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Assuming that (i) the meanings of vir and femina are indeed opposite and (ii) the meaning of the prefix ex- is quite transparent, why are the verbs evirare and effeminare then synonymous? Are there further similar pairs/examples of verbs in Latin?

NB: one could say that these two verbs are not really synonymous. Properly speaking, evirare means 'to deprive of manhood' and effeminare means 'to make feminine'. Fine, but why evirare does not mean 'to make masculine'? Here I'm interested in how semantics/meaning is related to the morphological structure.

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Here's my initial takeaway:

According to the Wiktionary links you included, evirare is a contraction of ex-virare, so something like "to take out of a man". In Greek (maybe sometimes in Latin too), this use of ex- (Greek εξ-) would take the genitive as a genitive of separation (as in "he came out of the woods, he walked out of the house" in English). From what I've encountered, this use is usually soaked up by the ablative case in Latin which Greek does not have.

Neither in Wiktionary nor in Lewis and Short is effeminare described as a contraction with ex-. For now, I assume it's just a simple verb-ization of feminare with the e maybe a vocal affect (I'm thinking of Spanish "espiritu" from spiritu, or "estar" from stare).

If we do take effeminare to be a contraction with ex-, it would be comparable to the Greek genitive of accompaniment, which, despite using the same case and form, does hold the opposite meaning. We do this in modern English too: "out of curiosity" would probably be more sensible as "in curiosity", "out of sheer force of will" as "in sheer force of will". Meanwhile, the word "out" holds perhaps an opposite meaning in phrases such as "out of line" or "out of order". Particularly in the second phrase, "out" holds the opposite meaning to "in", but "out of curiosity" and "in curiosity" are synonyms.

The other classical language example I can think of where a prefix/preposition can hold opposite meanings is the distinction between the Greek alpha privative and the copulative alpha. Both consist of the prefix α-, but while the alpha privative negates the following word (think modern English "atypical", "asexual", "apolitical"), the copulative expresses sameness as in the Greek word for brother, αδελφος, meaning literally "of the same womb".

In summary, I don't think effeminare is a contraction with ex-. But if it is, that's okay, because ex can have either an inclusive or an exclusive meaning.

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    Spanish estar etc come from a phonological change: Latin allowed certain types of initial consonant clusters, but Western Romance didn't, so a vowel got attached to remedy that. But Latin had no issue with initial f, as seen in the word femina itself. – Draconis Apr 6 at 18:52
  • @Draconis that's a pretty good point. So do you think effeminare does come from ex-? It very well could. – Isidoritas Apr 6 at 18:58
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    Welcome to the site, Isidoritas! The last point about ex- having both inclusive and exclusive meaning is very interesting. Can you expand upon it with an example of both? – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 6 at 19:10
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    @JoonasIlmavirta here's the link: perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… – Isidoritas Apr 6 at 19:25
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    I fully agree with Joonas's comment above. Your last point, Isidoritas, seems to be very interesting. By the way, cf. the following information by the end of the link you've provided in your last comment above: "B. Signification. 1 (...) .—Hence also, trop., out of (a former nature), as in effeminare, qs. to change out of his own nature into that of a woman; effero, are, to render wild". So perhaps you would like to modify your answer above accordingly. – Mitomino Apr 7 at 0:08

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