Thursday, April 9, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 9

[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 8

Lat. ĭmprŏbāre and rĕprŏbāre and related words


Lat. ĭmprŏbāre

The Latin verbs ĭmprŏbāre and rĕprŏbāre were used as antonyms of the ‘approve’ sense of the verbs prŏbāre and apprŏbāre that we just saw in the preceding sections. The former was an early classical Latin antonym, formed with the negative prefix in‑ added to prŏbāre, whereas the latter was formed in later, post-Augustan times with the prefix rĕ‑ ‘back; again; etc.’. Curiously they both have very similar meanings. Lewis & Short define these verbs as follows:
  • ĭmprŏbāre: ‘to disapprove, blame, condemn, reject’
  • rĕprŏbāre: ‘to disapprove, reject, condemn’
Both verbs have been borrowed by both English and Spanish, but without much success, especially in the case of English, as we shall see.

Latin imprŏbāre was formed with the negative prefix in‑, one of two identical Latin prefixes, one which changed to ĭm‑ before p, b or m in Latin.[1] Spanish has borrowed this word from Latin as improbar, but it is a formal word and unknown to most speakers of Spanish. The DLE tells us that it is a synonym of the verb desaprobar (see above), the antonym of aprobar, but only in some dialects of Spanish, specifically those of the countries of Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay and Venezuela. The DCEH doesn’t tell us anything about the source of this word in Spanish other than it is ‘rare’. The verb is conjugated like probar and is thus a stem-changing verb.

The Latin verb imprŏbāre was borrowed into English as well at some point in the mid-17th century, directly from written Latin also. It was borrowed from the Latin verb’s passive participle imprŏbātus, as was often the case, resulting in Eng. improbate. As the OED reports, this verb is obsolete today and rare (always). It was used as a transitive verb with the meaning ‘to disapprove’ and ‘to disallow’, both of which senses are, again, obsolete. Although dictionaries tell us that English, like Spanish, borrowed this verb directly from (written) Latin, it is quite likely that the verb was first borrowed from Latin in French and that Spanish and English then borrowed or rather calqued the word from French. This verb is first attested in French as early as 1370 (LGR). In Modern French, it is spelled improuver and pronounced [ɛ̃pʀuˈve].

Lat. rĕprŏbāre

The other antonym of the ‘approve’ sense of prŏbāre and apprŏbāre according to many experts (and the OED) is rĕprŏbāre, which is attested in Latin much later than imprŏbāre, but with basically the same meaning of ‘to disapprove, reject, condemn’ (L&S). However, not everybody thinks that this verb is derived from prŏbāre by means of the prefix rĕ‑. One reason is that Latin already had an antonym, namely imprŏbāre. Also, it is very unusual for the Latin prefix rĕ‑ to have a negative meaning, this being one of very few words in which rĕ‑ has the meaning ‘not’, equivalent to in‑. The original meaning of rĕ‑ is ‘back’ or ‘backwards’, but it acquired new senses as it was used in new words, the most common one being ‘again’. In a few cases it had the meaning of undoing of an action, equivalent to the second un‑ prefix in English in verbs like undo, cf. Lat. recingĕre ‘to ungird’. Least commonly, rĕ‑ had the negative meaning that it seems to have in rĕprŏbāre (cf. OED, re‑) and all other such verbs are very old words, from archaic Latin. For these and a few other reasons, some have argued that this second antonym of prŏbāre was not derived from this verb originally but has another, more unorthodox source and only later did it come to be used as an antonym of prŏbāre. Corominas & Pascual’s DCEH argues that rĕprŏbāre, which doesn’t appear until rather late in Latin, has to be a Vulgar Latin deformation of rĕprŏbrāre (with two r’s), which was itself a deformation of opprōbrāre ‘to reproach, taunt, upbraid’ (L&S), a verb derived from the prefix ob ‘towards; against’ and the noun prŏbrum ‘a shameful or disgraceful act; abuse, insult, reproachful language, a reproach, libel’ (L&S).[2]

Be that as it may, rĕprŏbāre is now seen by most sources as a synonym of imprŏbāre and thus a second antonym of prŏbāre, from which some think it is derived. Spanish has borrowed the verb reprobar from Latin, which is not as common as aprobar, but is used as a synonym of desaprobar, the antonym of aprobar that we saw earlier. Its main meaning is not just the antonym of aprobar but something rather stronger, ‘to condemn’, and it applied primarily to a person’s behavior or attitude, not to a person, as in Repruebo el favoritismo ‘I disapprove of any kind of favoritism’ (OSD). We already saw earlier the second meaning that this verb has in American dialects of Spanish, namely ‘to fail’ (a course or exam)’, as a synonym of suspender, in other words, the antonym of one of the modern senses of aprobar, e.g. Me reprobaron en física ‘I failed physics’ (OSD).

English too has descendants of Lat. rĕprŏbāre and not just one, but two. First, English borrowed the verb reprove in the early 14th century from Old French repruver (1080), cf. Middle French reprouver ‘reproach, criticize, blame’ (1120) and Modern French réprouver ‘to condemn, to disapprove of; to reprobate, to damn’ (LC).

Eng. reprove, pronounced [ɹəˈpʰɹuv] or [ɹiˈpʰɹuv],  is not a common, everyday word. As for its meaning, dictionaries differ somewhat as to how they define it. Most agree that it means ‘to scold or correct usually gently or with kindly intent’ (MWC) or ‘to criticize or correct (someone) usually in a gentle way’ (MWALD). In this use, Eng. reprove is used primarily with people as direct objects. Some dictionaries do mention that ideas or behaviors can also be reproved, though this use is less common. One dictionary defines this second meaning as ‘to express disapproval of : censure. it is not for me to reprove popular taste — D. W. Brogan’ (MWC).

English also borrowed the Latin verb rĕprŏbāre directly from Latin, in the mid-15th century. As usual, English borrowed this Latin verb using its passive participle rĕprŏbātus, turning it into reprobate ɹɛpɹəˌbeɪ̯t]. This verb’s main meaning is ‘to disapprove of’ and ‘to condemn’, and some dictionaries tell us that it is archaic (e.g. COED). Some dictionaries are more specific about the meaning of this verb. For instance, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate tells us it means ‘to condemn strongly as unworthy, unacceptable, or evil’ (MWC). This verb has been used in Christian theology with the sense ‘to abandon to eternal damnation. Used of God’ (AHD).

Related words: Lat. ĭmprŏbus and rĕprŏbus

Finally, we should mention that associated with the verbs ĭmprŏbāre and rĕprŏbāre, antonyms of the verbs prŏbāre (and its partial synonym) apprŏbāre, Latin also had analogous antonyms of the adjective, prŏbus, that these verbs are derived from, namely: ĭmprŏbus and Late Latin rĕprŏbus.

The adjective ĭmprŏbus (masc. ĭmprŏbus, fem. ĭmprŏba, neut. ĭmprŏbum), antonym of prŏbus formed by the negative prefix ĭn‑, meant ‘not good, bad, wicked, reprobate, abandoned, vile, base, impious, bold, shameless, wanton’ (CTL). This adjective is obviously related to the verb imprŏbāre that we just saw. English borrowed it in the late 15th century as improbe from French improbe, which was a 15th century loan from written Latin. Eng. improbe is now obsolete and even in the 15th century it was a rare word. Its meaning was ‘a wicked person’ (OED). Since this is an obsolete word, regular dictionaries do not list it.

Spanish also borrowed this word as ímprobo/a, most likely from French as well, since its first appearance in a dictionary was in Tesoro de las dos lenguas francesa y española by César Oudin (1607). This adjective is still in use in Spanish, though it is obviously quite formal and fancy and not an everyday word. When applied to a person, its meaning is ‘corrupt, unprincipled, dishonest’ but when applied to work, a task or effort, it means ‘arduous, laborious’ or ‘enormous, huge, etc.’, e.g. Tuve que hacer un esfuerzo ímprobo para acabar a tiempo ‘I had to make a superhuman effort to finish on time’ (Vox).

In addition, Late Latin also created the adjective rĕprŏbus/a/um presumably by adding the prefix rĕ‑ to the adjective prŏbus/a/um. Its meaning was somewhat more specific, namely ‘false, spurious’ (L&S). That adjective is obviously related morphologically to the verb rĕprŏbāre. Spanish borrowed this adjective as réprobo/a for use primarily in a Catholic religious context. This word is primarily an adjective, though it can be used as a noun as well. The Academies’ dictionary (DLE) gives four senses for this word, two that are religious and two that are not. The first two are ‘condemned to eternal suffering’ and ‘condemned for religious heterodoxy’. The non-religious senses are ‘removed from a group for non-religious reasons’ and ‘wicked, evil’ (DLE).[3] Obviously, this Latin word was borrowed with the meaning the word had in Late Latin, but rather with an adjectival meaning related to that of the verb rĕprŏbāre as this verb had come to be used in Christianity and Ecclesiastical (Church) Latin, with the meaning ‘condemn’.

English too has borrowed something very similar to this adjective but with a twist, namely that the English equivalent of Sp. réprobo is a paronym (semi-cognate) with an identical spelling and curiously also pronunciation as the verb reprobate that we just saw (one expects such pairs to have different pronunciations, as with separate and estimate, cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.13.2.1). The meanings of non-verbal reprobate are very similar to those of Sp. réprobo/a. Most dictionaries give a religious sense, such as ‘rejected by God and without hope of salvation’ if used as an adjective and ‘one who is predestined to damnation’ if used as a noun; and a non-religious sense, such as ‘morally unprincipled; shameless’ if used as an adjective and ‘a morally unprincipled person’ if used as a noun (all four senses are from AHD). Again, some dictionaries, such as COED, tell us that the religious senses were used in the Calvinist Protestant Christian tradition and that they are archaic today, that is not in current use.

Go to Part 10



[1] Of the two Latin prefixes ĭn‑, one meant ‘into, in, on, upon’ and it descended from Proto-Indo-European en‑ ‘in’. It is identical to the Latin preposition ĭn, which is the source of Sp. en. The other prefix ĭn‑ meant ‘not’ and it descended from Proto-Indo-European ne‑ ‘not’. This prefix was cognate with Greek an‑ (as in the etymon of the word anarchy) and English un‑ (as in the word unimportant), cf. Part I, Chapter 8.

[2] Cf. the derived noun opprōbrĭum ‘a reproach, scandal, disgrace, dishonor, opprobrium’, source of Eng. opprobrium and Sp. oprobio or oprobrio. The cognates Eng. reproach ~ Sp. reproche come from Fr. reproche, which descends from Vulgar Lat. *repropium, which according to DCEH is a blend of the synonyms opprobrium and reprobatio (DCEH).

[3] 1. The DLE says: ‘adj. Condenado a las penas eternas. U. t. c. s.  2. adj. Dicho de una persona: Condenada por su heterodoxia religiosa. U. t. c. s.  3. adj. Dicho de una persona: Apartada de la convivencia por razones distintas de las religiosas. U. t. c. s.  4. adj. malvado. U. t. c. s.’ (U. t. c. s. means úsase también como sustantivo ‘also used as a noun’.

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