Chapter 5: Turning Latin Nouns into Adjectives

§43. Word Analysis

Now that we are starting to meet more complex Latin derivatives, we need some conventional way to show our knowledge of their origins and our understanding of their form. Of course, we could write out a full professional etymology, but that would be next to impossible without years of linguistic training. Fortunately, there are rough-and-ready shortcuts that allow us to do the job fairly well, and in very few words. One method that we’ll now be using constantly is called word ANALYSIS, from the Greek for “breaking up.” In essence, it involves a division of the complex word into its component parts, and an explanation of each element. Here, for example, is how one might ANALYSE the English words glorious, capital, and asinine:

glorious< L gloriosus: noun base glori– (gloria, “fame”) + adj. suffix –osus (“full of”)

capital < L capitalis: noun base capit– (caput, “head”) + adj. suffix –alis (“pertaining to”)

asinine< L asininus: noun base asin– (asinus, “donkey”) + adj. suffix –inus (“like a”)

This is only one way of presenting an analysis; there are quite a few acceptable methods, and we will be looking later at some alternatives. Do notice, however, that you should begin with the full and exact Latin etymon (here, gloriosus, capitalis, asininus); you should give both the noun base and the full nominative form; and you should provide etymological meanings of both the base and the suffix. If you have learned your vocabulary assignments and the important suffixes introduced so far, you should be able to perform simple ANALYSES without the help of any reference book.

There is one aspect of this procedure that may sometimes bend historical truth, though it shouldn’t be allowed to cause you any discomfort. If you were asked to analyse the English word subliminal—to take just one example—you might logically assume that it is derived from a Latin form subliminalis. Yet this is an adjectival form that never existed in spoken or written Latin, since the modern word sprang from the fertile mind of a nineteenth century German psychologist. Nonetheless, you are still advised to begin the analysis with the source-word subliminalis, since it must at least have been a hypothetical Latin form in the inventor’s imagination. And some of these neo-Latin words have actually existed in technical treatises, though they are not listed in dictionaries. Just remember that you are not writing a definitive historical etymology: our type of rough-and-ready word analysis should not be mistaken for scientific lexicography.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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