Monday, August 02, 2010


Kennedy discovers the gerund
and leads it back into captivity.
Apropos nothing, I was thinking about gerundives the other day and thought I’d put together a bit of a list of the gerundives English has appropriated from Latin. Firstly though a gerundive is a verbal adjective (not to be confused with a gerund which is a verbal noun), in Latin often conveying a sense of compulsion or necessity or obligation. That is a gerundive describes something which must be done. It can be a bit of a tricky concept to get your head around, since there’s no real equivalent in English, although as I mentioned before English has appropriated several gerundives from Latin to be used as English nouns.

Two of my favourites are the names Amanda and Miranda, meaning she who must be loved and she who must be admired respectively.

Other common ones are referendum (something which must be referred to the people), agenda (things which must be done) and propaganda (things which must be spread). Some less common examples follow:

addendum something which must be added
corrigendum something which must be corrected
pudendum something of which one must be ashamed
• Q.E.D. stands for quod erat demonstrandum, that which had to be demonstrated

Finally, I have it on good authority (since my own Italian is pretty much non-existent) that the Italians have adopted mutande as a word for underwear, since they are things which must be changed!

Any more that I’ve missed?


Mike Salter said...

"Errand" is another of my favourites. And for those who know those old mathematical terms, there's always "addends" and "subtrahends".

I've always thought that the term mutatis mutandis is a good an example as you can get of how terse and concise Latin can be. There you have a perfect passive participle, a gerundive, wrapped up in an ablative absolute, no less...and it's a simple concept, but it would take about ten words in English (at least) to render it properly!

jm said...

well i've learnt something. i thought my maths was pretty good, but i've never heard of addends and subtrahends.

Laura Gibbs said...

Don't forget memorandum (so to speak, ha ha) - which we mostly know now as memo.


jm said...

of course!

Rusty Mason said...

What a coincidence, I was just thinking of literal meaning of "Amanda" yesterday when I heard the C&W song on the radio. I wondered if the writer chose that name because of its meaning. If so, it fits the lyrics perfectly.

How about, "referendum"?