Monday, December 19, 2016

Collateral Adjectives in the English Language

English is an interesting language. About a third of its lexicon comes from Latin, a third from French, and a quarter from Germanic languages. It's these diverse origins that have helped cause a lot of collateral adjectives. But what are they?

A collateral adjective is an adjective whose origins are not derived from the noun it describes. For example, when we take about things related to our mouths, we talk about things being oral. This is because the word for "mouth" has Germanic roots while "oral" comes from Latin and etymologically are unrelated but semantically related.

An avian image.
When we talk about animals and food in English, animals are usually named using their Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots and food is referred to using terms of Latin and French origins. A similar thing has occurred with animals and their adjectives. For example, the adjective for birds is avian and for cats we use feline. Dogs are canine and horses are equine. There are plenty of animal examples of collateral adjectives.

The same is also true for the body. In daily life, we prefer to refer to body parts with their Anglo-Saxon or Germanic names. However, medicine has often preferred using Latin or Greek terms. This means the adjective for brain is cerebral and for eyes we use optic. Ear is aural and heart is cardiac.

Science also preferred using Latin and Greek terms which means collateral adjectives are often used to describe phenomena found in science. For example, heat comes from Germanic, but its adjective thermal is Greek through and through.

Thanks to the English language's interesting history, there are tons of collateral adjectives. What are your favourite collateral adjectives? Tell us about them in the comments below.