Monday, September 22, 2008

Word Play

Confer and Collate; Refer and Relate: The Doublets derived from FERO.

It is one of the strange facts of ecclesiastical life that the ceremony in which an Archdeacon in admitted to office is called Collation. Many people I know find this funny: they say that they picture the poor minor prelate folded and stapled When we have all laughed uproriously at this highly original joke, and made a few light references to snacks, it is time to explain that collate is simply a form of confer, which is from the Latin con+fero. The basic verb "fero", like our English "go", takes some of its tenses from a different verb, Its prinicpal parts are:

Fero, ferre, tullī, lātum

Fero is one of the basic elemental verbs. It means "to bear", "to carry" "to put up with" and so on. Its root, FER-, is found in words in Sanskrit and Greek and German and English. When a proposition is added to the simple verb, the meaning is changed in all sorts of of ways.

Te return to Collation. Because the officials of the Church in the Middle Ages were generally good latinistis, and knew that the way to say "conferred" in Latin was "colllatum est", they called the act of conferring a collation. Thus we have two words derived from the single Latin conferre, or better, two groups of words, a group that has grown out of confer and a smaller group that has grown out of collate.

What is interesting is that English has several of these double derivations, as may be seen from the following.

Circum-fero means to bear around; from the present tense English derived an obsolete "circumfer", from which the word circumference was formed; from the past participle came the obsolete "circumlate"[1] meaning to carry or bring something around. Other words, also now osolete, were formed (such as circulatory).

Con-ferō means bring together, collect, contribute, compare, consult. and so on; its present tense gives us confer in its varied meanings, but from the past participle we form collate, which has a richer set of meanings than you might imagine.

De-ferō, bring away, gives us defer and such polite ideas as deference, and delate with the less pleasant role of the delator and his delations.

From the present of Ex-ferō (efferō), to carry out, lift us, comes an obsolte "effer", (and a term in physics, "efferent", for that whoch discharges outward) but the participle gives us elate to lift up, and of course elation.

In-ferō means to bring in, introduce; its present gives us infer which is so often confused with "imply", whole the obsolete verb "illate" from the participle gives us words still active in philosophy such as illative and illation. (Without implying that any might not know this, I'll just repeat that "illative" and the rest are formed from "inlative".)

Ob-ferō (offerō) meaning bring before, present, and the like, gives us offer, but when we speak of what was offered, we go to the participle and speak of the oblata, oblate, and oblation.[2]

Prae-ferō means to bear before or place before; from the present we get prefer; in the church to be preferred meant to be given a job (called a preferment) and whe they needed a word for someone who had been so preferred, prelate was there at hand in the participle. [3] From there we get prelacy, word given to all those prelated, usually by the folk who hadn't got preferment,

Pro-ferō, carry out gives us the obsolete "profer" and rare "prolate". BUT pro-offerō (proffero) gives us proffer. For the differences here, check the OED.

Re-ferō gives refer from the present, and so referrent, referral, reference, and so on; the participle gives us relate, relations, relational, relative, relatives, and relativity.

Sub-ferō (sufferō) means, to take up, submit to, undergo, bear, endure, suffer. From the present tense we get suffer, and from the participle sublate. The use of "suffer" to mean permit or allow seems to be much later than classical Latin. In the famous words "suffer the little children to come unto me", the word used in the Vulgate is not a form of suffere, but of sinere, to let, permit.

Trans-ferō fnally, gives us transfer and translate, which is all the -fer and -late words I can think of, and probably enough for today.

[1] Circulate, however, is from circulāre
[2] The obsolete oblatrant “railing or carping at”, is not connected to these words, being derived from ob and latrāre, ‘to bark”. It is apparently a coincidence that latrō, ‘bark” should be the same as latrō, -ōnis, ‘a robber’; the latter is from a root meaning ‘gain’, whence we also have got the word “lucre”.
[3] An obsolete word “postferment” is cited from T. Fuller’s Worthies of England, but is explained as a having been formed from Eng. “preferment” and not from the Lat. post-ferō, “put after”. We apparently have no derivative from the ppl. of postferō.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

So nice to find out why one of the remnants of my not-really-classical education that still rises to the surface, from time to time, when I think "Latin" is "Fero, ferre, tullī, lātum!" I had been wondering. (No, it hadn't occurred to me to look it up in a Latin-English dictionary).