[ Wiktionary for *metipsimus :] Etymology

[0.] From -met (emphatic suffix) + ipse (“himself”) + -issimus (superlative suffix).


*metipsimus (feminine *metipsima, neuter *metipsimum); first/second declension

  1. (Vulgar Latin) same

What semantic notions underlie 0 and 1 above? How did 0 semantically shift to 1? I.e., how does compounding 'himself' with 1 emphatic and 1 superlative suffix generate the meaning of 'same'?

  • 5
    Doesn't the leading * mean that the word is unattested? – Rafael Aug 10 '17 at 20:47
  • @Rafael Yes, but the unattested adjective shouldn't affect this question's soundness because it did generate attested cognates. – NNOX Apps Nov 2 '17 at 9:09
  • 1
    @Rafael spot on! Because the question is really about the etymology of French même, which would be considered off-topic here. – Alex B. Jul 4 '19 at 0:13
  • It's sad that "-met" wasn't etymologized any better. I can't but help confere to Ger prep. mit, Nl met, cognate to AGr meta, cp with himself, by himself, perhaps also about the same, because mit sich selbst is a common colocation. Yeah, that has not much to do with Latin; It's pretty meta (all the same to me). mit is explained as cognate to medium (cf G mittels "by use of"), and eventually middle; On one hand, obviously this raises my interest into the medio-passive mood. On the other, phrases like G unsere Mitte, E amidst, compared to G damit, dabei – vectory Nov 9 '19 at 14:57
  • … and mit bringen can imply a sense "being part of", thus compare ideas about equality, of the same one group (in that sense, "he is not the same anymore"?); also cp G gleich "alike; now" vs immediately. "mit haben" also can be trivially understood as have here, which might explain the sense of immediacy. "Mach das gleich mit" (do that while you are at it) is a fixed expression, by the way, further showing a sense of togetherness. @Anixx has mentioned that *me is handled by nostraticists as a root for "we" even. – vectory Nov 9 '19 at 15:01

The key to the meaning is ipse; all the rest is just intensifiers glommed onto that.

In Classical Latin, ipse meant "self"—not as a reflexive, but as an intensive:

Barack Obaman ipsum apud tabernam vīdī!
I saw Barack Obama himself at the store!

This eventually took on a meaning of "same":

Barack Obaman vīdistī? Praesidentem emeritum?
You saw Barack Obama? The former President?
Ita, Obaman ipsum!
Yes, the very same Obama!

The implication, of course, being "the very same person that you're talking about".

But in Vulgar Latin, ipse weakened over time. The Latin demonstratives were worn away until their force was lost and they became nothing but articles; ipse then lost its intensity and became a normal demonstrative. We see it now in forms like Spanish ése, "that".

So when speakers wanted the actual "same" meaning, they had to bring back the intensity. Sometimes they added superlative endings, as in Petronius's ipsimus; other times they added the intensive -met suffix onto the beginning, from rebracketing tēmet ipse "you, you yourself" as *tē metipse. Eventually they had to combine both to get the proper intensity back, ending up with *metipsimus.

This is the form that survived into Romance, giving us words like Italian medesimo and French même < meïsme, which can either mean "same" or be a raw intensifier ("very" or "even").

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  • can it, that is ipse, or could metipse etc. also express the various other renditioms of same, "we have the same ideas" or is the gloss without further explanation potentially misleading? I'm sure it is. They seem to think giving it the vulgar label gave them leeway to be nebulous over at wiktionary. Well, can't blame them if the expectation is that the word shouldn't be written. – vectory Nov 9 '19 at 14:42
  • What would be the negation, "Obama ne ipsum"? – vectory Nov 9 '19 at 15:41
  • @vectory "Vulgar Latin" doesn't mean it "shouldn't be written". It was the lower-prestige dialect that eventually became Romance, but is well-attested in Plautus, Petronius, various graffiti, etc. – Draconis Nov 9 '19 at 16:34
  • Oh come on, vulgar has negative connotations to the vulgar user. I mean the vulgar understanding that vulgar Latin was a second class citizen that developed from classical Latin. Which rather projects my accustomed opinion, so no offense meant. I might also have meant that, in case of doubt, WT correctly avoided to be too specific. Whether a smitten of regional dialect was written down is totally besides the point, if swaths of it have been enshrined in world languages. Insofar I meant active "writing" and writing about, which is hyperbole, because there would be intererst for easy access. – vectory Nov 9 '19 at 18:55

Like Draconis stated, it's the weakening of the original word that caused it to be a demonstrative to fill the void that ille and iste left. It's similar to what happened in our language, "the" was originally a demonstrative as well in Old English, but weakened to merely a definite article totally in Middle English.

I believe the addition of the meaning "same" was the result of īdem falling out of favor in colloquial speech, so metipsimus filled that void as well. In Spanish, "mismo", it's cognate, can be used to mean both.

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  • Welcome to the site and thank you for the nice answer! – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 9 '19 at 12:43

The Vulgar Latin metipsimus, as a contraction of older metipsissimus, a superlative of metipse, comes from a reanalysis of egomet ipse "me myself" as ego metipse. In Latin, -met was attached to pronouns, but in Vulgar Latin it was reanalyzed as part of ipse instead.

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