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I am trying to understand the connotation of “vagitus” before it was adopted by the English language in the 17th century:

According to Etymonline, vagitus

crying of a newborn child, 1650s, from Latin vagitus "a crying, squalling," from vagire.

I am not a Latin expert and I found this site according to which the meaning of vagitus in Latin was “crying”, in a generic sense, not specific to the cry of a new born like in English.

My question is:

had vagitus in Latin the same connotation as in English, or was it a more general term?

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    latin-is-simple.com is not a serious dictionary, but it does have the nifty feature that it automatically lists example sentences, and when I view the entry, it shows three examples that all refer to infants. Apr 23, 2023 at 18:42

1 Answer 1

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Vāgītus is a noun from vāgiō, a verb meaning "to cry"; most often, this verb refers to children. For example, Cicero:

Videtisne igitur unius viri consilio non solum ortum novum populum neque ut in cunabulis vagientem relictum, sed adultum iam et paene puberem?
Do you see how, through the planning of one man, this new populus was not simply created and abandoned like an infant crying in its cradle, but adult and basically fully grown?

There's no word for "infant" in the Latin here: simply "crying" is meant to mean "an infant crying", as is made clear by "in its cradle". This wasn't always the case—the word could be used for other types of "crying" or "crying out", such as animals, or adults, or inanimate objects—but this was the most common usage.

The same seems to be true for the noun vāgītus. It can mean other types of crying, coming from sources other than infants, but infants are the most common usage of the word.

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  • Thanks for your answer, so what remains to be understood is why the term, adopted not only in English but also in Italian and French for instance, happened to be used specifically for newborns, but that is a question for those respective sites.
    – Lingo
    Apr 23, 2023 at 17:51
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    @Lingo The Latin word was used mostly for the crying of a newborn, so that's not unexpected.
    – Draconis
    Apr 23, 2023 at 18:02
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    @Lingo But is that even true? Apr 23, 2023 at 18:39

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