Monday, June 22, 2020

Sp. olvidar and Eng. oblivion, Part 4

[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 4. Go to Part 3. Go to Part 1.

English words related to Lat. oblīvīscī


Eng. oblivion

As we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Spanish olvidar, which descends from Vulgar Latin *oblidare and, ultimate from Latin oblīvīscī, does not have an English cognate. However, English does have a few words that descend from Latin words that were derived from that Latin verb, in Latin, all of which were listed in the previous section. Of those, the words that English has borrowed are the noun oblivion and the adjective oblivious.

Eng. oblivion [əˈblɪvɪən] is a late 14th century loanword probably directly from Lat. oblīvĭōnem, accusative form of the noun oblīvĭō ‘a being forgotten, forgetfulness, oblivion’ (L&S), the first word in the list in §2.3. It was originally borrowed with the meaning ‘the state or fact of forgetting or having forgotten; forgetfulness; (also) freedom from care or worry’ (OED). It seems that Old French also borrowed this word, also as oblivion, a bit earlier, in the 13th century, so English may have borrowed oblivion through French and not directly from written Latin. Interestingly, this word has not survived in the French language and no modern dictionary seems to carry it. The OED tells us that the noun oblivion has traditionally been ‘frequently used with reference to the River Lethe in Greek Mythology, which was supposed to produce a state of forgetfulness in those who drank from its waters’ (OED), cf. Figure 108 in §2.1 above.

Later senses acquired by this English word include two variants of the original sense from the 16th century, namely ‘Forgetfulness resulting from inattention or carelessness; heedlessness, disregard’ and ‘Intentional overlooking of an offence, esp. a political one; amnesty, pardon’ (OED). A second major sense is from the 15th century, namely ‘the state or condition of being forgotten; (also, more generally) obscurity, nothingness, void, death’ (OED).

The Latin noun oblīvĭō is derived from the verb oblīvīscī by means of the ubiquitous noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑ in Latin (the nominative ending is ‑ĭō, which fuses derivational suffix and the inflection suffix, cf. Part II, Chapter 12). This suffix is typically added to the passive participle (or supine) stem of the verb, but in this case, it is added to the present stem oblīv‑ not the supine stem oblīt‑, for reasons which like much about the history of this verb are not clear.

Most dictionaries give two main senses for the English word oblivion, one having to do with ‘the fact or condition of forgetting’ and the other with ‘the condition or state of being forgotten’ (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate). This word is typically found in semi-idiomatic expressions or collocations such as fade/sink/slip/slide into oblivion, consign/cast something/somebody to oblivion, destined/doomed to oblivion, and save somebody/something from oblivion. These senses of Eng. oblivion translate into Spanish as olvido ‘forgetting’ (see §2.3.3 above). Another sense of the noun oblivion is ‘the state of being unconscious or unaware: the state of not knowing what is going on around you’, as in She drank herself into oblivion (MWALD). This second, ‘unconsciousness’ sense, can be translated into Spanish by inconsciencia ‘unconsciousness’ or similar words, as in Bebió/tomó hasta perder el conocimiento ‘She drank until she passed out’. Other synonymous verbal expressions meaning ‘drink into oblivion’ are beber/tomar para olvidar, beber/tomar para ahogar las penas, and ahogar las penas en alcohol (Granada University English-Spanish Dictionary).

As we saw, English has a number of expressions with oblivion in them. The following are the most common ones and how they are typically rendered in Spanish:

  • cast into oblivion: arrojar al olvido, enterrar en el olvido
  • consign to oblivion: relegar al olvido
  • destined to oblivion: destinado/abocado al olvido
  • doomed to oblivion: condenado/abocado al olvido
  • fade into oblivion: desvanecerse, evanescerse, desaparecer, caer en la oscuridad/en el olvido
  • fall into oblivion: caer en el olvido / en desuso
  • rescue/save from oblivion: rescatar del olvido

Some English dictionaries also mention two other, less common senses for Eng. oblivion. One is ‘destruction or extinction’ (COED) or ‘the state of being destroyed’ (MWALD), as in The little village was bulldozed into oblivion to make way for the airport (MWALD). The other is a legal, historical use, which we already saw was mentioned in the OED, which can be defined as ‘amnesty or pardon’ (COED) or ‘official overlooking of offenses; amnesty’ (AHD). English-Spanish dictionaries do not give translations for these rare senses of the word oblivion.

Eng. oblivious

The other English word that is related to the Latin verb from which the Spanish verb olvidar is ultimately derived is the adjective oblivious [ə'blɪvɪəs]. English borrowed this word in the 15th century from Classical Latin oblīvĭōsus ‘forgetful’, the fifth word on the list in §2.3 of words derived from the verb oblīvīscī. The original meaning of Eng. oblivious was the same as the word had in Latin, namely ‘forgetful’, but that meaning is rare today. Another sense for Eng. oblivious since the middle of the 19th century and its most common sense today is ‘unaware or unconscious of’ (OED), followed by a prepositional phrase with the prepositions of or to. Two examples of this word in use are: He was completely oblivious of [=unaware of] the fact that he’d offended them, and She kept dancing, oblivious to everyone around her (Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).

The main sense of Eng. oblivious (to/of) can be translated into Spanish in a number of ways, such as inconsciente (de), ajeno (a), ignorante (de), sin darse cuenta (de), haciendo caso omiso (a). e.g. He was totally oblivious of what was happening > Estaba totalmente ajeno de lo que estaba ocurriendo (Vox); He was oblivious to the pain he caused > No se daba cuenta or era inconsciente del dolor que causaba (Collins).

From the adjective oblivious, English has created other derived words, which are less common. The two main ones are the abstract noun obliviousness ‘the state of being oblivious’  and the adverb obliviously ‘in an oblivious manner’. Even less common is the adjective oblivial, found in few dictionaries. Its meaning is ‘causing oblivion’. Some dictionaries say that oblivial was created in English in the early 19th century from the stem obliv‑i‑ and the Latinate adjectival suffix ‑al derived from Lat. ‑āl(is) (OED), though some Latin dictionaries give oblīvĭālis as an actually attested Latin word (Gaffiot). A later author even derived the abstract noun obliviality from that adjective in the early 20th century, with the meaning ‘liability to be forgotten’ (OED). The words oblivial and obliviality never really caught on in English, though some dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Webster’s New Third International Unabridged Dictionary (WNTIU) maintain them. The former, but not the latter, tells us that the words and obsolete or rare.

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