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Grosso modo is a phrase of Latin origin, meaning "approximately". The phrase has been adopted in many languages (like English, French, Dutch, etc), as the referred link testifies. The interesting thing is this: the phrase is also native Italian.

According to this unscientific blog entry, it has been used at least since the XIVth century. That is quite late Latin and a time where romances languages (like Italian) were already developing fast.

The question is then, are we sure the popularisation of such phrase emanate from the Latin (as it seems to be believed) rather than from the Italian? I would imagine the answer hinges on an analysis of the corpus of where such phrase is adopted, for instance, scientific (Latin) versus literary (Italian) work. I couldn't know how to perform such analysis, let alone if it is the right approach. Any ideas?

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  • The phrase is used adverbially, which works because it is in the ablative. I guess that would not work in Italian without some further adornment, like in grosso modo, right? Aug 6 '20 at 19:36
  • @SebastianKoppehel: Yes, if it were not a crystallised borrowing, some adornment would be needed. Aug 7 '20 at 15:14
  • @SebastianKoppehel That sounds like an answer actually.
    – luchonacho
    Aug 8 '20 at 9:41
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from Du Cange, et al., Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis, Niort: L. Favre, 1883–1887 (10 vol.). searchable full-text online edition, by the École nationale des chartes:

http://ducange.enc.sorbonne.fr/GROSSUS1#GROSSUS1-5

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Zingarelli 2021 gives 1657 as the earliest recorded attestation in Italian (no more information provided), cf. for French it is 1566, whereas in Latin it is 1319 (as you can see above).

A simple search in Early English Books Online gives at least seven occurrences before the first Italian attestation (the earliest one in English is 1607):

enter image description here

What might shed more light on this is a corpus study of Italian uses but I am not aware of historical Italian corpora.

Another sign could be this: if indeed it became more frequent in the European languages due to its use in Italian, we would see comments in the European languages something like, as they say/write in Italian etc. or even glosses next to it.

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