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FAR AND NEAR ETYMONS JUAN R. LODARES While etymologies are not indispensable in usage dictionaries addressed to a wide audience,1 such etymons as do appear must be accurate. Unfortunately, too often this simple demand is unsatisfied. For example, let us consider a recent American dictionary's2 explanation of ranch or rancho and mustang as Spanish borrowings common in the Southwestern United States.3 The entries of these two words contain the following etymologies: "Ranch: Sp. rancho, a mess, a set of persons who eat and drink together, a messroom"; and "Mustang: Sp. mesteño, belonging to the Mesta, or body of graziers." Although the Spanish etymons are correct, it is quite impossible to derive current usages in English from the dictionary definitions. In fact, the definitions are not even those ofthe etymons, but exemplify current usage in Spanish.4 To understand these lexicographical inaccuracies, one must appeal to the etymological concept of far and near etymons.5 The "far etymon" is the distant etymon for a word. Such etymons have undergone no change in many centuries and in current speech retain their original meanings. For example, the "far etymon" of castle is the Old French word castel. Both derive ultimately from the Latin castrum 'fortified place'. Castrum, however, is not the far etymon of castle. OF castel is. The "near etymon" arises in a fixed period in time, superceding the etymon and producing current usage. Its development is closely connected to the word's change in meaning.6 For example, the far etymon ofthe word bead is the Old English bedgebed 'prayer', related to biddan 'to ask'. But its near etymon recalls the phrase "to tell one's beads" ('prayers'), referring to the devout practice of counting one's prayers by means of small balls of glass or wood threaded on a chain, "beads on a rosary." Hence from the practice of counting one's prayers by counting one's rosary beads comes 83 84Far and Near Etymons the current meaning ofthe word.7 The near etymon is bead. Such examples are instructive for rancho and mustang} Rancho comes from Old Franconian hring 'people's circle', but it appears in Spanish in Fernández de Oviedo's American chronicles9 as rancho, first documented ca. 1535 as 'a provisional settlement of people with no fixed living place'. Among the Spanish pioneers in America, two social groups in particular used the word: seamen—and with them soldiers, explorers, and the like—and colonizers. Both of these groups spread two other meanings of the word, derived from Oviedo's: (1) a group of soldiers who eat and drink together, and (2) a place near a city with huts for vagabonds and for cattle. For the colonizers of the "Inner Provinces" (the Spanish Empire's term for Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), pioneers of husbandry in the southwest United States,10 the second definition began to lose its sense of "human shelter" and to be used increasingly for "a place for cattle." It is this meaning, then, and not the usage from the language of soldiers, that explains the current English sense, "large farm with extensive land for cattle". And it might be a very near etymon, as that particular area of the United States shows extensive mutual borrowings between Spanish and English little more than 1 50 years old.11 And the origin of mustang! In fifteenth-century Spain there appeared by appointment of the crown a body of graziers called the Mesta}2 It was a very valuable body for the state, as wool was a particularly expensive raw material; mesteño at first referred only to wool-bearing animals.13 But at the same time mesteño had another meaning: "an animal [sheep, horse, or cow] lost or with owner unknown." Synonyms of the word with this meaning were mostrenco and mestengo; the latter is probably the real etymon of mustang, rather than mesteño}4 for the occurrence of a lost animal becoming wild must have been familiar in the experience of the Spanish pioneers of the American Southwest. Juan R. Lodares85 From this near etymon, "lost or wild animal", comes the Anglo-American mustang, appearing at the beginning...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 83-86
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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