Spanish ex-, Spanish liberals?

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 6 08:29:31 UTC 2010

I also should have noted that the OED B.1.b. note, as applied to the
noun "liberal" does suggest French and /Spanish/ usage, which may or may
not illustrate influence. But, to my ear, this sound more like calling
John Kerry "French looking" in order to emphasize his distance from the
purported mean--in this case, the mean of British politics. So, yes, the
early form "Liberals" in British politics is connected with the French
and Spanish cognates, but, it seems, the pre-existence of the adjective
and the usage of all three forms, suggests away from the dominant
influence of Spanish on the English gloss--in other words, the result
would have been the same whether there was a parallel in Spanish or not.
In fact, I just realized that the OED text says almost exactly the same
thing. So I am not completely off the wall here. (Perhaps I should read
the full entry before citing it ;-) Besides, didn't Spanish just borrow
it from French to begin with?

> b. in British politics.
>   Early in the 19th c. the n. occurs chiefly as applied by opponents
> to the advanced section of the Whig party: sometimes in Sp. or Fr.
> form, app. with the intention of suggesting that the principles of
> those politicians were un-English, or akin to those of the
> revolutionaries of the Continent. As, however, the adj. was already
> English in a laudatory sense, the advocates of reform were not
> reluctant to adopt the foreign term as descriptive of themselves; and
> when the significance of the old party distinctions was obliterated by
> the coalition of the moderate Whigs with the Tories and of the
> advanced Whigs with the Radicals, the new names 'Liberal' and
> 'Conservative' took the place of 'Whig' and 'Tory' as the usual
> appellations of the two great parties in the state.

On 4/6/2010 4:16 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
> [OED Note--Liberal, A. adj. 5. 1801 --> 1776]
> I don't speak Spanish, unfortunately, and I don't know the history and
> etymology of the corresponding words in Spanish. Nor do I have
> particular expertise in the area necessary for full analysis for these
> propositions. But my /opinion/ is that these claims make about as much
> sense as Dan Quayle's notion that he should have studied Latin better
> in school, so he could speak it on his trip to in Latin America.
> Historically, there was not a lot of crossover between England and
> Spain, especially in political discourse. If indeed the "influence"
> comes from early contacts, what would they have been? 1790s, in
> response to the French Revolution? Perhaps colonial contacts shortly
> before the American Revolution? Negotiations over alliances preceding
> the Dutch Revolution?
> Spain was hardly the source of liberal thought before the 19th
> century--not to be prejudicial, but I can think of English, French,
> German, Dutch and Italian sources on the subject, but none from Spain.
> And AFAIK the contacts between English and Spanish were minimal prior
> to that as well. So if there was an impact, it would have to be
> post-Napoleonic. If I missed something contrary to this, I'd love to
> find out. The OED citation is 1801, which is just at the edge of
> possible contact--but, again, there would have to be substantial work
> on liberal politics written in Spanish around that time that could
> have influenced the writings of English and American political
> philosophers. Absent that, even if there were substantial contacts, I
> don't see how such influence could have occurred.
> Searching for "liberal" its political sense" would be a major pain if
> one had to go through every incarnation of "liberal" and try to
> ascertain its meaning individual. Fortunately, there are shortcuts.
> Let's try "liberal politics".
> The speech of the Right Honourable Charles James Fox, at a general
> meeting of the electors of Westminster, assembled in Westminster-Hall,
> July 17, 1782: ... Taken in short-hand by W. Blanchard, ...
> [source and date verified internally and through WorldCat, full
> document is available on-line, but by subscription]
>> This is the plan of broad, just, liberal politics that I always wish
>> to see observed through every part of British empire ...
> 1782 seems to be the earliest (pay no attention to the 1774 one--it's
> actually 1890). But there is another source from 1793. And that's just
> the specific combination "liberal politics". More importantly, the
> 1802 and 1803 printings of The State of Europe Before and After the
> French Revolution uses "liberal politics" in a way to suggest
> perfectly accepted usage, so the phrase was in circulation, at least
> in the period preceding the printing of the text (perhaps influenced
> by the French Revolution itself--or by some other events that caused
> the formation of a "liberal government").
> Changing the search string to "liberal government" gets a bunch of
> false hits, but also a handful of hits from the 1780s and 1790s. So
> the adjective was certainly in heavy use in the "political sense"--and
> not just on the Island (as the OED 1801 reference and the 1802
> reference above suggest).
> The London magazine, or, Gentleman's monthly intelligencer. Volume 52.
> 1783. p. 179/2
> [Reprinted from] The Royal Gazette Extraordinary. New York, July 12, 1783
>> A CIRCULAR LETTER from his Excellency George Washington, Commander in
>> Chief of the Armies of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, dated June the
>> 18th, 1783.
>> Head-Quarters, Newburgh, June 18, 1783.
>> I am aware, however, those who differ from me in political sentiments
>> may, perhaps, remark, I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty
>> ; and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation what I
>> know is alone the result of the purest intention : but the rectitude
>> of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives ; the part I
>> have hitherto acted in life ; the determination I have formed of not
>> taking any share in public business hereafter ; the ardent desire I
>> feel, and shall continue to manifest, of quietly enjoying in private
>> life, after all the toils of war, the benefits of a wife and liberal
>> government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later, convince my
>> countrymen, that I could have no sinister views in delivering, with
>> so little reserve, the opinions contained in this address.
> The Circular Letter to Governors of July 1783 can indeed be found in
> most Americana collections.
> State of the present form of government of the province of Quebec; By
> James Monk. 1789. p. 6
>> These gracious intentions of establishing a free and liberal
>> government in that province, were further confirmed by his Majesty's
>> commission of Civil Governor to General Murray, dated 21 of November
>> 1763, which recites ...
> I must say that it is intriguing (to me, at least) that both phrases
> seem to pop up in the early 1780s. But this should really not be so
> surprising if the OED entry A.5. is considered carefully.
> Pushing the point a bit back, to 1776, more specifically, to May 10,
> 1776, we find,
> Title: Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates, held at the
> Capitol, in the city of Williamsburg, in the colony of Virginia, on
> Monday the 6th of May, 1776
>> A representation from the committee of the county of /Augusta/ was
>> presented to the Convention, and read ; setting forth the present
>> unhappy situation of the country, and, from the ministerial measures
>> of vengeance now pursuing, representing the necessity of making the
>> confederacy of the United Colonies the most perfect, independent, and
>> lasting ; and of framing an equal, free, and liberal government, that
>> may bear the test of all future ages.
>> /Ordered/, that the said representation be referred to the committee
>> on the state of the colony.
> As far as the Revolutionary rhetoric of 1776 is concerned, there might
> have been some French or Dutch influence, but I very much doubt there
> was any Spanish influence--this is a historical, not a linguistic
> statement. Again, direct evidence is hard to come by, but if there was
> any historical significance to the British American connection with
> Spain--or Spanish colonies--we would have heard of it by now.
> It also goes without saying that the word "liberal" in other contexts
> is cited in the OED going back to the same period (even the same
> author) as the ex- in the sense "former". I am not going to touch the
> latter, aside from saying that that connection seems even more
> dubious, given the prevalence of Latin as the language of scholarship
> at the time when the earliest OED citations appear, and the OED
> mention of French influences.
> So, with apologies to professors Avila and Fernandez-Armesto, filial
> piety only goes so far.
>     VS-)
> On 4/5/2010 7:00 PM, Federico Escobar wrote:
>> I read recently of two alleged examples of the influence of Spanish on
>> English, but I have found no real evidence to back up either claim.
>> The first was presented by the Colombian grammarian Fernando Avila, who said
>> that the widespread use of the prefix ex- in English, as in ex-president or
>> ex-wife, is due to the common use of that prefix in Spanish (in fact, "ex"
>> is now used as an adjective in that language: "ex presidente", for
>> instance). OED2 ("ex-" prefix1, 3) has political examples going back to 1398
>> and the broader use is attributed to the influence of French. Thus, this
>> does not seem to give credence to Avila's claim, but then again it is
>> difficult to ascertain the frequency of use from the OED. No other
>> dictionary I turned to gave any useful additional information.
>> The second comes from the British historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in his
>> book *The Americas: A Hemispheric History*. On page 198, the author says
>> this: "The word *liberal* in its political sense is one of the terms English
>> owes to Spanish." Again, the OED does not present any direct link to
>> Spanish, and neither did any other dictionaries I checked.
>> Does anybody think these statements are plausible?
>> F.

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