Chapter 14: Compound Words in Latin

§93. Compounds Related to FACERE

Of all the verbs used to form Latin compounds, none has been more fruitful than facere, which appears in English in such forms as pacific (< pac-i-fic-us), pacify (< pac-i-fic-are), and pacification (< pac-i-fic-at-io). Here the first base is pax, pacis (“peace”), so that pacific means “peace-making.” The 1st conjugation verb pacificare is a regular denominative from the adjective pacificus; the English spelling -fy is a legacy of the French -fier. English hasn’t many adjectives in -ific: terrific (< terror, “fright”), horrific (< horror, “shudder”), honorific (< honor, “honour”), beatific (< beatus, “blessed”), soporific (< sopor, “sleep”), prolific (< proles, “offspring”), and scientific (< scientia, “knowledge”). We could easily produce a longer list of words in -fy, most of which have corresponding abstract nouns in -fication. In the following sample, notice that the compound may begin with a noun or an adjective; notice also the CONNECTING VOWEL.

deus (“god”) de-i-fic-are deify de-i-fic-at-io deification
ramus (“branch”) ram-i-fic-are ramify ram-i-fic-at-io ramification
os, ossis (“bone”) oss-i-fic-are ossify oss-i-fic-at-io ossification
clarus (“clear”) clar-i-fic-are clarify clar-i-fic-at-io clarification
verus (“true”) ver-i-fic-are verify ver-i-fic-at-io verification
mollis (“soft”) moll-i-fic-are mollify moll-i-fic-at-io mollification

Our list would include magnify, rectify, justify, stultify, ratify, nullify, modify, petrify, calcify, and personify. The last word has a comic-opera doublet. On capturing the maiden daughters of Major-General Stanley, W.S. Gilbert’s Pirates of Penzance sing out in glee:

You shall quickly be parsonified,
Conjugally matrimonified,
By a doctor of divinity
Who is located in this vicinity.

From Latin significare (E signify) is derived the present participle significant.[1]

Several unusual English -fy verbs come from Latin compounds in -facere, factus. Thus satisfy (L satis-facere, “to make enough”), satisfaction (L satis-fact-io); putrefy (L putre-facere, “to make rotten”), putrefaction; and liquefy (L lique-facere, “to make liquid”), liquefaction.[2] The present participle liquefacient joins others of its type in §82: rubefacient (“making red”), tumefacient (“making swollen”), and abortifacient (“producing abortion”)—a modern medical coinage.

Before fleeing the fertile field of facere, we must tip our caps to some Latin compound nouns: sacr-i-fic-ium (E sacrifice), art-i-fic-ium (E artifice), and or-i-fic-ium (E orifice), “a mouth-making.” We can also salute bene-fact-or and its antonym male-fact-or, along with art-i-fact and manufacture (L manū-fact-ura, “making by hand”). English has two related nouns benefit (< bene-fact-um) and benefice (< bene-fic-ium); the second is the source of beneficial (< bene-fic-i-alis)—cf. sacrificial and artificial.

  1. If you remember the -fic-, you’ll never misspell this word as “signifigant”—a persistent student error.
  2. Though it seems a spelling quirk, the -e- in putrefy and liquefy is a 2nd conjugation stem vowel.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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