As a followup to my earlier entry on the construction “boring of the task” and the Language Log entries by Mark Liberman linked therein, Mark has posted Horror and boredom in Castile, a summary of Christopher J. Pountain’s paper “The Castilian reflexes of ABHORRERE/ABHORRESCERE: a case-study in valency“:

The basic observation is that Latin abhorrere started out meaning “to shrink back from, have an aversion for, shudder at, abhor”, but one of the Spanish descendents, aburrir, wound up meaning “to bore”. So not only did the meaning change, but also the “valency” (in the sense of which verbal arguments go where). “I abhor you” turned into “you bore me”.

The original paper has several useful diagrams showing semantic ranges, and Mark reproduces the one showing the historical development in Castilian.

I would also like to second the recommendation in Mark’s more recent post for Pountain’s book (coauthored with R. E. Batchelor) Using Spanish: A Guide to Contemporary Usage. It’s part of a Cambridge series (of which I also have the German volume by Martin Durrell), and it’s extremely well done, with lists of “misleading similarities,” fields of meaning, complex verbal expressions, and the like, all with careful attention to register and geographical restrictions. (I assume, by the way, that Pountain rhymes with fountain, but if anyone knows for sure, please comment.)


  1. Like fountain? I pondered this, and found fountain a bit of an outlier as far as English pronunciation regularity is concerned. Intuitively, I opted for an anglicized version of a French/romanicized name (it’s not common in France, as far as I can tell) and imagined it as (you don’t do unicode, so I won’t try IPA) [pUn’teIn]. Well, I commented even though I don’t know for sure.

  2. Well, I’m going by 1) general Sprachgefühl; 2) the analogy of the surname Pount(e)ney, which is definitely pronounced POUNT-ni (“pount” rhyming with “fount”); and 3) my vivid memory of my embarrassment at discovering that the name of the great science fiction editor and writer Anthony Boucher was pronounced BOU-cher and not (as I had Francophilically assumed) boo-SHAY. But I have no actual evidence.

  3. I enjoy comparing my Sprachgefühl with others’, for fine-tuning purposes.

  4. So, where we are boring, the ancients were ‘horing.
    Damn. Born too late. Again.

  5. In HS my son mentioned Beloit [belwa] college in Wisconsin during his college search. There are lots of those place names in the midwest — near my home there was a a Lake called “L’Homme Dieu” [LeHOMadoo]. I believe that many of them are authentic relics of early settlement — Minnesota was French during much of the XVIIIc, and still had a considerable French pupulation in 1860.
    “Study French! and learn how to mispronounce common American names!”
    I’ve seen a map where Lousiana met Quebec in Minnesota.

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