According to Wiktionary and De Vaan’s Etymological Dictionary, the etymology of the Latin adjective inanis (‘empty’; ‘worthless’) is unknown.

I was wondering if anybody had a theory on the origin of this mysterious word; any ideas?

By the way, could it be possible that inanis is composed of the prefix in- (‘not’) and *anis (‘full’, ‘useful’?)?

  • Other people have tried to connect it with vānus (with the in- then being an intensifier rather than privative) or animus (semantically less convincing). It's possible to construct plausible forms, it's just that there are no parallels in other languages.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jan 7, 2023 at 6:50

1 Answer 1


I think it could be useful for you to take a look at the following article by Prof. Benjamín García-Hernández. According to him, "inanis has its origins in the negation of the substantive ānus 'surrounding ring', so that inānis has come to mean 'empty', through metonymy from 'without a ring'". See pages 9-11 of the article above (Section 2.1) for more discussion.

García-Hernández, Benjamín (2017). «La negación como modalidad alterna. El in- privativo con bases nominales y el origen de inānis e ingens », De Lingua Latina, Revue de linguistique latine du Centre Alfred Ernout 14: 1-16.

  • I dont believe anyone in historical ling is at all thrilled with the Garcia-Hernandez idea. However, there is an earlier article by Klingenschmitt, who was a very regarded scholar, which perhaps some do like. I have not read it yet myself. In general,the issue is methodological, or rather issues. First, given the sound laws of Latin, there are numerous theoretically possible sources. Second, we need to have some idea what the principles are that are used (not always consistently) in coming up with acceptable etymologies. Jan 7, 2023 at 6:17
  • What was Klingenschmitt's hypothesis?
    – cmw
    Jan 7, 2023 at 7:09
  • 1
    That article contains a remarkably bad etymology for ingens for having been written in 2017.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jan 7, 2023 at 18:54
  • Klingenschmitt, Gert 1994 Die Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse der indogermanischen Sprachen. In: Jens E. Rasmussen (ed.), In honorem Holger Pedersen. Kolloquium der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft vom 26. bis 28. März 1993 in Kopenhagen. Wiesbaden: Reichert. reichert-verlag.de/en/… (pp. 235-251)
    – Alex B.
    Jan 8, 2023 at 2:07
  • 1
    I haven't read Klingenschmitt 1994 yet (pp. 242-243) but in LIV they mention his proposal s.v. *h2es- 'satt werden', "lat. in-anis 'nüchtern; leer' < *n̥-h2es-ni-
    – Alex B.
    Jan 8, 2023 at 2:20

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