Spontus

Spontus is a Breton word I learnt recently that means scary or terrible, as in spontus eo an amzer hiziv (the weather is terrible today). It doesn’t sound like it comes from a Welsh or Cornish root, and I wondered where it came from.

According to the Wikeriadur spontus comes from the word spont (to faint/wake with terror) plus the suffix -us. Unfortuantely it doesn’t say where spont comes from. Does any one have any ideas?

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

11 Responses to Spontus

  1. Daniel says:

    “Espantoso” has a similar meaning in Spanish, so perhaps it comes from Latin?

  2. TJ says:

    Well … I noticed the “amzer” is close to the Irish “aimsir” here, so maybe “spont” can be tracked down from the Gaelic cousins instead of the Brythonic ones?

  3. Christopher Miller says:

    Occitan has espantós, derived from espantar, with the same meaning.

    Several northern Occitan dialects, Lemosin and Perigordin among them in the northwest, raise all unstressed /a/ vowels to a back mid rounded vowel (not just in word-final position as is otherwise nearly universal in Occitan). I suspect the Breton word might quite likely be an Occitan borrowing, raised-rounded /o/ included, with the adjectival suffix nativised by analogy.

  4. Macsen says:

    TJ

    amzer in Breton means weather. ‘amser’ in Welsh means time. (‘tywydd’ is weather in Welsh).

    ‘z’ in Breton often corresponds to ‘dd’ in Welsh. dez = dydd (day) Iwerzhon – Iwerddon (Ireland). menez = mynydd (mountain) etc.

    (please ignore my bad Breton spelling!).

  5. Kevin says:

    Macsen wrote:

    “amzer in Breton means weather [*]. ‘amser’ in Welsh means time”

    * as, I may add, does ‘aimsir’ in Irish

    Since ‘temps’ in French means both ‘weather’ AND ‘time’, the lexical overlap is not without precedent!

  6. Yenlit says:

    You’re right, the Breton word “spontus” doesn’t look particularly Celtic? But if the word has the same derivation as Christopher’s suggested Occitan espantós, derived from espantar, with the same meaning as well as Catalan espantós (frightening, scary) then “spontus” would have a Romance origin rather than Celtic?
    Late Latin *expavento in turn is derived from Classical Latin pavor:
    Noun
    pavor (genitive pavōris); m. third declension
    The act of trembling, quaking, throbbing or panting with fear.
    Fear, alarm, terror, fright, panic.
    Fear through expectation, dread, thrill, anxiety, trepidation.
    Some of the descendants of Latin pavor are:
    Catalan: por
    French: peur
    Friulian: pôre
    Italian: paura
    Portuguese: pavor
    Occitan: paur
    Old Provençal: paor
    Romanian: pavor
    Sardinian: pòre
    Spanish: pavor
    I don’t know if Breton “spontus” would be related to Welsh poen (pain), poenus (painful), poeni (to pain/worry); or Cornish payn (pain) which is the closest Welsh word I can think of resembling spontus?

  7. Kevin says:

    Vulgar Latin “expavere” (feel great fear) — from “pavere” (tremble with fear) + the intensive prefix ex- — is the source of the French “épouvanter” (terrify) / “épouvante” (horror). We can also see Italian “paura” (fear) there.

    It seems, however, that there was an alternative Vulgar Latin form, “expaentere” — which produced the Portuguese and Spanish “espanto” (fright, horror). I think it’s highly likely that it was from a version of this latter in one of the neighbouring French dialects that Breton got “spont”.

  8. Kevin says:

    You pipped me to the post, Yenlit!

  9. Yenlit says:

    @Kevin “You pipped me to the post, Yenlit!” Yeah, but only by a few minutes and you explained it much more succinctly that I did :)

  10. Macsen says:

    … maybe also Welsh ‘pryder’ (concern) pryderi (concerned)?

  11. Jim says:

    There is an area in Coventry called Spon End. Apparently it used to be full of carpenters yards and the word ‘Spon’ was the name for a wood chipping. I know this probably has nothing to do with your question ;-)