The verb sapere can mean tasting like something or having a sense of taste. The latter can be understood figuratively close to "to be wise or sensible". Dictionaries list the participle sapiens separately, and only the figurative meaning is given in all sources I looked at. Why is this so? Are there cases where sapiens means something like "tasty" rather than "smart"? Or, from a different point of view, can one interpret — from a linguistic point of view — the name Homo sapiens to mean that the animals in question are tasty instead of smart?

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    Not an answer to your question, but it's not too often you come across a good Latin pun: apparently there is a food quality company called Cibus Sapiens. – TKR Oct 4 '16 at 16:54
  • Perhaps ‘ taste ‘ can also mean ‘ discerning’ in that by taste we discern the experience of things directly, and therefore wisely, at a different level of knowing , bypassing conceptual thinking . Is this perhaps wisdom or emotional intelligence, really ‘ knowing’ – Nic Mar 27 '20 at 22:12

Dictionaries only provide meanings attested in ancient sources. Sapiens might have been used as "being tasty", but no trace of this is left.

As for homo sapiens, you are right: linguistically it could mean "tasty".


I think that @Mus Silvanus is correct, but should like to answer separately by giving actual examples from an old dictionary, which may throw a little more light.

Sapiens, entis Part. [sapio]. || Adj. wise, sensible, well-advised, discreet, judicious : ut quisque maxime perspicit, quid in re quaque verissimum sit, quique acutissime et celerrime potest et videre et explicare rationem, is prudentissimus et sapientissimus rite haberi solet, Cic. Off. 1, 5, 16 … — and so on (at some length). This is followed by

Sapienter, Av. sensibly, discreetly, prudently, judiciously, wisely — (with examples of comparative and superlative), but

Sapidus, a, um, adj. [sapio] well-tasting, relishing, savoury : tucetum perquam sapidissimum, App. M. 2, 117 : avis sapidior, Apic. 6, 6 || Fig. wise, prudent : puellae Alcim. 6 prooem. Then we also find from later sources

Saporatus, a, um. adj. [sapor] seasoned, savoury : pulmenta, Tert. Spect 27 : cibi, Amm. 31, 2

Saporatus looks like the perfect participle of an otherwise unknown verb saporo (1st conj.) Personally, I can think only that there might have been two verbs sapio and saporo, the similarity of which, coupled with various dialects, led to their meanings having been confounded by the time when spelling became more standardised.

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    saporatus is a post-classical adjective from sapor, which in turn is a nominal derivative of sapio. – fdb Oct 4 '16 at 16:38
  • @fdb Yes, that's certainly what my dictionaries all have: but I think it may be no more than a quite plausible, generally accepted opinion — just like my own, worth anything or nothing! – Tom Cotton Oct 4 '16 at 16:56
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    Which dictionary is this? Also, could you use markup to indicate what is a quote from the dictionary and what isn't? Quotes are indicated with a ">" at the beginning of a paragraph. – Nathaniel is protesting Oct 4 '16 at 17:05
  • Wm. Smith's Latin-English, 17th ed. 1881. It was based largely on Riddle's dictionary of 1849 (?), and claims to have had every reference checked. Both owe much of their content to Freund's German-Latin Dictionaries. Every subsequent dictionary owes something to these, including Lewis & Short. – Tom Cotton Oct 4 '16 at 18:15
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    There are lots of -atus derivatives from nouns (barbatus, togatus, etc.); in Classical Latin they all come from first-declension nouns but the suffix later became productive with other nouns too. I don't think we want to posit unattested first-conjugation verbs behind all of them. – TKR Oct 4 '16 at 20:46

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