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11 Comments

  • Very interesting and relevant also to other languages.
    In Italian, the verb traspirare and the noun traspirazione also come to mind (traspirazione eccessiva is the marketing term for sweat), but I suspect that the equivalent English words, transpire and transpiration, are more formal and less frequently used.

  • nice post Stan – and of course the very physical act of breathing in (‘inspiration’) can have linguistic significance too, that sharp intake of breath which can mean, ‘oh my God’, ‘Wow!’, ‘that’s fantastic/awful ….’ and a whole other host of things depending on the context …

  • … and of course also the act of breathing out (‘expiration’), which represents an expression of relief, tiredness, exasperation …

  • Licia: That is the case, to an extent: transpiration is used mainly in technical contexts (again, I used it regularly when studying botany, and hardly ever since); transpire is quite common in one of its later, figurative guises, meaning “occur” or “happen”.

    Kerry: Very true, and I’m glad this came up in the comments. I find gasp a wonderfully evocative word for what you describe.

  • Licia: your comment reminds me of a story, possibly apocryphal, about the film star Rita Hayworth. When told by the director of photography that the star was sweating and that this could be seen on film, the director Orson Welles allegedly replied: “Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, Miss Hayworth glows.” True or not, it shows a nice understanding of pragmatics.

  • The “don’t breathe a word” is a funny one Stan. I remember it from many years ago when it was said if a secret was shared that was earth-shatteringly private..I always hated the responsibility, maybe brought about from recollections of Peter Pan – in the Neverland, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies.

  • Helen: It’s a beguiling phrase, more interesting than it might seem at first, I think. I don’t remember that (or much else) from Peter Pan – one to revisit, but don’t hold your breath.

  • A very interesting post: it’s so fascinating to see the route words follow having their origin in a nowadays ‘dead’ language but them still surviving and taking on different meanings according to context and usage.
    My native language is Greek and there are so many words which have been ‘lent’ to Latin from ancient Greek and then again these words have come back to the greek language in a somewhat different form as a loan from Latin!
    Konstantia

  • Thanks, Konstantia. I agree: some languages that are no longer in use enjoy a hidden, modest afterlife of sorts through their effects on active languages. And it’s very interesting to follow the paths words take from one language to another – and sometimes back again in a new guise, as you say.