[Smt-talk] a la mode

Charles J. Smith cjsmith at buffalo.edu
Wed Dec 4 11:10:52 PST 2013

Dear Michele, et al.

Indeed, it is not accurate to say about most of these words that they are of Greek origin. They all have Greek cognates, as do most words in Indo-European languages that are descendants of IE roots. But the actual ancestry of these words in English is either from Latin (either directly or through Old French) or from German (i.e. Anglo-Saxon). Specifically:

BELIEVE is an Old English word (whose spelling was influenced by French), brought over from various Old German words, and thus related to German GLAUBEN as well as English LIEF and LOVE.

SAME is an even older Anglo Saxon word (i.e. from before the 12th century), also of Germanic origins—the same origins that lead to German SAMT.

COUNTER has several different senses in English, but they mostly derive from Latin contra or computare, via Old French.

PRODUCTIVE, from PRODUCTION, is a direct descendant of Latin producere (to bring forth) and its Latin derivatives—a relatively late addition to English, probably directly from Latin, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

SENSE, first appearing in English in the 14th century, is, of course, of direct Latin origin, from sensus and the like. 

The question of ultimate sources for many Latin words is difficult. Of the last three, some of the Latin sources might well result from a borrowing from Greek (e.g. for sensus, from the same Greek sources that give us AESTHETIC), or they could have emerged more directly from IE roots (in the case of sensus, from the root *sent-). The role of Greek as an intermediary is a subject of much debate in historical linguistics. There doesn't seem to be a CONSENSUS (ahem) on this one. But even if there was some intermingling of Greek and Latin in the later centuries of the latter, the clear sources of the English words is Latin—rather than a direct borrowing from Greek, as in the case of DIATONIC, or RHYTHM. (Though historians of 16th and 17th century theory can probably qualify this borrowing as not quite as direct as it may seem...)

At any rate, all of these words have Greek cognates, i.e. Greek words of related meaning that have common ancestors with the English words (e.g. Greek HOMOS & English SAME). But most of these words also have Russian cognates, and perhaps even Sanskrit or Gaelic cognates (my Sanskrit is rusty, my Irish non-existent, sadly...), but that doesn't mean that they are of Russian, Sanskrit, or Gaelic origin.

My source is the classic C. T. Onions, Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, supplemented by the Online Etymological Dictionary.
Offered in the hope of being helpful...

> Dear Ildar & all,
> Could you or others on this list please provide some 
> evidence for the claim that the words "counter," "productive," 
> "believe," "same," "sense" are of Greek origin?
> Many thanks,
> Michele
> ---------------------
> Michele Ignelzi
> m.ignelzi at tin.it
> Conservatorio 
> Statale di Musica, Florence, Italy
> On Dec 3, 2013, at 5:11 PM, Ildar 
> Khannanov wrote:
> On the other hand, in the phrase that you send to me 
> seven words out of 19 are of Greek origin. These are not only the 
> words, translated from Greek (counter, productive, believe, diatonic, 
> same, sense) but a major categories, discovered by Greek thinkers. 
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Prof. Charles J. Smith
Slee Chair of Music Theory & Director of Graduate Studies
Director, Slee Institute of Tonal Harmony (420 Baird Hall)
Academic office: 410 Baird Hall
Office Phone: 716-645-0639
cjsmith at buffalo.edu

Mailing address;
Music Department, 220 Baird Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
Department Fax: 716-645-3824

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