Chapter 11: Turning Latin Nouns into Latin Verbs

§78. Interesting Words

As you may have begun to notice, the most intriguing denominatives are those that involve Latin prefixes. To exonerate (ex-oner-are, ex-oner-atus) is “to get someone out from under a load.” To inseminate (in-semin-are) is “to put seed into”; and to disseminate (dis-semin-are) is “to spread seed apart (in different directions).” To ejaculate (e-jacul-are) is to hurl out verbal or seminal missiles (a jac-ulum is a “throw-thing”). People with a good knowledge of Latin are likely to understand such words by calling to mind their etymological meanings, either consciously or unconsciously. Those etymological meanings may be quite straightforward, like rejuvenation (re-juven-at-io), “becoming a young man again”; or less obvious, like elimination (e-limin-at-io), “[casting] out of the threshold.” Eradication (e-radic-at-io) is “a rooting out” (radix, radic-is[1])—a radical solution, whereas annihilation (ad-nihil-atio) is a reduction “to nothing” (nihil). Evisceration (e-viscer-at-io) means tearing out the guts (viscera); excoriation (excori-at-io) is ripping off the skin or hide (corium)—metaphorically flaying alive. Some denominatives seem to be brutally in-timid-at-ing!

Even without prefixes, denominatives can be fascin-at-ing (“spellbinding”). Does everyone know that insulation creates an island (insula)?[2] It is a doublet of isolation, which came into English from Italian (through French). Fluctuation is the motion of a wave (the 4th declension noun fluctus). To fulminate is to wield Jupiter’s thunderbolt (fulmen, fulmin-is), when you are aroused to Olympian fury. To fornicate is to play around under the vaulted arches (fornic-es), a popular locale for ancient Roman brothels; don’t confuse it with the rare word formicate—to swarm with ants (formic-ae).[3]

Some interesting things can happen with the -atus ending of the perfect participle, when it is modified by various Romance languages. In Spanish, the feminine form -ata regularly became -ada, as we see in the Spanish armada, an “armed” fleet. (The Latin noun arma, “arms,” produced the denominative arm-are, arm-atus.) The -ata > -ada change occurred also in Old Provençal, which is the ultimate source of English salad (“something salted,” < sal-are, sal-atus) and ballad (originally “something danced,” < Late Latin ball-are, ball-atus). In French, however, that same -ata ending regularly evolved into é or –ée, the form of the 1st conjugation French past participle. Therefore armata became arme!e, the etymon of English army. This means that army and armada are doublets.

  1. Here is the source of the English word radish.
  2. When the development firm of Cadillac-Fairview was planning the new Eaton’s Centre in Victoria, a senior representative proudly announced, with grand solemnity, that the complex would feature both insulation and “outsulation.” He should have been excoriated, if not eviscerated, on the spot.
  3. The Latin word for “oven” or “kiln” was fornax, fornacis (> E furnace). In classical Latin, there was actually a denominative agent noun fornacator, which meant “stoker.” It is probably just as well that we don’t have to distinguish in English between fornicator and fornacator. (The fornicator may end up stoking furnaces in the great hereafter.)


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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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