Sooth, Forsooth.

Another quote from Ford Madox Ford’s Memories and Impressions (see this post). He’s been talking about how the English avoid saying anything that anyone might take offense at, whereas the Germans are constantly saying provocative things in loud voices; he goes on:

Take German philologists. These are formidable people. To set out upon the history of a word is an adventurous and romantic thing. You find it in London or in Gottingen to-day. You chase it back to the days of Chaucer, when knights rode abroad in the land. You cross the Channel with it to the court of Charlemagne at Aix. You go back to Rome and find it in the mouth of Seneca. Socrates utters it in your hearing, then it passes back into prehistoric times, landing you at last in a dim early age among unchronicled peoples, somewhere in the Pamirs, on the roof of the world, at the birth of humanity. Yes, a romantic occupation — but, in a sense, piratical. For why otherwise should a comfortable and agreeable gentleman over a large pot of beer become simply epileptic when one suggests that the word “sooth” may have some connection with the French sus, the perfect participle of savoir, which comes from the Latin scire? Personally I care little about the matter. It is interesting in a mild way, but that is all. But my friend became enraged. He became more enraged than I have ever seen in the case of a learned gentleman. You see, some rival Captain Kidd or some rival Francis Drake had enunciated the theory as to the word “sooth” which I had invented on the spur of the moment.

Funny and clearly LH material. (If you’re curious, sooth is actually from Old English sōth, from the PIE root *es- ‘to be.’)

Comments

  1. “Epileptic”?

  2. That’s what he says! Or that’s what’s in my edition; I wonder if Ford wrote “apoplectic” and it got misprinted somewhere along the line?

  3. This reminds me of John Stuart Mill’s reference in his Autobiography to “the English mode of existence, in which everybody acts as if everybody else (with few or no exceptions) was either an enemy or a bore.” He contrasts this with “the frank amiability of French personal intercourse”.

  4. in London or in Gottingen

    To my mind, London and Gottingen are quite different from each other. England’s Gottingen is Oxford and Germany’s London is Berlin.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    the English avoid saying anything that anyone might take offense at, whereas the Germans are constantly saying provocative things in loud voices

    Within Germany that’s a northern thing. In the west you can find people who smile literally all the time, in the southeast there’s more conservative anxiety…

    the French sus, the perfect participle of savoir, which comes from the Latin scire?

    …the French su, the perfect participle of savoir, which comes form the Latin sapere. The 18th-century spelling sçavoir was created by mistaken etymologists.

    England’s G[ö]ttingen is Oxford and Germany’s London is Berlin.

    Pretty much, though does that make Heidelberg Cambridge?

  6. And what’s the German Tunbridge Wells?

  7. Epileptic, maybe, as in “unable to speak and frothing at the mouth”?
    But I agree, “apoplectic” makes more sense, either as a typo or as FMF just using the wrong word.

    And what’s the German Tunbridge Wells?

    Well, given that “Tunbridge Wells” signifies “a place where very right-wing and nationalistic senior army officers retire to” I am very tempted to reply “Argentina”.

  8. Heh.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think there’s a better equivalent than Argentina…

  10. Sooth is cognate to sattva, one of the three gunas.

  11. I checked the Wikipedia article for guṇa and was distressed to see that the “Etymology” section has nothing to do with etymology (as far as I know, nobody knows where the word guṇa comes from). I left a querulous note on the Talk page but I don’t imagine anything will happen.

  12. Lars (the original one) says:

    Both E sooth and Danish sand can go back to *h₁sónts directly, but surely सत्त्व is a derived form. The cognate would be सत् as Wikipedia actually explains.

    E sin seems to be a doublet that may have been borrowed from cognate L sontis — (a frozen form, lost in the classical conjugation of sum).

  13. January First-of-May says:

    If you’re curious, sooth is actually from Old English sōth, from the PIE root *es- ‘to be.’

    Does that make it cognate with Latin sunt and Russian суть?

  14. Sure does.

  15. Lars (the original one) says:

    Do we call words cognates when they reflect different inflected forms and that fact is relevant to their sense? Latin sunt is from the same root as sooth, indeed they are from forms of the same verb, but the former goes back to a imperfective present third person plural form, the other to a (substantivized) present participle — ‘they are’ vs ‘that which is’.

  16. I call words cognates when they’re etymologically related, but maybe I’m being too loose. I wonder what marie-lucie has to say?

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks LH, but many other hatters could answer!

    The term is adapted from a Latin word belonging to the vocabulary of kinship. “Cognate” relatives are descended (through the generations) from a common ancestor. For instance, if two persons have the same great-great-grandmother, they are related, but since there are several generations between them and their common ancestor, there is no specific word for them, they are more or less distant cousins.

    With linguistic cognates there are no ‘generations’ or actual ‘cousins’, and the word ‘descended’ means ‘evolved’ from a common ancestor. That’s what “etymologically related” means.

    Sometimes ‘cognates’ are defined as “having the same origin”, but that definition is too vague. For instance, “coffee” and “café” have the same origin, but that is because they have both been borrowed (= adopted/adapted) from the same (probably Arabic) word. They have not evolved from that word or an ancestor of it, which did not exist in the common ancestor (PIE) of English and French, so the two words are not cognates.

    Generally speaking, “cognates” is a term dealing with fairly remote ancestry where the determination of relationship is not very obvious. For instance, nobody tries to argue about word pairs like French action and English action (both borrowed from Latin a few centuries ago). But French coeur and English heart are cognates, although not obvious ones, because it can be demonstrated (through comparison with yet other languages) that both are descended/have evolved from the same PIE word, according to rules of change also deduced from more general comparison.

  18. I left a querulous note on the Talk page but I don’t imagine anything will happen.

    Hat’s querulous note had an effect. One Ms Sarah Welch changed “Etymology” to “Terminology” on 6 October.

  19. Excellent!

  20. Lars (the original one) says:

    @Hat, @m-l, thanks for the explanation. I think my understanding of ‘cognate’ was a bit narrower than it should be.

    We do have pairs (and larger sets) of words with a specific derivational relation that (transparently) recur in many related languages, one such is the base/causative pair PGmc *sitjaną/*satjaną, G sitzen/setzen, Da sidde/sætte, E sit/set. I would like to call that two different sets of cognates, but the usual understanding seems to be that they are all cognate. Does anyone know a term for the more narrow concept?

  21. Trond Engen says:

    I see some use exact cognate where the derivation is identical, and I’ve seen root cognate for words that are different derivations from the same root. Of course, there are many degrees in between.

  22. January First-of-May says:

    one such is the base/causative pair PGmc *sitjaną/*satjaną, G sitzen/setzen, Da sidde/sætte, E sit/set.

    Is Russian сидеть/сажать the exact same pair, or is the precise Russian cognate something else, such as садить?

    (…I had to google to check if садить is an actual Russian word – apparently, it is, but in modern Russian it only exists as a colloquial form of сажать.)

  23. marie-lucie says:

    lars: the base/causative pair PGmc *sitjaną/*satjaną, G sitzen/setzen, Da sidde/sætte, E sit/set. I would like to call that two different sets of cognates, but the usual understanding seems to be that they are all cognate.

    Trond: I see some use exact cognate where the derivation is identical, and I’ve seen root cognate for words that are different derivations from the same root. Of course, there are many degrees in between.

    Yes, there are degrees of cognacy, for which there is not always a rigid descriptive term. Lars’s examples are indeed all cognate, but within PGmc they are separate derivatives from a basic stem, itself derived from a single root. That makes them close cognates. On the other hand, their common PIE root was the same as that of Latin sedere ‘to sit’. So the PGmc root and the ancestor of the Latin root were close cognates, but the descendant words are more distantly related, as in English sit and French (s’) asseoir (from Latin “ad-sedere”) which are distant cognates.

  24. Yes, I would use m-l’s terminology.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Merci!

  26. Lars (the original one) says:

    FWIW the ablaut in sit/set goes back to PIE, which according to Ringe had present *sisdeti, aorist *sédst, causative present *sodéyeti. Neither the reduplicated present nor the aorist survived into PGmc (or Latin I think), so the basic verb has been reshaped.

    I know next to nothing (actually nothing at all) about the development of Slavic from PIE, but the causative does have a front glide that the basic verb doesn’t so the д/ж alternation could be inherited.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    On *i versus *e in reduplication syllables, watch the trailer here

  28. According to LIV, Russian sadit’ continues a long-vowel causative PIE *só:d-eye-, while Germ. satjan continues a shor-vowel *sod-éye-. But the long vowel in sadit’ (Slavc /a/ < PIE */o:/, */a:/ in non-laryngealist notation) could also go back to Winter's law, so the two could even be exact cognates. Russian sazhat' goes back to a further extension of sadit’ with /a/ (something loike Proto-Slavic *sad-y-a-).
    Russian sidet’ goes back to Pr-Slav. sěděti, which goes back to what LIV calls an “essive” – a formation that forms stative verbs in several IE languages, something like PIE *sed-h1yé-. It would be an exact cognate to Latin sedeo, but LIV states that for the root *sed-, this formation is a post-PIE Innovation, replacing the lost root *H1eH1s-. LIV reconstructs the ancestor to Germanic sitjan, OTOH, as a secodary ye-present (something like *sed-ye- , replacing a root present (so obviously LIV doesn’t agree with Ringe here).

  29. Lars (the original one) says:

    Ringe does have PGer *sitjan for the basic verb which looks like agreement with LIV on the formation of the present. I did try to find what (if anything) he says about the source of the *-j- but didn’t succeed.

    As to the PIE present of this verb, Ringe claims that only one of the present and aorist stems can have the bare root and if the other exists it will always be derived; he states as a fact that *sed- forms a root aorist and a reduplicated present, but that conclusion might be biased.

  30. FWIW, LIV posits a root aorist *sed-/s(ə)d- and two present formations; one *se:d-/sed-, which LIV marks as doubtful, and *si-sed-/sisd-. The latter one is amply attested in the daughter languages. I think the real issue is whether all the other attested formations, like sitjan < *sed-ye-, which LIV describes as re-formations of these two, are really that or something different.

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