The etymology of French épave

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by rogermue, Feb 10, 2013.

  1. The meaning of French épave is a ship or a car totally ruined. When looking up the etymology Dauzat explains: from Latin expavidus adjective. The meaning of expavidus is frightened or acting out of fright. I don't understand the development from fright to a ruined ship (wreck). And I'm not very convinced of Dauzat's explanation. The French CNRTL has the same. As to the form, expavidus may be a source. But it may well be the wrong source.
    I ask myself if there might be other possible explanations. Any ideas?
    I looked up 'wreck' in the Italian dictionary, but found nothing that might serve as a source.
  2. I don't exactly know why, but my mind comes up with English to stave in - this can mean to break a hole in something / in a boat. I think of a ship thrown by a storm against the rocks at the coast so that the side of the ship is smashed in. It would be possible that in French a consonant group like st or est or ét was changed into ép, so that instead of étave we got épave. Mind you, this is a mere hypothesis, but I think it would have more logic than the Latin etymon epavidus adj. meaning something like frightened or acting out of fright.
  3. swift

    swift Senior Member

    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    Hi, Rogermue. :)

    Would you say that a semantic shift from 'frightened castaways' to 'abandoned ship (out of fright)' isn't plausible?
  4. Funny! CNRTL has: Latin classique épavidus. But I can't find it in my Latin dictionary (Latin German) by Stowasser or in online dictionaries of Latin. But maybe someone else will find it. It may be a legal term.
  5. Well, it's a far jump. I think Latin naufragium (broken ship) has more logic, and I think that English shipwreck/wreck is connected with break, also a clear logic. There is some logic in what you say, but I have the suspicion that one bends things with force in the direction of the meaning of the word. My experience in word formation is that the logic in the word inventions isn't so far-fetched. Word inventions have to battle hard to be accepted by the whole community of speakers. Word inventions with a far-fetched logic won't make it.
  6. fr.wiktionnaire has the best article on the etymology of French épave. It seems I have to accept Latin expavidus as the traditional view. Even if it is a bit curious. But curious things can happen in language, there is no doubt.
  7. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    You are right: pavidus is classical Latin; *expavidus is a reconstruction. Meyer-Lübke prints it with an asterisk. And I too find the generally accepted semantic shift of “frightened” to “shipwreck” rather difficult.
  8. Now I see a bit clearer. French épave is at first a law term. And what has become a technical term in a special language behaves in a different way compared to words of the normal language.
    The Dictionnaire du Moyen Français gives the main definition: D'une chose:"Qui est égaré et dont on ne connaît pas le propriétaire". At first this term was used of run-away horses or swarms of bees. Then of flotsam at the coast. Then the term took over more meanings in modern language.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  9. Last edited: Feb 10, 2013

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