Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Origin of English Words

There are certain classes of English words from whose outward form we may conclude that they are of Latin (or French) origin.
First, when an English noun ends in ‘tion’ preceded by a vowel, we may be pretty sure that it is either directly from Latin, or from Latin through French. Such words as ‘formation,’ ‘completion,’ ‘transition,’ ‘commotion,’ and ‘ablution,’ are derived either directly or indirectly from Latin. We never meet with this ending in words of purely Saxon origin. The termination of these was in Latin ‘tio;’ in French they appear in ‘tion;’ and in English the same ending (tion) is adopted. This Latin
ending, ‘tio,’ is, however, sometimes found in French in the form son, which has thus been introduced into certain English words of this class. The Latin ‘ratio’ gave the French ‘raison’ and the
English ‘reason.’ Again, ‘traditio’ in Latin became ‘trahison’ in French and ‘treason’ in English. But in many cases the French ending has not passed into English; for the words ‘declinaison,’ ‘conjugaison,’ ‘oraison,’ &c., appear in English as ‘declen sion,’ ‘conjuga tion,’ and ora tion, i.e. in their Latin rather than their French forms.
Another large class of originally Latin words appear in English with the ending ‘ty.’ These are all abstract nouns, which in Latin end in ‘tas.’ This final tas is expressed in French by , and in English by ty. Thus the Latin ‘socie tas’ becomes in French ‘socié ’ and in English ‘socie ty.’ In the same way, from the Latin ‘bonitas’ come the French ‘bon ’ and the English ‘boun ty,’ &c.
In many of these cases we find two forms of the same word, each with its own meaning. One of these tends to the French, and the other to the Latin, in spelling; and it may be observed that the French has been more disturbed by contraction, abbreviation, or inversion than the Latin. For example, the two words ‘secure’ and ‘sure’ are both originally from the Latin ‘securus;’ but the former is directly from Latin, whereas the latter is from the French contracted form--‘sûr.’

Another pair of these double forms may be found in ‘hospital’ and ‘hôtel.’ The Latin ‘hospes’ signified either a ‘host’ or a guest, i.e. the entertainer or the entertained. From ‘hospitalis’
came the contracted French form ‘hôtel,’ in the sense of a house where guests or travellers are entertained, as distinguished from ‘hôpital,’ where invalids are taken care of. From the French both
these words came into English, each retaining its original meaning.

This principle of a divided meaning is also seen in ‘persecute’ and ‘pursue,’ the latter of which was known in English before we became acquainted with the former. ‘Pursue’ is from the French
‘poursuivre,’ and is used in the general sense of following after eagerly. ‘Persecute,’ from the Latin ‘persecutus,’ the participle of ‘persĕqui,’ is distinguished from ‘pursue’ by the meaning of ‘to
follow after with an intent to injure.’

Two other words of this class are ‘superficies’ and ‘surface.’ The former is pure Latin; and is compounded of ‘super,’ ‘upon,’ and ‘facies,’ a face. But this word is only used in a scientific
or mathematical sense; whereas ‘surface’ has a more general signification, and means whatever we can see of the outside of any material substance.

We find a similar difference of meaning, as well as form, between ‘potion’ and ‘poison.’ Both these came originally from the Latin ‘potare,’ to drink. The former is the direct Latin, the latter
the French form, and both are now English. But the second denotes a species of the first; for ‘poison,’ as is well known, is that species of ‘potion’ which destroys life.

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