Peu profond

Last night I discovered that there doesn’t appear to be a separate French word for shallow, at least when you’re talking about shallow water, dishes or graves – the term peu profond (‘not very deep’) is used in these cases. If you’re talking about a shallow person, mind, writing, novel, film or conversation though, the word to use is superficiel(le), or you can say that they manque de profondeur (lack depth).

This got me wondering whether there is a Latin word for shallow, when referring to water, etc, which didn’t end up in French. According to my Latin dictionary, shallow is brevis, vadōsus or levis. Another Latin dictionary I checked defines brevis as short, vadōsus as “full of shallows, shallow, shoal” and levis as “light, not heavy” or “smooth, not rough”.

The English word shallow first appeared in writing in the early 15th century schalowe, and is possibly related to schald (Old English sceald) – shoal.

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Peu profond

  1. Lev says:

    Similarly strangely, in German there is no word for “remember”. There is “sich erinnern”, which means “remember” as in “I have just remembered that…”, but “I don’t remember” is “Ich weiss nicht mehr”, literally “I don’t know any more”.

  2. Sathyarthi says:

    - Very interesting. I’ve noticed a similar lacuna in Tamil whereby the only way to express ‘shallow’ would be by saying ‘ஆழமற்றது’ (AzhamaRRadu), i.e. ‘not-deep’. Similarly, ‘light’ (as in ‘weight’) would require the periphrastic ‘பாரமற்றது’ (bhAramaRRadu) or ‘not-heavy’. This peculiar linguistic phenomenon merits an entire study in itself, methinks..!

    Thanks again Simon for your truly brilliant website and daily insights!

  3. VinnyD says:

    Altus is used for deep pretty frequently in Latin, I think; more so than profundus. So that “high/tall” and “short” aren’t really right for “altus” and “brevis”; they mean more like “extending far (or not far) in the vertical dimension” and you have to know from context whether that’s upwards or downwards.