Our Latin Kin

Not all relations between Latin and English counterparts may be described as derivation. There are a few genuine parallels that stem from a more distant common relation (proto-Indo-European). With these words, Latin is less a mother or grandmother, and more of a cousin.

As we can imagine, this kind of relationship features more striking variations in phonetic form than direct derivation. As Latin and (what A&G call) Primitive Germanic began to undergo separate consonantal and vowel shifts, their PIE derivations took on similar yet distinct forms, which eventually conformed to distinct phonological rules in each family of languages.

(*ph₂tḗr) —> pater / father

(*bʰer) —> ferō / bear, frater / brother

(*dwṓu) —> duo / two, (dēns) dentis / tooth

(*h₁rew) —> ruber / red

(*h₂wḗh) —> ventus / wind

(*sneygʷʰ) —> nive / snow

(*ǵʰans) —> ānser / goose

For those interested, you’ll find a larger list in A&G (19). There are some general phonological rules we see emerging: the aspirated b of PIE becomes Lain f/b and English f/b/v, the aspirated d of PIE becomes Latin f/b/d but in English only d, etc.

The Essential AG: 18, 19

Latin Derivatives: Direct and Indirect

I trust that if you’re reading this, you understand that many English words ‘are derived from’ Latin counterparts, though we can further distinguish this by stating that there are two varieties of derivation: direct and indirect.

Direct Latin derivatives (for instance ‘fact’ from the Latin factum) are more or less coequal adoptions, whereas indirect Latin derivatives (such as ‘feat’ from the French ‘fait’ from the Latin factum) feature a few sound shifts which echo the modifications of the mediating language. Another example: from dāta we have both ‘data’ (direct) and ‘date’ (indirect, through Old French ‘date’).

[A more interesting etymology, while we’re at at it: the English homograph ‘date’ (the fruit) is from the Old French ‘datte’ from the Old Provençal ‘datil’ from the Latin dactylus (the same fruit), so named because it resembled the human finger and/or because this word resembled the Semitic names for date palm: deqel/daqal, etc, which have nothing to do with fingers.]

If you’d like to rabbit-trail even further, here’s a post offering the Latin names of the five fingers, including the pinky finger, whose name made my day: (http://www.omniglot.com/blog/?p=442)

If anyone knows of a Latin derivative which is indirect but not mediated by French or Old French, I would love to see it in the comments below.

The Essential AG: 19n2

The Latin, or There and Back Again

I thought I should share two resources dear to my study of Latin. These are twin tools I use when searching for English words with Latin roots, or Latin words with English derivatives.

Certainly, I profit immensely from becoming tongue-tied between the two languages—if that makes sense.

There’s some danger here. Certain common Latin words, like prōspiciō, have comparatively rare English derivatives like prospicient. Naturally, after a few weeks of reading Cicero, prospicient feels like an ordinary word because you encounter its root relative so often in the text. It’s not, and I get looks for letting it loose in casual conversation. Beware.

For finding English derivatives, I use this Wikipedia page.


Now, with a simple [ command/control+f ], it’s easy to search for either Latin roots or English derivatives.

However, for finding Latin roots of English words, I prefer this handy etymology dictionary, which reveals the precise history of many English words.


Neither of these tools is nearly comprehensive—so if there’s a particular world you’re interested in, a simple Google search might work. That said, if the words you’re after aren’t on either of these sites, (in my experience) they probably aren’t on Google, either.

If readers have any additional sites to suggest, I’m all ears!

Happy Hunting!