Spanish ex-, Spanish liberals?

Federico Escobar federicoescobarcordoba at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 6 21:00:10 UTC 2010

Thanks, Victor, for a brisk and illuminating search through some of the
available evidence. I do agree that the statements seemed questionable, and
hence my interest in posing them to the list as queries. I agree with your
conclusions: there seems to be a touch of filial piety in these claims, more
so since the Spanish-speaking world is often very concerned with the
influence of English on Spanish (and so allegations of counterinfluence have
been espoused as nostrums for the anxiety of influence). Your reading of the
use of "Liberales" in British politics (quoted by the OED) is also very

The historical angle you brought to the discussion of the word "liberal" was
particularly pertinent: the fact that Spain had used the word "liberal" in a
political sense first does not mean that English owes its political meaning
of the word to Spanish. Historical predecence does not guarantee linguistic
indebtedness, and it was the latter argument that was put forth by the
people I cited. (The case of Spanish "modernismo," often mentioned in
discussions of the rise of modernism, is revealing in this regard.) Also,
borrowings sometimes follow such a circuitous route that it is suspect to
brag of a direct lineage to a remote origin (like the Basque angle on the
word "Iroquois" --omitted by the OED--). Your prudent search for a more
direct Spanish-English connection than was supposed by the quotations was

Thanks again,

On Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 3:59 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

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> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Spanish ex-, Spanish liberals?
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> 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?
> OED:
> > 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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