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

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Ethical Dative

I’ve always found the ‘Ethical Dative’ to be a very silly classification, and it turns out A&G agree.

“It is really a faded variety of the Dative of Reference.” -AG 380.

How it Works

The Ethical Dative shows a “certain interest” felt by the subject of the dative. I gather that it’s more or less a Dative of Reference restricted to particular idiomatic moments in the Latin language.

  • He serves his own father: suō sibi servit patrī.
  • What do you want: quid tibī vīs?
  • What is Celsus doing: quid mihi Celsus agit?

Note how, in the last example, the Dative is more or less beneath the threshold of translation. It has a certain sense where reading it in Latin, but it’s not a critical measure of the sentence’s meaning.


I feel I’ve always struggled to gather this Dative together, because I’ve attempted to associate it with ‘ethics’ in the ‘what is the Good?’ sense, when it’s really meant to express ‘ethics’ in the ‘ἐθικός‘ (habitual) sense. Any thoughts on this?

The Essential AG: 380

Objects Direct and Indirect

Pardon the vacation, everyone. I’ve spent the last week cramming for and completing the GRE.

Direct Objects are “immediately affected by the action of a verb” within a standard sentence.

  • Direct objects always follow transitive verbs

Indirect Objects are less than immediately affected by the action of the verb

  • This definition captures the indirect sensibility of genitive and ablative indirect objects, which are not your standard ‘recipient of gift’ phenomena
  • Indirect objects are immediately affected by the milieu of a subject-verb-direct object ‘unit’, regardless of whether this ‘unit’ states all parts explicitly
  • Indirect objects may therefore follow transitive or intransitive verbs

The accusative is the case proper to direct objects, yet an English sentence containing a direct object, where translated to Latin, may feature the other cases as well.
Direct and Indirect in Latin

The following sentences, in English, all feature ‘girl’ as direct object, yet in Latin receive either direct or indirect variations, dependent on the particular syntax of the Latin verb:

  • puellam videō: I see the girl.
  • puellae serviō: I serve the girl. (dative, indirect)
  • puellae misereor: I pity the girl. (genitive, indirect)
  • puellā ūtor: I make use of the girl. (ablative, indirect)

Note that the dative usage holds the regular ‘recipient of gift’ formula that we’d imagine in English, yet the genitive and ablative examples feature non-active verbs, which couldn’t take any object in English without a preposition.

Indeed, the conservative structure of Latin syntax allows Latin to omit many English prepositions when constructing subject-verb-direct object units:

  • petit aprum: he aims at the boar.
  • laudem affectat: he strives for praise.

Where the direct object/subject transition, in English, requires a preposition, Latin merely requires a shift in case:

  • pater fīlium vocat: the father calls his son
  • fīlius patre vocātur: the son is called by his father

The Essential AG: 274-5