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Latin Root: CONVERSATION

by Debbie
(Tampa, FL)

Dear Latin Teacher,


I have been told that the term conversation comes from the Latin "to change together". Did I misunderstand? I have not been able to find this root and I would like to know.

Thank you,

Debbie


Dear Debbie,

The verb verto, vertere, verti, versum has many meanings, taking up three columns in the Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary. The most basic meaning is to turn.

In Latin just as in English the verb to turn is often used to describe change, and so we have derivatives in English such as verse, versatile, and conversion.

A simpler way to think about the root of conversation, however, is to keep the meaning to turn, i.e. to turn together, to turn to one another, to face one another. That's what people do when they converse.

The person who told you that conversation meant "to change together" wasn't wrong, but he or she was stretching the Latin a bit to make a point. And we do influence and change one another in conversation, don't we?

Now, if you are still reading this, you must be interested in the nitty gritty of Latin roots and English derivatives, because it's about to get techinical.

The prefix con- means together. The root noun versatio, versationis means a turning or a changing. But the word conversation is really derived from a Latin verb, and that verb is complicated.

The compound verb converto, convertere, converti, conversum ranges in meaning from to turn about, to whirl around, to change direction, to alter. In Ecclesiastical Latin it meant to convert to Christianity.

But conversation does not come directly from convertere.

For most verbs you can take the fourth principal part, in this case conversum, and turn it into a first-conjugation infinitive, i.e. conversare. This is called the frequentative form, meaning that it indicates that the action of the verb is frequent, continual, or repeated. So conversare means something like to turn around and around.

But conversation does not come directly from conversare.

Yes, conversare has it's deponent equivalent. A deponent is a verb that looks passive but has an active meaning. The Latin verb conversor, conversari, conversatus sum means to dwell in a place, to live with, to keep company with, or to pass one's life.

So the word conversation is the noun derived from the deponent word conversari. The Latin noun conversatio, conversationis means: 1. frequent use. 2. Frequent abode in a place. 3. Intercourse or conversation.

Hey, if that's too much, you should have stopped reading!

Thanks for asking a Latin teacher!

Sincerely,

John

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