal similarity between the verb obliterate and the adjective oblivion, since both of them start with the letters obli‑. And if we think that the meaning of both words originally had something to do with erasing, one might wonder whether the two words might be related. The truth, however, is that there is no connection between them at all.

Eng. obliterate is a mid-16th century loanword from Latin, from the passive participle stem oblītĕrāt‑ (also spelled with two t’s oblittĕrāt-) of the verb oblītĕrāre (or oblīttĕrāre) that meant first of all ‘to blot out, erase’ or, more literally, ‘to letter away’, as in the Latin phrase litterae oblitteratae ‘erased letters’. Figuratively, this Latin verb also came to mean ‘to blot out of remembrance, cause to be forgotten’ (CTL), yet another semantic connection with the verb oblīvīscī ‘to forget’.

Lat. oblītĕrāre (or oblīttĕrāre) is derived from the prefix ob‑ ‘away’ and the root lĭttĕr‑ (or lītĕr‑) of the Latin noun lĭttĕra (or lītĕra) that meant first of all ‘letter (of the alphabet)’ (ob‑līttĕr‑āre). Thus, the literal meaning of this verb was ‘to (do) away (with) letters’.  The Latin noun lĭttĕra (or lītĕra) is obviously the source of the cognates Sp. letra ~ Eng. letter, the first one a patrimonial word in Spanish and the second one, a loanword from Old French letre or lettre.[a]

Actually, although Eng. obliterate is said to have been borrowed from Latin, the word is attested in Middle French a few decades earlier in the 16th century, which suggests that whoever introduced the word into English may have seen it in French fist. The French verb is oblitérer and it originally meant ‘to efface the memory of’, the secondary meaning that the source word had in Latin (1512). Later, this French word acquired other senses such as ‘to cause to disappear gradually’ (1530); in medicine, ‘to cause an organ to disappear’ (1754); and finally, ‘to frank a postage stamp’ (1863) (OED). These additional senses were at times (semantically) calqued into Eng. obliterate, but they are archaic or very rare today and only some dictionaries mention them.

Spanish also borrowed this verb, as obliterar, which is probably less common than its English cognate. It first appears in a Spanish dictionary in 1617 and in the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE) in 1884, which suggests it was borrowed though French or English. As we mentioned, Sp. obliterar does not mean ‘to destroy utterly’ but only ‘to erase’. It does also have the last two of the additional senses mentioned for its French cognate, the medical and the postal senses, but they are very rare and unknown by most speakers of Spanish. But then again, the medical sense is also supposedly found in Eng. obliterate, as some (but not all) dictionaries tell us. These senses were borrowed through French, no doubt.

English has  a few additional words related to the verb obliterate, namely the nouns obliteration and obliterator, as well as the adjective obliterative. The noun obliteration was presumably borrowed from Latin obliterātĭōn‑ ‘an erasing, etc.’, , though most Latin dictionaries do not mention this noun and it was no doubt rare. English introduced this noun in the mid-17th century, some fifty years after the verb was borrowed. This Latin noun is formed regularly from the passive stem of the Latin verb, oblitĕrāt‑, and the noun forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ There is no attested cognate of Eng. obliteration in Spanish. The ‘erasure’ sense can be translated as borradura or eliminación, the ‘destruction’ sense as destrucción, and the ‘stamp cancellation’ sense as matasellado.

As for the noun obliterator and the adjective obliterative, they were definitely created in English, albeit with Latinate suffixes, since they are not attested in Latin. Thus, they have no Spanish cognates either, though they could be easily created should one wanted to do so. They were formed in English out of the same Latin stem obliterat‑ and the Latinate agent suffix ‑or and the Latinate adjective suffix ‑ive. All English-Spanish dictionaries seem to ignore these rare English words.

[a] Although the first meaning of Lat. lĭttĕra was ‘letter of the alphabet’, the word acquired additional meanings such as ‘word’, ‘handwriting’ and, usually in the plural, ‘a letter, epistle’ and ‘a writing, document, etc.’, which is the source of the second sense of the word letter in English (Sp. carta). English borrowed the word letter from Old French letre (Modern French lettre) around the year 1200, where the word was a patrimonial one and it also had both of those meanings: ‘letter of the alphabet’ and ‘missive, written communication’. Spanish letra and the plural letras used to have the sense of ‘written communication’, but that meaning was replaced by carta, from Lat. charta, from Ancient Greek χάρτης (khártēs) ‘papyrus, sheet of paper, book’. Spanish words that contain the root of Lat. lĭttĕra are letradoadj. learned, erudite; noun lawyer’, iletrado ‘illiterate, uneducated, unlettered’, letrero ‘sign, notice’, deletrear ‘to spell’, literal ‘literal’, literario ‘literary’, literato/a ‘writer, man/woman of letters’, literatura ‘literature’ (letradura in Old Spanish), aliteraración ‘alliteration’, transliterar ‘transliterate, and finally obliterar. As we can see, English has cognates of many of these words, as well as some that do not have cognates in Spanish: alliteration, illiteracy (Sp. analfabetismo), illiterate (Sp. analfabeto/a, ignorante, inculto/a), literacy (Sp. alfabetización, etc.), literal, literary, literate (Sp. alfabetizado/a, culto/a, instruído/a, que sabe leer y escribir), literature, obliterate, and transliterate.

Sp. olvidar and Eng. oblivion, Part 5

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

This is Part 5. Go to Part 4. Go to Part 1.

Antonyms of olvidar: recordar and acordarse


Let us now take a look at the antonyms of the Spanish verb olvidar, the equivalent words of Eng. remember, which is the antonym of forget. (An antonym, Sp. antónimo, is ‘a word having a meaning opposite to that of another word’ (COED), cf. Part I, Chapter 6, §6.4.3.) There are a couple of related verbs in Spanish that can translate into English as remember and they too cause difficulties for Spanish-language learners, difficulties which are similar, but not identical, to those that we saw above were caused by olvidar.

The main antonyms of Sp. olvidar are transitive recordar and intransitive-pronominal acordarse (de). These two verbs are cognates of Eng. record and accord, respectively but both pairs are what we call false friends in this book, namely cognates that differ significantly in meaning. (They are cognates because they have the same source, which is the definition of cognate that we use in this book.) Some varieties of Spanish also have an intransitive-pronominal (reflexive) version of recordar, namely recordarse (de), as an alternative to acordarse (de). This variant is not considered standard in Spanish nowadays, however. Even more rare is the non-standard intransitive use of recordar (de). Thus, we find sentences in Spanish such as the following, all of them meaning ‘I remember my grandmother a lot’:

  • Recuerdo mucho a mi abuela (transitive)
  • Me acuerdo mucho de mi abuela (intransitive-pronominal, de)
  • Me recuerdo mucho de mi abuela (intransitive-pronominal, archaic, non-standard in some countries)
  • Recuerdo mucho de mi abuela (intransitive, non-pronominal, non-standard, very rare)[1]

Latin verbs meaning ‘to remember’ and their descendants

Sp. recordar(se) and its cognates in other Romance languages descend from one of the various Latin verbs that that could mean ‘to remember’, namely from Lat. recŏrdārī. This was just one such verb, and not even the main one. Each one of the following synonymous verbs was used in Latin in different contexts to express the notion ‘to remember’, depending for instance on the type of remembering or the nature of the memory. The main one was the first one:

·      mĕmĭnisse ‘to remember, be mindful of, etc.’, an irregular third conjugation verb that was perfect in form but present in meaning and had no supine stem; it was originally formed out of the Proto-Indo-European root *men‑ ‘to think’, also found in the Latin noun mēns - mentis ‘mind’; the first person, present tense form was mĕmĭ ‘I remember’, the wordform that is often used to name this verb (in this book, we prefer to use the present infinitive, cf. Par I, Chapter 8, §8.4.3)

·      reminīscī ‘to recollect, remember, etc.’ (followed by a noun in the genitive case), a third conjugation, deponent verb, with no perfect or supine stem; ultimately derived from re‑ +‎ *(me)minīscor, derived from mĕmĭnisse (see above)

·      recŏrdārī ‘to call to mind, remember, recall, recollect’, a first conjugation, deponent verb (principal parts: present recordor, present infinitive recordārī, and perfect active recordātus sum)

·      mĕmŏrārī (memoror, memorātus sum) ‘to remember, be mindful of (ecclesiastical Latin)’; first conjugation, deponent verb

·      mĕmŏrāre ‘to remind, bring to mind; to tell, recount’, first conjugation verb, derived from the third conjugation adjective mĕmormĕmŏris ‘mindful, remembering’

Of all these verbs, the only one that passed into Spanish patrimonially was recordārī. Actually, Sp. recordar comes from a regularized Vulgar Latin version of this verb. In Vulgar Latin, this deponent (irregular) verb was eventually turned into a regular first-conjugation active verb, namely recordare, which is the source of Sp. recordar and of its cognates in other Romance languages. We will look at how this verb is used in Spanish below.

English borrowed the verb record pronounced [ɹəˈkʰɔɹd] or [ɹiˈkʰɔɹd], in the 12th century from Old French recorder, which also meant ‘to remember’ and was often used reflexively, like its Spanish cognate. But this French verb had also come to mean other things by this time: ‘to repeat, to recite, to relate, tell, bear witness to, declare, to make a record’, among other things (OED), and it is this last meaning that came to be the main meaning of Eng. record, namely ‘to make a record of’. The noun record used in that definition of the verb record is pronounced differently, namely [ˈɹɛkəɹd]. Currently its primary meaning is ‘a piece of evidence about the past, especially a written or other permanent account’ (COED). It is an early 14th century loanword from Old French record or recorde, derived from the verb and its meaning is ‘piece of evidence about past events, memory, account, etc.’ (OED). This noun is a cognate of the Spanish noun recuerdo that means ‘memory’ as well as ‘memento, keepsake’.

Spanish later borrowed the verb memorar from Lat. mĕmŏrāre. This verb is a rare variant of the verb conmemorar ‘to evoke the memory of someone or something, commemorate’, which comes from Lat. commĕmŏrāre ‘to recall an object to memory in all its particulars’ (L&S), a verb derived from mĕmŏrāre by means of the prefix com‑. English too borrowed commemorate in the late 16th century. The two verbs are ‘good friends’, that is, they have very close meanings, namely ‘remember and show respect for, especially with a ceremony or memorial’ (COED). English also briefly borrowed memorate in the 17th century, but that verb is now obsolete, and it is only found in dictionaries that carry obsolete words, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

But memorar is not the only Spanish verb that comes from Lat. mĕmŏrāre. There is also a cognate of this verb, one that came into Spanish not as a loan but as a word-of-mouth patrimonial descendant and thus changed its form and meaning somewhat along the way, namely the verb membrar that meant ‘to remember’ in Old Spanish. This verb was very common in Spanish (commonly attested in writings) between the 12-14th centuries but by the 16th century is only used by poets (DCEH). This verb was typically used as a pronominal verb followed by the preposition de, as membrarse de, though it was used in other constructions as well (DCEH). Spanish had other words related to the verb membrar, such as membrado ‘prudent, sane’, membranza ‘memory’, remembrar(se) ‘to remember’, remembranza ‘memory’. These words are all archaic or obsolete today since they are only known to those who read old texts.

There are a few common cognate words in English and Spanish that can be traced ultimately to this Latin verb. One of these pairs is the cognate nouns Eng. memorandum ~ Sp. memorándum, whose main meaning in both languages is ‘a written message in business or diplomacy’ and, in legal terminology, ‘a document recording the terms of a transaction’ (COED). They are loanwords from the Latin noun mĕmŏrandum ‘(thing) to be remembered’, derived by conversion from the neuter singular wordform of the adjective mĕmŏrandus ‘worthy of remembrance, noteworthy, which is to be reminded’, which is derived from the gerundive of the verb mĕmŏrāre that we just saw.[2] Another pair of words ultimately related to the verb mĕmŏrāre is the cognate adjectives Eng. memorable ~ Sp. memorable, whose meaning is ‘worth remembering or easily remembered’ (COED). They are both loanwords from Lat. mĕmŏrābĭlis that meant ‘worthy of remembrance’ in classical Latin and, in post-classical Latin also ‘easy to remember’. Both English and Spanish borrowed this word from written Latin in the late 15th century.

Note that English has a verb reminisce, which is related to but not directly descended from the Latin verb reminīscī above. Eng. reminisce [ˌɹɛmɪˈnɪs] is actually a back-formation, created in English from the noun reminiscence and the adjective reminiscent, which are loanwords from reminīscēns, present participle of the verb reminīscī. Thus, Eng. reminisce does not descend directly from the Latin verb reminīscī but rather from a word (lexeme) derived from it.

Eng. reminisce translates into Spanish as rememorar (los viejos tiempos), an expression that uses the verb rememorar, a fancy literary verb meaning ‘to reminisce, recall, harken back to’. This verb is a loanword from the Late Latin verb remĕmŏrārī ‘to remember again, to call to mind’, a verb derived from Lat. mĕmŏrārī by means of the prefix re‑ ‘back, again’.

We couldn’t leave this section without mentioning the very common cognate words Eng. memory ~ Sp. memoria that are obviously related to a couple of the Latin verbs we just saw. These nouns descend ultimately from classical Latin noun mĕmŏrĭa that meant primarily ‘the faculty of remembering, memory, recollection’ (L&S). This noun was derived from the adjective mĕmor (genitive: mĕmoris; stem: mĕmor‑) that meant ‘mindful, remembering, heedful, having a good memory’ among other things (CTL). The source of this adjective has been reconstructed as *me‑mn‑os‑ in Proto-Indo-European, a reduplicated form of the root *men‑ ‘to think’. Lat. mĕmŏrĭa was derived by means of the suffix ‑ĭ‑a that formed feminine abstract nouns, usually from adjective stems or present participle stems, in this case the former (mĕmŏr‑ĭ‑a). English borrowed the word memory [ˈmɛməɹi] from Old French memorie in the 13th century (cf. Modern French mémoire, pronounced [meˈmwaʀ]). In both French and Spanish, this word was most likely a loanword from written Latin mĕmŏrĭa and not a patrimonial one. The French word, however, is attested very early as memorie, from around the year 1050.

There are a few more words in English and Spanish that contain the same root memor‑ as the words that we have just seen, some of which are cognates. Some are Latin loanwords, but some were formed in these languages out of other Latinate words. The following are the most common ones:

  • Sp. desmemoriarse ‘to lose one’s memory’
  • Sp. desmemoriado/a ‘forgetful, absent-minded’
  • Eng. immemorial ~ Sp. inmemorial ‘reaching beyond the limits of memory, tradition, or recorded history’ (AHD), from medieval Latin immemoriālis; Sp. inmemorable is a synonym
  • Eng. memento (= Sp. recuerdo, recordatorio), from Lat. memento, imperative form of the verb mĕmĭnisse
  • Eng. memoir [ˈmɛmˌwɑɹ] ~ Sp. memoria: Eng. memoir is a doublet of the word memory, borrowed from French in the early 15th century with the meaning ‘written record’
  • Eng. memorabilia (= Sp. objetos de recuerdo, etc.)
  • Eng. adj./noun memorial (= Sp. adj. conmemorativo, noun monumento (conmemorativo))
  • Eng. memorialize (= Sp. conmemorar)
  • Eng. memorize ~ Sp. memorizar: this verb was created in English in the late 16th century with the meaning ‘commit to writing’ and the meaning ‘commit to memory’ is from the 19th century; Sp. memorizar is a loanword from English; more common synonym: aprender de memoria
  • Eng. remembrance ~ Sp. remembranza (Sp. remembranza is rare today; more common: recuerdo, conmemoración).

Sp. recordar(se)

As we saw, Sp. recordar comes from Lat. recŏrdārī, a first conjugation, deponent verb that meant primarily and originally ‘to think over, bethink oneself of, be mindful of’, but also ‘to call to mind, remember, recollect’ (CTL). This verb’s principal parts were the following: present tense recŏrdor, present infinitive recŏrdārī, and perfect active recŏrdātus (sum). As we saw in the introduction of this section, this verb was formed with the prefix re‑ ‘back, again’ and the root cŏrd­‑ of the noun cor - cŏrdis that meant ‘heart’ and, figuratively, ‘mind, soul’. (The genitive form of this noun was cŏrdis and thus, its regular stem was cŏrd‑).

Sp. recordar is a patrimonial verb, first attested in writing early, in the 13th century. The fact that it is a stem-changing verb clearly shows that it is a patrimonial word. A patrimonial word is one that descended from Latin into Old Spanish, first attested in writing some 1,000 years ago, by word-of-mouth transmission, as opposed to being borrowed later from written Latin (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). In patrimonial words, a stressed Latin short ŏ changed to ue in Old Spanish (cf. Part I, Chapter 10, §10.3.2).

In the 15th and 16th centuries, recordar was often used pronominally (‘reflexively’) as recordarse, much like olvidar is usually conjugated pronominally today as olvidarse (see above). One can still hear this verb used this way in some varieties of Spanish, typically as an intransitive verb followed by a prepositional phrase with the preposition de, e.g. No me acordaba de ella ‘I didn’t remember her’, though in some dialects recordarse can be used with a direct object, just like olvidarse when used with an ethical dative. Pronominal recordarse is not considered to be a standard form anymore since many countries do not use recordarse anymore (Spain in particular).[3] In other Romance languages, the pronominal use of descendants of this Latin verb is still common, cf. Italian ricordarsi, Occitan se recordar, and Catalan recordar-se. The reason that recordarse is not common and is not considered standard anymore seems to be that recordarse was replaced in most varieties of Spanish by acordarse, a descendant from a Latin word related to the Latin source of recordar(se), as we shall see below.

Transitive Sp. recordar can be used as a translation of Eng. remember, as in Recuerda llegar temprano ‘Remember to arrive early’, Recuerdo a mis amigos de la infancia ‘I remember my childhood friends’, or No recuerdo lo que dijiste ‘I don’t remember what you said’. Much like Eng. remember, Sp. recordar can be used with different senses, such as ‘to retain things in one’s mind’ and ‘to recall or bring something to mind’. However, transitive recordar is not the most common way to translate Eng. remember.

Sp. acordarse

The reason that  recordar is not the most common way to express the meaning ‘to remember’ (and thus translate Eng. remember) may be in part that recordar can also mean ‘to remind’, in a construction that includes an indirect object, as in Le recordé que llegara temprano ‘I reminded him to arrive early’ or Yo le recordaba a su hermano ‘I reminded her of her brother’. As you can see, both of these two different senses of Eng. remind translate as recordar in Spanish. Although these two senses are different from each other, in both languages the same word expresses them, though different prepositions help differentiate the two senses, cf. remind of vs. remind about, in English, and recordar a vs. recordar de, in Spanish.

The most common verb to express the meaning ‘to remember’ in most varieties of Spanish and in Standard Spanish is not transitive recordar but intransitive, pronominal acordarse (de) and in some dialects the also pronominal option recordarse (de) is also available to express this meaning, as we saw. The verb acordarse is a Spanish creation, since nothing like it is found in other Romance languages. This verb has been attested with this meaning since the early 13th century. It was originally a synonym of recordarse but eventually it came to fully replace that verb in most dialects and in the standard form of the language.

The source of Sp. acordarse, or actually of its non-pronominal form acordar from which it is derived, is Vulgar Latin *accordāre ‘to bring to agreement’, literally ‘bring to heart’. (The asterisk here means that the verb is not attested in writing in Latin, but it is hypothesized to have existed since putative descendants exist in different Romance languages.) This verb seems to have been created in late Roman times by analogy with similar Latin verbs derived from the same root, namely the verb rĕcŏrdāre that have seen, plus two other antonymous verbs: concordāre, that meant ‘to agree, be united, be of one mind, etc.’ (CTL) and dĭscŏrdāre that meant ‘to be at variance, differ, quarrel, etc.’ (CTL). Below, you can see all of these Latin verbs derived from the noun cors - cŏrdis ‘heart’ and the various prefixes they contain. Note that there was no verb *cŏrdāre, without a prefix, since these prefixed verbs were derived from the noun cors - cŏrdis, not from any such un-prefixed verb, as is many other analogous situations.

From Vulgar Lat. accŏrdāre comes the non-pronominal (non-reflexive), somewhat formal Spanish verb acordar that means primarily ‘to agree on, to come to an agreement’, as in Acordaron el precio ‘They agreed on a price’ or Acordaron no quedarse callados ‘They came to an agreement not to remain silent’. This verb is synonymous with determinar and resolver. The transitive (non-pronominal) verb acordar in Spanish has an additional meaning, namely ‘to award’, synonymous with conceder and otorgar. This sense is found in many American dialects of Spanish, but not in Spain anymore, where that sense is now obsolete.[4]

Vulgar Latin *accordāre is also the source of the somewhat formal English verb to accord [ə.ˈkʰɔɹd], borrowed in the 12th century from Old French acorder ‘to agree’. In Modern English, the verb accord has two major meanings: and ‘give or grant someone (power or recognition)’ (COED), as in You will not be accorded any special treatment (LDCE) and ‘be harmonious or consistent with’ (COED), as in The punishments accorded with the current code of discipline (LDCE). This former meaning is the same one that acordar has in some dialects of Spanish, as we just saw. The cognates Sp. acordar ~ Eng. accord are not very good friends today, however, since their meanings only partially overlap and despite the similarity in meaning, neither verb is hardly ever a good translation of the other

The homonymous English noun accord (same pronunciation) means ‘an official agreement or treaty’ or ‘agreement or harmony’ (COED). It is a 13th century loanword from Old French accourd or accord ‘agreement’. The opposite (antonym) of this noun is discord. The English noun accord is a cognate and, in this case, somewhat close friend of the Spanish noun acuerdo, since they both have similar meanings. However, Sp. acuerdo, first attested in the mid-13th century, is a more common and general term than Eng. accord, since its main translation into English is agreement, a more common and less fancy word than its synonym accord in English. The noun accord does typically translate into Spanish as acuerdo, as in the expression reach an accord (or agreement), which translates as llegar a un acuerdo or alcanzar un acuerdo, ponerse de acuerdo, and the expression in accord with, which translates as de acuerdo con. But Sp. acuerdo typically translates as agreement, not as accord, as in the Spanish expression estar de acuerdo con, which translates into English as to be in agreement with (= to agree with), not as to be in accord with. The English idiomatic expression of one’s own accord translates into Spanish as voluntariamente, espontáneamente, without involving the word acuerdo.

The exact source of the cognate nouns Eng. accord ~ Sp. acuerdo is not clear, though their connection to and development from the unattested Vulgar Latin verb *accŏrdāre is clear. There are a few post-classical Latin words that may be precursors of this word, namely accordia, accordium, accordum, acordia, and acordum (OED), though it may have developed out of the verb in one or more of the Romance languages or even in early Romance. Curiously, the English noun chord and its Spanish equivalent acorde come from a very close source. These words’ meaning is ‘a group of notes (usually three or more) sounded together in harmony’ (COED). Eng. chord was originally spelled cord, which was a clipped version of the noun accord (late 15th century).[5] Sp. acorde is attested in the mid-15th century and it probably came through French (OED).

Going back to the Spanish verb we are concerned with here, namely acordarse, it was originally the reflexive or pronominal form of verb acordar, and it meant something like ‘to come to an agreement’, equivalent to Modern Spanish. ponerse de acuerdo. But at one point, for some unknown reason, it came to be used as a variant of recordarse, with the meaning that it currently has, namely ‘to remember’, and eventually it came to replace recordarse in most dialects of Spanish as the non-pronominal alternative or recordar and the most common way to express the meaning ‘to remember’. Like we said, the reason why this happened is not clear.

Note that there was a second verb acordar in Old Spanish that meant ‘to come to, to recover consciousness’, a verb that is now archaic, if not obsolete in the language. This second verb acordar presumably had a different origin, but the same root. According to DCEH, it was derived in Spanish from the now obsolete adjective acordado/a that meant ‘sane, in one’s right mind, mentally fit’, from the Latin adjective cŏrdātus/a ‘wise, prudent, judicious’ (CTL), which was also ultimately derived from the noun cor - cŏrdis ‘heart’ by means of the first/second declension adjective-forming suffix ‑āt‑ (cŏrd‑āt‑us). The initial a‑ was presumably added in Spanish by influence of the verb acordar that we just saw (the Spanish prefix a‑ descends from the Latin prefix ad‑ ‘to’). Note that there is also a Spanish adjective cuerdo/a ‘sane, in one’s right mind, mentally fit’ that is ultimately derived from the same Latin adjective cŏrdātus. It is conceivable that this verb acordar, with its semantic component ‘consciousness’, might have played a role in the other verb acordar coming to mean remember, though that is mere speculation.

This second Spanish verb acordar evolved into a synonym of despertar ‘to wake up’ in some dialects of Spanish, which according to the DLE are those of Asturias, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Dominican Republic. It is interesting to note that although the two verbs acordar probably had different origins, dictionaries such as the Academy’s (DLE) or María Moliner’s (MM) do not place them in different entries, but rather under the same one. Both of these dictionaries mention that the ‘wake up’ sense of (the ‘second’) acordar is obsolete or dialectal. Most dictionaries of current Spanish use do not mention this meaning of acordar, however.

Thus, as we said, the main verb meaning ‘to remember’ in Spanish is reflexive acordarse, an intransitive verb that takes as its complement a de prepositional phrase, as in

  • Me acordé de mis padres en ese momento ‘I remembered my parents at that moment’
  • No os acordasteis de ella ‘You didn't remember her/it’
  • No te acordaste de venir temprano ‘You didn’t remember to come early’
  • Se acordó de lo que le habían dicho ‘She remember what she had been told’
  • Nos acordamos de que iba a llover ‘We remembered that it was going to rain’

The use of pronominal acordarse de is analogous to that of this verb’s antonym olvidarse de ‘to forget’ that we saw earlier in the chapter. However, although non-pronominal, transitive olvidar is a synonym of pronominal, intransitive olvidarse, non-pronominal, transitive acordar is not a synonym of pronominal, intransitive acordarse. The non-pronominal, transitive synonym of acordarse is recordar, as we have seen. In earlier times, the analogy would have been more regular since recordarse, not acordarse, was the pronominal version of recordar.



olvidarse de

acordarse de

It is worth noting that there is an intransitive version of the verb remember in English in which the complement indicating what is forgotten is not a direct object but a prepositional phrase with the preposition about, as in Remember about the stove, which can mean exactly the same thing as Remember the stove or it can mean something more like I remember the thing / a thing / something about the stove, in which the remembered thing is the direct object. This is analogous to the distinction between forget and forget about that we saw earlier. And just like we saw that the best way to translate forget about was olvidarse de (even though olvidarse de can also translate transitive forget), the best way to translate remember about is acordarse de (even though acordarse de can also translate transitive remember).

Finally, let us note that although the verbs recordar and acordarse de are often synonymous and can be used interchangeably as far as their meaning is concerned, that is not always the case, just as we saw that olvidar and olvidarse de cannot always be interchanged. There are many times when Eng. remember is preferably (or can only be) translated by acordarse de, not as recordar. As we saw earlier, this is in part because recordar can mean ‘to remind’ and it is thus avoided in contexts in which there may be confusion. Thus, for example, to translate I remembered you this afternoon, a Spanish speaker would not say Te recordé esta tarde, for the first thing that comes to mind when hearing that sentence is the meaning ‘I reminded you this afternoon’, even though that is not a grammatical sentence (without adding what was reminded, as in Te recordé esta tarde que íbamos a cenar temprano ‘I reminded you this afternoon that we were going to have dinner early’). Rather, the only way to translate I remembered you this afternoon would be Me acordé de ti esta tarde.

[1] This sentence has another possible meaning, possible in all dialects, namely: ‘I remember a lot from my grandmother’. That is not the sense intended here.

[2] Eng. memorandum is an early 15th century loanword The Latin plural of this noun was memoranda and in English, the plural of memorandum can be either the regular memorandums or the Latinate memoranda. In English, this rather formal word was shortened to memo in the early 18th century, which is how it is used for its less formal uses. A memo is ‘a usually brief written message from one person or department in an organization, company, etc., to another’ (MWALD). Spanish does not use such an abbreviation. Note that memo/a in Spanish is an adjective that means ‘stupid, dumb’. Eng. memo translates into Spanish as either memorándum (if formal) or nota (if informal).

[3] The RAE’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas explains the use of recordar as follows: “En el habla culta formal se desaconseja el uso de recordar en forma pronominal, ya sea como transitivo(recordarse [algo]): «A veces no me recuerdo qué diablos hice ayer» (Hoy@ [El Salv.] 15.6.03); ya sea como intransitivo seguido de un complemento con de (recordarse de algo): «Me recuerdo yo de las campañas antiaborto» (País[Esp.] 15.9.77). Estos usos, normales en el español medieval y clásico, han quedado relegados al habla coloquial o popular de algunas zonas, tanto de España como de América (en algunos países como Venezuela o Chile, son usos frecuentes en el habla informal). También debe evitarse en la lengua culta formal su uso como intransitivo (recordar de algo), documentado en algunos países de América: «En mis 30 años de experiencia en este valle no recuerdo de la existencia de un archivo de lo que hemos hecho» (VV. AA. Vitivinicultura [Perú 1991]). Los verbos recordar y acordar comparten este significado, pero en la lengua general culta se construyen de modo diferente: recordar, como se acaba de explicar, es transitivo (recordar [algo]), mientras que acordar ( acordar(se), 3) es intransitivo pronominal (acordarse de algo).”

[4] The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas tells us that “En el español de América se mantiene vivo el uso transitivo de acordar con el sentido de ‘conceder u otorgar’: «Atraídos por los muchos favores y privilegios que los príncipes reinantes le acordaban a la clase comercial» (Fuentes Espejo [Méx. 1992]). Este uso era normal en el español clásico, pero ha desaparecido del español peninsular actual.”

[5] The spelling chord arose in the 17th century from confusion with the (different) word chord meaning ‘a string or small rope’ (now spelled cord, cf. Sp. cuerda), from Lat. chorda ‘an intestine as food; catgut, a string (of a musical instrument); a rope, cord (for binding a slave)’ (L&S), a loanword from Ancient Greek χορδή (khordḗ) ‘string of gut, cord’.

Infectious diseases, Part 24: Tuberculosis

[This entry comes from a section of the chapter "Words about infectious diseases" in Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-E...