Hey all,

I was asked recently about how I would analyze the word <curious>. My initial hypothesis before seeking evidence from related words was the following:

cure/ + i + ous --> curious

I did not think that my proposed base was the free base <cure> for "a cure for the common cold". Instead I was assuming it was a bound base. The common <-ous> suffix and <-i-> connecting vowel letter struck me as providing the most likely analysis. 

Following the 4 questions, I knew I needed some evidence from etymological and morphological relatives to test my hypothesis.

4 questions Nov 17 2017

Of the top of my head, I could not think of any morphologically related words that did not have the <-ious> affixal construction. (with the structure<-i + ous>). So I wen tto Etymlonline and found this entry:


curious (adj.)

mid-14c., "eager to know" (often in a bad sense), from Old French curios "solicitous, anxious, inquisitive; odd, strange" (Modern French curieux) and directly from Latin curiosus"careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome," akin to cura "care" (see cure (n.)). The objective sense of "exciting curiosity" is 1715 in English. In booksellers' catalogues, the word means "erotic, pornographic." Curiouser and curiouser is from "Alice in Wonderland" (1865).


I found a lot about this fascinating. First I noted that originally their was a negative connotation to this word that is not so prominent in today's usage. Secondly, I do see some sort of signal that this <curious> might be related to the free base <cure> after all! 

However, my understanding of Latin structure and etymology is not enough for me to use this etymological information to come to any strong conclusions about the current synchronic morphological structure of <curious>. I'll share what I'm thinking, and see if anyone out there can help me understand better.

When I see the Latin word curiosus which is a root of our current English word <curious>, I know there is a Latin suffix '-us' so I could write that suffix like this: curios(us). 

I don't know about any Latin structure to explain the letters "ios" however. 

Perhaps most importantly I don't know how to underestand the relationship between the Latin curiousus for "careful, inquiring eagerly" and the Latin cura for "care". I'm wondering about Douglas's use of the word "akin" here. I don't know if this is the same as saying "related to" or if it signals some other sense. Regardless, the description is NOT  that curiousus dervived from cura for "care". 

Does this entry give me evidence that the English <curiosity> goes back to a Latin root cur(a) for "care"?

If so, I would think that I have etymological evidence for my hypothesized morphological analysis even if I can't find a morphological relative without the <-ious> affixal construction. I can see the spelling of the Latin stem cur- giving rise to the <cure> English base. But the semantic distance from "care" to what we have for <curious> is not obvious. However, that does not mean that there.

When I searched etymonline for "cura" that sense of "care" was obvious to all except <curious>, and the entry for this one was the only one with that descriptor "akin".

So for the moment I can treat <curious> as a base. I'm wondering if someone out there can help me understand the etymological relationship to the word <care> and if that relationship allows me to conclude that this is also the base of <curious>. 






Comments (3)

The meaning of the word "akin" is not a mystery.

<a> + <kin>

It means 'related.' But don't take my word for it. If you type "akin" into the Online Etymology Dictionary, you can investigate for yourself how Doug himself uses the word, instead of guessing or asking other people how Doug uses the word. For example, the Greek letter lambda is akin to the Hebrew letter lamedh. And "blunder" is akin to an Old Norse word for "shutting one's eyes," probably akin to "blind."

You don't have to know the Latin morphology of cura or of curiosus. You say that "the description is NOT that curiousus dervived from cura for "care"." But one Latin word does not have to be "derived from" another -- in Latin -- in order for them to share a base element in present-day English. It suffices that the two Latin words share their stem, which they do.

I think treating <curious> as a base element demonstrates a curious overabundance of caution. For my money, one can securely analyze the word, as I did here: https://www.facebook.com/linguisteducatorexchange/photos/a.260464180739277.59907.189086364543726/949591318493223/?type=3&;theater

That matrix has an error -- at least one I know of. Kudos to anyone who finds it.

  1. Mona Voelkel

I am new at this but really love the "puzzling out and inquiry-based aspects of SWI!

I looked in John Ayto's Dictionary of Word Origins and the entry for "curious" says "see cure". In that entry it seems the Latin adjective "curiosus" originally meant "careful" and "that a secondary sense 'inquisitive' developed in Latin, but it was not until the word reached Old French that the meaning "interesting" emerged.

  1. Mary Beth Steven

Here is what Chambers Dictionary of Etymology says: “About 1340 'curiouse' eager to know, inquisitive, borrowed from Old French 'curios', learned borrowing from Latin, and directly from Latin 'curiosus' full of care, taking pains, curious, from 'cura' care, see CURE; for suffix see –OUS. The sense of exciting 'curiosity', singular, odd, queer, is first recorded in 1715, probably a development from the Middle English sense of subtle, abstruse, occult (1350), though a similar sense is found in French 'curieux' in the 1600’s, and in Italian 'curioso', about 1535.

Here is what I found in Origins by Eric Partridge: Irregularly formed from 'cura' is the adjective 'curiosus', anxious about, hence inquisitive, whence English 'curious'; its derivative 'curiositas', oblique stem 'curiositat-', yields Old French-Medieval French 'curioseté' (Early Modern French-French 'curiosite'), adopted by Middle English, whence English 'curiosity'; the negative Latin 'incuriosus' yields 'incurious'. From 'curiosity', by abbreviation, derives 'curio'.

Both of these sources link 'curious' back to Latin ‘cura’ “care”. When I look in Lewis and Short, there is even more evidence. The entry begins with: "curiosus, a, um, adj. [cura]." In the Lewis & Short class that is offered at Real Spelling, I learned that the brackets surrounding 'cura' in the entry indicate that 'curiosus' is derived from 'cura'.

There are no comments posted here yet