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Latin Roots: Anima, Animus

by Steve
(San Francisco, CA)

Dear Latin Teacher,

Would you please explain the difference between the Latin roots anima and animus. It seems both words have overlapping meanings. Also the cognate of animus in English seems to have a different meaning than the Latin word.

Thank you, Steve

Dear Steve,

You are right that the Latin roots anima and animus have overlapping meanings, both with the basic meaning soul or spirit.

The difference is that the feminine form, anima, has the root meaning breath, air, life force, while the masculine form, animus, has the root meaning mind or intellect.

While the Latin root animus does mean spirit, it has a secondary meaning of passion or wrath. (Think of the English word spirited.) So in English, our words animus and animosity are derived from this secondary meaning of the Latin root animus.

Animus in English means a strong dislike, but also an intention or a purpose. In Jungian psychology it means the masculine nature found in a woman.

Anima in English means life force or soul. In Jungian psychology it means the feminine nature found in a man.

The two words are so close in meaning that it is often difficult to distinguish the source of English derivatives:

From animus:

  • animosity: spiritedness, hatred.

  • animadvert: to criticize; to turn one's mind to, notice. (In Latin, animum advertere = to turn the mind to, notice, pay attention to; euphemistically, to kill, eliminate.)

From anima:

  • animal: a creature with a life force and often breath.

  • animate: to breath life into, to move to action.

  • inanimate: lifeless, dull, not animated.

  • animism: the belief that natural objects have a life force or soul.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it does help to illustrate a very slight difference in the two Latin roots.

Hope this helps, and thanks for asking a Latin teacher.



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