Sunday, September 20, 2020

Eng. discuss and Sp. discutir, Part 7

[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 7. Go to Part 1

Other words derived ultimately from Lat. quătĕre

Lat. percŭtĕre

The Latin verb percŭtĕre was derived from the verb quătĕre by means of the prefix per, which itself comes from the preposition per that meant ‘through, throughout’. As a prefix, it could also have the figurative meaning ‘thoroughly, entirely, utterly’. As we saw, the primary meaning of this verb was ‘to strike or pierce through’, though other, closely related senses developed through time. Following the pattern of its sister verbs, already seen, this verb’s principal parts were the following: present tense percŭtĭō, present infinitive percŭtĕre, perfect tense percŭssī, and passive participle percŭssus.

English borrowed this verb as percuss [pəɹ.ˈkʰʌs] in the 16th century, from the Latin verb’s passive participle stem percŭss‑, that is, the passive participle percŭssus minus the inflectional ending ‑us. The main use of this rare English verb today seems to be in medicine, where it means ‘[to] gently tap (a part of the body) as part of a diagnosis’ (COED), as in The doctor percussed the patient’s chest (AHD).

We would expect Spanish to have a verb percutir, and it does. It has the sense ‘to hit something repeatedly’ and it is also used primarily in medicine, just like Eng. percuss, but it may be used in other contexts as well, though it is rare. Some dictionaries give examples of the non-medical use of percutir, such as El martillo de un arma percute el cartucho y produce la chispa ‘A weapon’s hammer hits the cartridge and produces the spark’ (Clave) and Ponte en pie y percute tu timbal ‘Stand up and strike your kettledrum’ (Vox).

The word percutir is not a recent loan, since it is attested already in 1525 (DCEH), but it has always been rare and it did not make its way into the Academy’s DRAE until 1884, more than 100 years after the first edition of the dictionary, though presumably the first time it appeared in a dictionary was in 1855.[1]

French also has a cognate of these verbs, namely percuter [pɛʀ.ky.ˈte], which is first attested in writing in the second half of the 10th century with the meaning ‘to destroy’. The word disappeared from the record and it is not attested with its current meanings, which are very similar to those of its English and Spanish cognates until 1610 and we are told that the word is rare before 1825 (LPR). Thus, there does not seem to be any continuity between the first, early use, and the modern ones.

Much more common than the cognate verbs Eng. percuss ~ Sp. percutir are the nouns derived from the Latin noun that was derived from the their source, the verb percŭtĕre, namely Eng. percussion ~ Sp. percusión. These nouns come from the Latin noun percŭssĭō (regular stem percŭssĭōn‑), derived from the stem percŭss‑ of the passive participle percŭssus of the verb percŭtĕre by addition of the action-noun forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑. Its meaning was ‘a beating, striking’ (L&S). A context-specific, derived sense was ‘a beating time’, used ‘in music and rhetoric’ (L&S).

Eng. percussion [pəɹˈkʰʌʃən] was borrowed from Latin in the mid-15th century with the meaning ‘a striking, a blow’ and ‘internal injury, contusion’. The meaning of Eng. percussion has changed somewhat since then and it is defined somewhat differently in different dictionaries. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) gives us three senses for this word, the first and main one having to do with musical instruments, and two in which the word names different actions: a general one and one having to do with medical sense mentioned for the verb percuss above:

·    ‘the action of playing a musical instrument by striking or shaking it’; when the noun is used as a modifier, then it means ‘[as modifier] denoting musical instruments played in this way’; this noun can then be used by itself (without a modified noun) to refer to ‘percussion instruments forming a band or section of an orchestra’

·    ‘the striking of one solid object with or against another with some degree of force’

·    Medicine the action of percussing a part of the body’

There is no basic difference between the meanings of the English noun percussion and those of its Spanish cognate percusión [peɾ.ku.ˈsi̯on], which means that the two words are very good friends (cognates with very similar meanings) and must have influenced each other over time. Of the three senses, the Academies’ dictionary (DLE) mention only two, omitting the medical one, but other Spanish dictionaries mention all three such as María Moliner’s Diccionario del uso. There is little doubt that the first of these senses, the one referring to musical instruments, is the best known one, being the only sense that many English dictionaries mention. This musical sense for Eng. percussion is first attested in the late 18th century.

At this point we should mention that French also has a noun percussion, pronounced [pɛʀ.ky.ˈsjɔ̃] in Modern French. It is first attested in the late 12th century with the spelling percution, and its meaning was ‘misfortune, trouble’ (= malheur) (LPR). The musical sense of French percussion dates from the mid-17th century, which leaves little doubt about this sense was borrowed by English and Spanish for their cognates of this word (assuming that the words themselves were not borrowed through French instead of through Latin as the official dictionaries of these languages claim). Fr. percussion also has the medical sense, which presumably goes back to the late 18th century (LPR), which is earlier than when that same sense is attested in this word’s English and Spanish cognates, which would seem to indicate that these languages borrowed the sense from the cognate French word, a phenomenon known as semantic calquing (cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.8.2).

There are a number of collocations in English and Spanish that contain the word percussion, all of them part of technical language, such as percussion tool ‘a power driven tool which operates by striking rapid blows: the power may be electricity or compressed air’ (Collins) = Sp. instrumento de percusión),  percussion drill (another name for hammer drill) = Sp. taladro de percusión, and percussion gun = Sp. arma de percusión.

A fairly common noun derived from the noun percussion is percussionist ‘one who plays percussion instruments’ (AHD). This word created in English in the early 20th century, circa 1921, out of the noun percussion and the suffix ‑ist of Greek origin. Spanish borrowed this word at a later time as percusionista. It first appeared in the DRAE in 1992. The French cognate of this word is percussionniste, which is not attested until 1966, leaving no doubt that English is the original source of this word and that the French and Spanish words are loanwords from English.

The noun percussion is not the only English word related to the verb percuss. English also has two adjectives related to this verb: the very rare percussant, meaning ‘bent round and striking the side (eg of a lion’s tail)’ (Chambers), and the slightly less rare percussive, meaning ‘of, relating to, or characterized by percussion’ (AHD). They were both formed in English from the Latinate suffixes ‑ant and ‑ive, respectively, the former in the 19th century and the latter in the 18th century. The words are so uncommon that many dictionaries do not carry them. Spanish has no adjectives related to the verb percutir.

As we saw, the Spanish verb percutir is a loanword from Latin percŭtĕre, a ‘learned word’ (Sp. cultismo) with only a minor adaptation, namely the third conjugation inflectional ending ‑ir. But Spanish does have a descendant of Lat. percŭtĕre that was uninterruptedly transmitted through the ages by word of mouth, a patrimonial word that is a cognate or doublet of percutir (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). The verb is percudir, with the characteristic change (voicing) of the intervocalic Latin ‑t‑ to Spanish ‑d‑ found in patrimonial Spanish words.

The verb percudir is rare in modern Spanish, though, and it is mostly confined to some dialects. DCEH tells us that it was very common in 16th century pastoral comedy, for example, where it was used with a variety of different but related meanings. In Modern Spanish, perdudir has two main meanings: ‘to tarnish, dull’ (= deslustrar, ajar), typically used about skin complexion (Collins), and ‘to get (clothes) very dirty’ (=ensuciar; cf. percudirse ‘to become ingrained with dirt’, OSD), e.g. Los años percudieron las blancas paredes de la casa en que nací ‘The years had darkened the white walls of the house in which I was born’ (GDLEL). Interestingly, in earlier times percudir often appeared as percundir, with a nasal consonant epenthesis in the word, a rare but not unheard-of phenomenon in sound change. This ‑n‑ has led Corominas to argue that that percundir is the source of the verb cundir ‘to spread, grow, etc.’ (Corominas & Pascual, Diccionario Crítico Etimológico Castellano e Hispánico = DCEH). Other scholars argue, however, that the source of cundir is Lat. condīre ‘to pickle, to preserve (fruits); to season, make savoury (food)’ (cf. Eng. condiment ~ Sp. condimento).

Go to Part 8

[1] According to DIRAE (a ‘diccionario inverso basado en el Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española’), the first dictionary that percutir appeared in was the Diccionario enciclopédico de la lengua española, Gaspar y Roig. 


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