Saturday, July 4, 2009

Latin roots of Don Quixote

Welcome back fans of Latin roots as they relate to English vocabulary words, and great talks about life-changing books! In this series that I'm offering, I am expounding upon books that have changed my life, and the Latin root words inherent in their English titles. Let's look today at Don Quixote, most likely the greatest novel ever written.

The word Don, or "lord" comes from the Latin root word dominus, which means "lord" or "master." A virtual bevy of great SAT and GRE words comes from this root, including the following English words:

domineering: when one is "domineering," one is trying to lord it over others, or trying to completely master them
demesne: a "demesne" is that land or property that a "master" owns, basically the same word as "domain," or that area of land over which one is a "master."
dominion: the "dominion" one holds is that control or power or sway or "mastery" one holds in a particular situation in which one dominates one's peers or opponents
predominant: a "predominant" soccer player is one that is "master before" all others, the creme de la creme; she or he exhibits predominance in their sport.

Related to this word "master" is the feminine version, domina, from which we get the following GRE vocabulary words in addition to words such as dame, damsel, madam, Donna, and Notre Dame:

beldam: a "beldam" is a fine old woman who commands our respect (although the meaning has morphed as well into an old woman who is particularly unattractive).
duenna: a go-between who is a mistress of a love affair between two younger aspirants. Much used in Chaucer.

Now, the word "quixotic." I believe that the word "Quixote" originally referred to armor worn on the thighs (Quixote of course was a "brave" knight). One who is "quixotic" today is rather fanciful in his or her imaginings, or has "ideals" that are highly unreachable, much like the Don possessed, and which Sancho Panza never quite understood: cf. the search for the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso.

So, what's so great about the book Don Quixote that I would dare label it the best novel ever written? Shouldn't I know better since I've read thousands of books myself? Considering it was written in the very early 17th century, how could nigh 400 years not produce a better, in any language? Let's put it this way: it's by far the funniest work I've ever read; as I was last reading the Edith Grossman translation (a perfectly fabulous translation, by the bye) on the porch, I would often guffaw out loud at the Don's crazy exploits, some of which actually brought tears to my eyes...he is so believable in his craziness that you just want to love the you remember the last time you laughed uncontrollably out loud while reading a book? The other absolutely wonderful thing about this predominant work by Miguel de Cervantes is that everyone who reads Don Quixote has a different opinion about who and what the Don actually is... I know who he is to me (note the present tense here), but I would be most interested in hearing who he was to the public at large. If one were to read any one book this year, this would be the one to read; highly accessible to the general reader (we're not talking Proust here, although that too is a worthy read) and the most literate alike, it's a book for the millennium. Or, if one were to read only one book in the next decade, and you wanted to take the decade to do it, this is the one for fiction...although paradoxically, it's also one most true to life (except for perhaps Hamlet or King Lear).  By the bye, there are many excellent translations of Don Quixote out there, and I've read a number of them.  However, I think that the best translation is the Don Quixote by Edith Grossman.  Pure, pure linguistic genius.  It had me guffawing out loud!

Fascinated with English vocabulary words? Want to pick them apart into their constituent Greek and Latin roots? Want to know even more words that come from the Latin root word dominus? Studying hard for the SAT or GRE verbal section, and just can't get a handle on all of those vocabulary words? Check out, where you will find the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today, and also the most's in full color, and artistically designed. There's even a Greek and Latin roots poster available, which nicely illustrates the full power of what Greek and Latin root words can do for you.