Sunday, November 1, 2020

Urgent emergencies, 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.]


Lat. urgēre

After having taken a close look at all the relatives of the words related to the cognates Eng. emergency ~ Sp. emergencia, let us look now at the words related to the cognates Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, which ultimately descend from the Latin verb urgēre, which meant primarily ‘to press, push, force, drive, impel, urge’. It was a second conjugation (present infiintive ending ‑ēre) verb that lacks a supine/passive participle form.

  • Verb: urgeō, urgēre, ursī (no supine/passive participle)
  • Meaning: ‘to press, push, force, drive, impel, urge; etc.’

Before delving into the cognate nouns Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, let us start by looking at the cognate adjectives Eng. urgent ~ Sp. urgente, both of which mean basically ‘requiring immediate action or attention’ (COED). These adjectives descend from the Latin verb urgēre’s third declension present participle urgēns ‘urging, that urges’, whose regular stem was urgent‑ and its accusative form was urgentem (urg‑ent‑em).

Eng. urgentɜɹ.ʤənt] was borrowed through French in the late 15th century after French borrowed the word from Latin in the 14th century, although this French word did not become a common word until the 19th century (cf. Mod. Fr. urgent [yʀˈʒɑ̃]). Sp. urgente [uɾ.ˈxen̪.t̪e] was borrowed later, in the late 16th century, and although Spanish dictionaries tell us that Sp. urgente came from Latin, it is quite likely that it was borrowed through French too, just like Eng. urgent was. Both English and Spanish have derived adverbs from these adjectives, namely Eng. urgently (urgent+ly) and Sp. urgentemente (urgente+mente), which are also very common words, just like the adjectives they are derived from.

Some dictionaries mention a second, formal sense for Eng. urgent which is not found in Sp. urgente, one which is used to refer to a tone of voice, a plea, or a knock, a meaning that has been defined as ‘formal done or said in a way that shows that you want something to be dealt with immediately: an urgent whisper’ (LDCE). This secondary, derived sense of Eng. urgent can be translated into Spanish as apremiante or insistente, e.g. in an urgent tone of voice  - con un tono de voz apremiante (Harrap’s).

The Spanish adjective urgente is also used in some contexts where English urgent is not used. Thus, for instance, urgente is used in the context of mail, as in correo urgente, where it means ‘express’ or ‘first-class’ (mail). Also, sometimes a better translation of Sp. urgente than Eng. urgent is a synonym of this word, such as pressing or rush, as in un trabajo urgente = a rush job. Finally, as we saw earlier in the chapter, in health matters Sp. urgente can translate into English as emergency, as in un paciente/caso urgente an emergency patient/case, at least as used in some dialects of Spanish.

From the plural neuter form of the Latin present participle urgēns, namely urgentĭa, an abstract noun meaning ‘pressure’ was derived in Late Latin by conversion, i.e. without addition of any affixes, cf. Part I, Chapter 5 (urg‑ent‑ĭa). From this Late Latin noun come the cognates Eng. urgency ~ Sp. urgencia, both of which refer to ‘the quality or condition of being urgent; pressing importance’ (AHD).

Eng. urgencyɜɹ.ʤən.si] is attested as early as the mid-16th century, or about a century after the first attestation of the adjective urgent. The OED tells us that it may come from Late Latin urgentĭa by changing the Latin ‑tia ending to ‑cy, as in so many other existing English words borrowed from Latin. But the OED also says that the word urgency could have been developed in English, by adding the Latinate suffix ‑cy to the adjective urgent, following the pattern of so many Latinate English adjectives that derive from Latin present participles, e.g. agent ~ agency, potent ~ potency, competent ~ competency, consistent ~ consistency, etc. There is no evidence of the French cognate urgence being attested before 1573, so this time the Latinate English word may not have come through French (Le Grand Robert).

Just like English has emergence in addition to emergency (see above), both ultimately from the same Latin source, English also has the a word urgence in addition to urgency. Eng. urgence is quite rare today, compared to urgency, however, more so than the word emergence. The few dictionaries that carry this word refer us to its synonym urgency (e.g. WNTIUD). The OED tells us that urgence was borrowed from French urgence in the latter part of the 16th century, a bit later than the first attestation of urgency. The French word also first appeared around the same time and although it may have indeed been borrowed from Late Latin urgentĭa. However, French etymological dictionaries tell us that Fr. urgence [yʀˈʒɑ̃s] was actually derived, in French, from Fr. urgent in the 16th century and that it was rare until the second half of the 18th century and not a common until the end of the 19th century (cf. GR, CNRTL).[a]

Going back to the meaning of urgency, we find that, as in the case of the adjective urgent, there is also a secondary, formal sense for Eng. urgency, which is not found in its Spanish cognate urgencia. This sense can be defined as ‘formal the feeling of wanting something immediately:  Emilia heard the urgency in his voice’ (LDCE). This sense can be translated into Spanish as apremio or with some related paraphrase, e.g. There was a note of urgency in his voice = Había un tono apremiante en su voz (Harrap’s).

Sp. urgencia [uɾ.ˈxen̪.θi̯a] first appeared in a dictionary in 1721 (DIRAE) and it may have been borrowed from Fr. urgence, with the expected adaptation of the ending from ‑ce to ‑cia, and not from Lat. urgentĭa as the Academies’ dictionary proclaims. As we mentioned, the primary meaning of this word is like the primary meaning of its English cognate urgency. However, just like Eng. urgency has a sense that Sp. urgencia does not have, Sp. urgencia also has senses that are not found in Eng. urgency. One of them is the medical sense that we discussed in the introduction, a sense that (some dialects of) Spanish has recently calqued from the word’s French cognate, a sense Fr. urgence acquired around 1960, particularly when the word is used in its plural form. Thus, as we saw in the introduction, in Spain, urgencias means ‘emergency room’, just like Fr. urgences does. In the preceding section we saw other senses of Eng. emergency that could be translated into (some dialects of) Spanish as urgencia(s).

There is another sense in which Sp. urgencia can be used in a way in which its English cognate urgency cannot, namely, it can be used to refer to a particular instance of an urgent situation. English emergency can be used to refer to a particular situation, as in We had an emergency, but not so urgency, since in English we cannot say *We had an urgency. Spanish urgencia, on the other hand, can be used this way, and then urgencia translates as urgent matter or some equivalent phrase (urgencia = caso urgente, DLE), as in Lo necesito para una urgencia ‘I need it for an emergency/urgent matter’, or El hospital quedó saturado por las urgencias ‘The hospital was filled up due to emergency cases’ (DLE).

Going back now to the Latin verb urgēre, we find that both English and Spanish have borrowed this verb, though the meanings of these reflexes of the Latin verb are very different, which makes them not very good ‘friends’, though perhaps not fully ‘false friends’ either. English borrowed Lat. urgēre as the transitive verb urge [ˈɜɹʤ] in the mid-16th century with the meaning ‘to bring forward, present, or press upon the attention’ (OED) and today it means primarily ‘encourage or entreat earnestly to do something’ and, derived from it, ‘strongly recommend’, as in e.g. I got a note from Moira urging me to get in touch (LDCE), and ‘encourage to move more quickly’ (COED), e.g. He urged her forward, his hand under her elbow (LDCE).

Spanish borrowed Lat. urgēre as third conjugation urgir probably not before the 18th century (Autoridades). Interestingly, it was borrowed as a third not as a second conjugation verb (*urger), probably by somebody who did not realize that in Latin, it was a second conjugation verb and not a third conjugation one (third conjugation ‑ĕre Latin verbs often changed to third conjugation ‑ir Spanish verbs, but not so second conjugation ‑ēre Latin verbs). This verb has only become common in recent times and it is somewhat formal or literary, unlike the adjective urgente, the adverb urgentemente, or the noun urgencia (DCEH).[b]

Sp. urgir is primarily and most commonly an intransitive verb that means ‘to be urgent, be pressing’ and it can be used in the same manner as gustar, with an indirect object, though one is not needed, e.g. Me urge que arreglen la avería ‘I need for the malfunction to be repaired right away’ (GDLEL), which without the indirect object becomes Urge que arreglen la avería ‘It is imperative for the malfunction be repaired right away’.

Sp. urgir also has two transitive senses, but they are much less common and more formal than the intransitive one, and some major dictionaries do not even mention them, such as María Moliner’s, for example. The Academies’ dictionary describe these two transitive senses as ‘to request or demand something with urgency’, as in Los vecinos urgían la construcción de un parque ‘The neighbors demanded the urgent construction of a park’, and ‘to drive or impel someone to act quickly’, as in El director la urgió a terminar el informe ‘The director urged her to finish the report’ (DLE).[c] This second transitive sense of urgir seems to be identical to one of the senses of Eng. urge (see above), though it is not recommended that urgir be used to translate this sense of urge since this use is extremely rare in Spanish, despite the Academies’ sanction of it.

The two cognate verbs Eng. urge ~ Sp. urgir are thus, as we said, used very differently and are never really possible translations of each other. Eng. urge translates into Spanish as instar, exhortar, pedir con insistencia, or rogar, but not really as urgir, e.g. I urge you to reconsiderLe pido encarecidamente que lo reconsidere (OSD), or He urged them not to continue - Les exhortó a que no continuaran (AESV). Note that in theory, it should be possible to use urgir to translate Eng. urge, given that urgir supposedly has transitive senses, one of which seems to be identical to one of the senses of Eng. urge according to the Academies’ dictionary, but this is not recommended since those uses are so rare and probably introduced as calques of expressions in other languages.

As for how we should translate the most common sense of Sp. urgir into English, not the rare ones mentioned before, we find that there are different ways, such as with phrases that contain the adjective urgent or the adverb urgently, e.g. Urge acabar con el conflictoThe conflict must be brought to an end as speedily as possible [=urgently] (OSD), ¿Te urge tenerlo? – Do you need it urgently? (AEIV), Me urge que vengasI urgently need you come here (WR).

From the verb urge, English derived the homonymous noun urge by conversion in the early 17th century, which means ‘the act of urging’ (AHD) or ‘a strong desire or impulse’ (COED), as in Suddenly she had an overwhelming urge to be with her son (LDCE). Despite the fact that this word has been around for three centuries, it did not become a common word until the early 20th century (OED). This noun translates into Spanish as impulso, deseo, or ganas, e.g. sexual urgesimpulsos sexuales (OSD),  to have the urge to do something – tener unas ganas irrefrenables de hacer algo (AESV).

As with so many other Latin verbs, there were a number of verbs derived from Lat. urgēre by prefixation, although none of them have made it into English or Spanish. In total, there were five Latin verbs derived from urgēre, namely the following:

  • adurgēre ‘to press to or close to, press against’ (L&S) < ad‑ ‘to’ + urgēre
  • exurgēre ‘to squeeze out’ (L&S) < ex‑ ‘out’ + urgēre
  • inurgēre ‘to push, thrust; to obtrude (poet. and post-class.)’ (L&S) < in‑ ‘in’ + urgēre
  • perurgēre ‘to press upon greatly, to oppress, distress’ (L&S) < per‑ ‘through’ + urgēre
  • suburgēre ‘to drive or urge close to’ (L&S) < sub‑ ‘under’ + urgēre



[a] From Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé (TLFi): ‘Étymol. et Hist. 1550 (G. Paradin, Hist. de Lyon, p. 372 ds Gdf. Compl.), rare av. la 2e moit. du xviiies.; 1762 urgence du besoin (Diderot, Lettres à S. Volland, p. 36); 1789 cas d’urgence (Point du Jour, 27 sept., p. 55 ds Brunot t. 9, p. 778, note 5), att. dans la lexicogr. dep. Ac. 1798. Dér. de urgent*; suff. -ence (v. -ance).’ http://atilf.atilf.fr/tlf.htm

[b] DCEH: ‘1.ª doc.: Autoridades.  Sólo en fecha muy moderna ha empezado a emplearse con alguna frecuencia, pero sigue teniendo tono mucho más literario que urgente y urgencia’.

[c] The original says: ‘Pedir o exigir algo con urgencia o apremio’ and ‘Conducir o empujar a alguien a una rápida actuación’ (DEL).


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Urgent emergencies, Part 4

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