Thursday, November 4, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Sponsors

Wow, an actual new word etymology! It’s a miracle!
Sponsor showed up in the mid seventeenth century, making it relatively young in word terms. It comes from the Late Latin sponsor, which specifically meant a sponsor in a baptism, and in classical Latin, the word is from spondere, to guarantee. A sponsor is a guarantee, I guess. Anyway, it can be traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European spondeio-, to libate. I actually had to look that one up and it means to drink alcohol or to make an offering of alcohol. And for some reason that’s how we got sponsor.
Response and respond are much older than sponsor, having shown up in the fourteenth century, and while they’re closely related, they actually got to English through slightly different paths. Respond is from the Anglo French respundre, from the Old French respondere, while response is from the Old French respons and classical Latin responsum, reply. Both those words are from the Latin verb respondere, to reply, which is a combination of re-, back, and spondere. To respond is to guarantee back, apparently. Correspond of course is from the same place, though it showed up a bit later than respond (in the sixteenth century). In Medieval Latin, it is correspondere, which means to correspond, and adds the prefix com-, together or with. It kind of makes sense. To correspond is when both are acting at the same time—to respond together.
Next is despondent, which showed up in the late seventeenth century from despondence, which I don’t think is used much anymore. Despondence is only a few decades older, coming from the classical Latin despondentem, despondent, from the verb despondere, which meant to give up or resign, or… to pledge marriage. Yeah. There are a ton of jokes that could be made about this one. The de- means away, and with spondere, to guarantee, the word was to guarantee something away, as in marriage, and frigging hell, this is a standup comedy routine.
And that leads us to our final word for today: spouse. It showed up in the thirteenth century from the Old French spous, and that’s from the classical Latin sponsus, which means bridegroom and is derived from spondere. This doesn’t really dissuade the whole standup comedy routine thing.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Fordham University
Orbis Latinus


  1. You made a funny! I'll drink to that.

  2. Only through despondent does spouse make sense, and not even then, really.

  3. I knew of "libation," but I never really thought about there being a verb form. "To libate" sounds... dirty. I think it fits in with your standup routine.

  4. Despondent and marriage. There needs to be a wedding speech about that.

    Followed by the best man getting a whupping.

  5. That bit about despondent and marriage is quite interesting.


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