Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 2

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

Go to Part 1

English test

In English, the word test is first of all a noun, or at least so it was historically. Not surprisingly, however, this noun was converted into a verb as well later on, namely the verb (to) test. The noun test was a late 14th century loanword from Old French test, meaning ‘a pot’. This French word is first attested in writing in the 12th century and it is no doubt a patrimonial word in that language, namely one that descended by word-of-mouth transmission from Vulgar Latin and was not borrowed later on from written Latin, as many other so-called learned words were.

Old French test is the ancestor of the Modern French word têt ‘a cupel’, that is to say, an earthen pot, especially one used in alchemy for testing old. The word comes ultimately from Latin tĕstum, which meant either ‘lid or an earthen pot’ or, later on as well, as ‘earthen pot’ (Sp. ‘tapadera de barro’, ‘vasija de barro’). This Lat. tĕstum was the accusative wordform of nominative tĕstū or tĕstum.

Lat. tĕstum
Old French test or teste
Mid. English test or teste
‘lid of an earthen vessel’, ‘earthen pot’

‘an earthen vessel, especially a
pot in which metals were tried’

‘small earthen vessel used in
assaying precious metals’

The original meaning of the word test in English, when it was borrowed from Old French, was ‘the cupel used in treating gold or silver alloys or ore’ (OED).[1] The English word test is still used today in metallurgy with a related sense, namely ‘a movable hearth in a reverberating furnace, used for separating gold or silver from lead’ (COED). The cupel in question that went by the name of test was used for testing or ascertaining the quality of metals by melting them inside. From this use, by around the year 1600, the word test adopted the meaning ‘that by which the existence, quality, or genuineness of anything is or may be determined; ‘means of trial’ (OED) and  from there, the word started to acquire the more general meanings that it has today. The meaning change from ‘pot’ to ‘trial’ of the word test presumably took place in expressions such as to bring or put to the test, and to bear or stand the test (OED). The literal meaning of such an expression was ‘to put the metal on a pot (for testing)’ but, figuratively, it came to mean something like ‘to put the metal on trial’, and thus the word test acquired its modern core meaning, something like ‘trial’.

The type of meaning change that the English word test underwent is called metonymy, which is the use of a word to refer to something new with which it has a strong connection, but is not similar to it (cf. Part I, Chapter 3, §3.8.6). Metonymy is the second most common source of meaning change after metaphor, which is when we use a word for something new based on similarity with what the word originally referred to.[2] In traditional grammar and rhetoric, metonymy is ‘a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power’ (AHD).

The primary meaning of Modern English test is ‘a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something’ (COED). From this, other more narrow senses have developed, such as ‘a short examination of a person’s skill or knowledge’, ‘a difficult situation revealing the strength or quality of someone or something’, ‘an examination of part of the body or a body fluid for medical purposes’, and, in chemistry, ‘a procedure employed to identify a substance or to reveal the presence or absence of a constituent within a substance’ (COED).

In the mid-18th century, English turned the noun test into a verb meaning basically ‘[to] subject to a test’ or ‘try’ (AHD). The turning of nouns into verbs, or verbing of nouns, without the addition of any affixes, is a type of lexeme conversion (or zero-derivation) that is very common in English (cf. Part I, Chapter 5). The verb test is, of course, a different lexeme or ‘word’ from the noun test, albeit a closely related one. But interestingly, derivation by conversion is not the product of the addition of morphemes, as in normal derivation of one word from another. Instead, the new lexeme’s verbal status in this case is differentiated from the original noun status by its being used as a verb, used in the same place in the sentence and in the same manner as other verbs. So, for instance, in the sentence They tested the liquid for poison, the verb test is inflected with the past tense morpheme ‑ed, just as any other (regular) verb, and it is found between the subject They and the direct object the job applicants or the liquid, just like any other verbs. Note that the verb test is often used as a participle in passive sentences, as in The liquid was tested for poison or in a have-construction, as in I had my eyes tested. The verb is also used intransitively with an adjectival complement as in to test high or to test positive.

Interestingly, the very same Latin word tĕstum that resulted in Eng. test, was transmitted through the centuries by word of mouth in the Romance variety that would become Old Spanish, resulting in the word tiesto, which today means ‘flowerpot’, i.e. ‘a small earthenware container in which to grow a plant’ (COED). The development of this word is just as expected, with the short Latin vowel ‑ĕ‑ in tĕstum becoming the diphthong ‑ie‑ in Old Spanish when it was stressed (cf. Part I, Chapter 10). As for the inflectional ending ‑ŭm of the Latin word, this always became ‑o in Spanish (ibid.). Another word for ‘flowerpot’ in Modern Spanish is maceta, a word more common in southern Spanish and American dialects, which perhaps comes from Mozarabic or (less likely, according to DCEH) from Italian mazetto ‘flower bouquet’ (Sp. ramillete de flores). The interesting thing here for us is that Eng. test and Sp. tiesto are cognates, since they have the same etymon, namely Lat. tĕstum. And, of course, Sp. test and Sp. tiesto are also cognates or cognate doublets (cf. Part I, Chapter 1).
Figure 2: Earthen (terracotta) flowerpot: tiesto or maceta in Spanish[i]

It is also interesting to note that Lat. testum is closely related to Lat. testa that meant originally ‘shard, piece of burned clay’ but also later ‘earthen vessel, pot, jug, etc.’ Actually, perhaps the fourth declension testum comes from first declension feminine testa. Lat. testa and testum may be related to Lat. tŏsta  and tŏstus ‘roasted, toasted, scorched’, passive participles of the verb torrēre ‘scorch, burn, parch’, and the source of Eng. toast and Sp. tostar.[3] Lat. testa became Old French teste, and Modern French tête [ˈtɛt], the word that means ‘head’. That is because in this variety of Romance, the word for ‘pot’ came to be used as a colloquial alternative for the word for ‘head’, which was caput in Latin, and eventually the former came to replace the latter.[4] This meaning change is an example of metaphor, since it is based on similarity, namely the similarity between a head and a pot. In Old Spanish, the word tiesta, cognate of Modern French tête, and cognate with Sp. tiesto, was also used colloquially to refer to the head, but this word never came to replace the word cabeza in Spanish. The word still remains inside the word testarudo ‘stubborn, pigheaded’ that is first found in the second part of Cervantes’ Quixote (1615) (synonyms: terco, obstinado, empecinado, cabezón, cabezota).[5] In Portuguese, testa became a normal everyday word too, like in French, but with the meaning ‘forehead’.

Let us finish our review of the noun test by looking at a word that seems to be related to it, namely the word testy, a word that means ‘prone to be irritated by small checks and annoyances; impatient of being thwarted; resentful of contradiction or opposition; irascible, short-tempered, peevish, tetchy, ‘crusty’’ (OED). This word is derived from the sister word in Latin from the one that gave us test, namely testa, the one that gave us Old Fr. teste ‘head (Mod. Fr. tête).

In Anglo-Norman, the dialect of Old French spoken in England after the Norman Conquest, teste was also the word for ‘head’. It was in this dialect of French that the word testy was created out of the word teste by means of the Latinate suffix -if/-ive (only ‑ive in Modern English). (The equivalent in other forms of Old French was testu ‘heady, headstrong, obstinate’, source of Mod. French têtu [teˈty], fem. têtue, ‘stubborn, obstinate’.) The word entered English from Anglo-Norman in the late 14th century with the meaning ‘of headstrong courage; impetuous; precipitate, rash; in later use (passing into the next sense), Aggressive, contentious’ (OED). This meaning changed to the current one in the early 16th century. The ending ‑if also changed to ‑y around the same time, something that happened to a number of English words containing that suffix (others were hasty from hastive, jolly from jolif, and tardy from tardif).

Go to Part 3

[1] The English word cupel, pronounced [ˈkʰju.pəl] means ‘a shallow, porous container in which gold or silver can be refined or assayed by melting with a blast of hot air which oxidizes lead or other base metals’ (COED). It is a 17th century loanword from Fr. coupelle, diminutive of coupe ‘goblet’ and cognate with Eng. cup and of Sp. copa. The Spanish equivalent of Eng. cupel is taza de prueba, lit. ‘test cup’, or copela, which Spanish presumablyaccording to the DLEborrowed from Italian coppella, a diminutive de coppa ‘cup, goblet’ in this language, which is a cognate of Fr. coupelle and Eng. cupel. Actually, all of these diminutives seem to go back to Lat. cūpella, diminutive of Lat. cūpa ‘tub, cask, tun, vat’, source of Sp. cuba ‘barrel, cask; bat, cask’. Late or Vulgar Latin developed the word cŭppa from Lat. cūpa, with the meaning ‘cup’, which is the source of patrimonial Sp. copa, Old Fr. coupe and, thus, Eng. cup.

In Modern French, coupe is used only in the sense used in sports, meaning ‘trophy’ and ‘competition’, as in coupe du monde ‘World Cup’ (Sp. copa del mundo). The main word for ‘(drinking) cup’ in Modern French is tasse, cognate of Sp. taza. In French, cup of a bra is bonnet. The primary meaning of Eng. cup is ‘a small bowl-shaped container for drinking from, typically with a handle’ (COED), though the word has additional senses.

[2] The word metonymy (Sp. metonimia) comes from  Ancient Greek μετωνυμίᾱ (metōnumíā) ‘change of name’, from μετά (metá) ‘after, beyond, etc.’ and νομα (ónoma) ‘name’.

[3] From Vulgar Latin tŏstāre, frequentative form of the verb torrēre, which was derived from this verb’s passive participle stem tŏst‑. The English verb to toast is a late 14th century loan from Old French toster ‘to toast, to grill, roast, burn’, and thus a cognate of Sp. tostar, a patrimonial word descended orally from Vulgar Latin tŏstāre.

[4] Lat. caput changed to *capum in Vulgar Latin, which is the  source of Spanish cabo, and whose root is found in the ancestor of Sp. cabeza, which comes from Vulgar Latin capĭtĭa, originally the neuter plural of Lat. capitium ‘covering for the head’ (from caput + ‑ĭum), diminutive of caput, later reanalyzed as a feminine singular noun.

[5] The word testarudo is not a compound, though some speakers (in Caribbean dialects of Spanish) may have reinterpreted this way and have thus changed the word to testaduro/a (testa ‘head’ + duro/a ‘hard’). The ending ‑rudo/a is actually related to the more common ending ‑udo/a (from Lat. ‑ūtus/a) that forms augmentatives, such as barbudo ‘bearded man’ and cabezudo ‘big-headed man’. A cognate of this ending is quite common in Catalan, for example (DCEH).

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