[ 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. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal 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 at 0:13

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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