Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Same Old Same Old

Yesterday as we were getting ready to leave New York, we had the television on (a rare occurrence) and were intermittently watching a Spanish news channel (a complete novelty), which was airing a story about an upcoming vote on same-sex marriage in the State Assembly. (It passed last night: if the Senate approves it, Governor Patterson will sign it into law.) In Spanish, the phrase "same-sex marriage" is rendered as "matrimonio del mismo sexo", and that struck me as odd, because "mismo" looks so much as if it ought to be related to "mixed" in English (because Italian "misto" does in fact means "mixed"), while it obviously means just the opposite. So what gives?

I wish I could tell you, but I can't find an etymology for "mismo" anywhere. However, I did stumble across a relative to the word, if that's any help, and it was right in my own brain all along! French, as I have said before, often indicates a vanished ess by placing a circumflex over the vowel that preceded that letter: "côte", for instance, is analogous to English "coast", and "fête" is related to "festival". The French word for "same" is "même", and if you tuck the vanished ess back in there, you get "mesme", which is clearly a relative of Spanish "mismo".

That's all I have for that word, but I can tell you that English "same" is fantastically old: Old Norse "same" came from Indo-European "samos", which led to a string of words with related meanings in English, such as "similar" and "semblance". An alteration of the opening sound of the word led to Greek "homos", "the same, one and the same", which gave English a raft of words such as "homology", in biology "the quality of being similar", and of course "homosexual".

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugh, so clumsy. I prefer "matrimonio homosexual". If people insist on word-for-word translation, at least use less clunky phrases!

La Real Academia Española is great for this kind of thing. Using their dictionary, it seems Mismo comes from vulgar Latin *metipsimus* (diacritical like a semi-circle above the second I), a combination of *met* and *ipse*

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 6:23:00 PM  
Blogger Woldry said...

Here's an etymology for "mismo": http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=mismo

Monday, May 18, 2009 9:02:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

The "diacritical like a semi-circle" is called a breve; it's a short vowel marker and is used by scholars and students of Latin, but is not actually part of the native orthography.

metipsimus is a wonderful thing: it's a superlative of an intensive of an emphatic reflexive. It's a bit like "me, myself, and I" or "one and the same". But what it indicates is not so much single-minded obsession as the consequence of linguistic subsidence, like Venice into its lagoon.

Classical Latin usually left out the personal pronoun subject, allowing the verb conjugation to imply the pronoun. Already to write the pronoun was to be emphatic. If you really wanted to make a fuss about it, you added the suffix -met. Some time later that construction needed shoring up and had ipse ("that one") tacked on. As its intensity further faded, it gained a superlative suffix -imus. The usual Romance phonetic erosion caused some intermediate weak syllables to fall away, so we are left with même, mismo, etc. The sense of "same" is a semantic extension; the original sense is seen esp. with pronouns, "moi-même" (etc.).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 2:25:00 PM  

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