amenable
adj. willing to respond to persuasion or suggestions
amiable
adj. friendly; kind; sweet; gracious; as, an amiable temper or mood; amiable ideas
amenity
n. thing or circumstance that is welcome and makes life a little easier or more pleasant
n. pleasantness
amen
adv. at the end of prayers: so be it
adv. at the end of a creed or in Biblical translations: truly, verily

I had a cluster of words that sounded similar to me. I was almost certain that they were not all connected, but I wanted to make sure.

Amenable first arrived in English in the late 16th century in the sense of “liable,” taken from the Middle French amener, itself from the Latin minare (the initial “a” was a product of the French, comparable to the Latin ad), which meant to drive or urge with shouts. The modern sense—that is, open to persuasion—didn’t arrive until the early 19th century.

Amiable also comes to English from the French (Old French) amiable, from the Latin amicus, meaning “friend.” This term, in turn, is related etymologically to amare, the infinitive “to love.” This same root gives rise to the synonymous “amicable,” as well as the more lusty “amorous.”

It also gives rise to (at least) one other word, namely “amenity.” You and I might think of the word in terms of gewgaws like a “hotel amenity”—that is, in terms of the first definition listed, which wasn’t in play until the early 20th century. Its historical definition is more like the second definition, that of a general quality of pleasantness. It, too, is from Old French1, specifically amenité, from the Latin adjective amoenus, meaning “pleasant.” Though it’s not entirely certain, it’s quite possible that the word is itself related to the Latin amare.

Finally we get to the short one: amen. Though phrase familiar to just about everybody, since it is so closely associated with Judeo-Christian prayers and liturgy, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most people don’t even know what it means. It’s almost a grammatical element more than a literal one—like a full stop, or “The End.” Actually, it’s a product of ecclesiastical Latin, taken from the Greek ἀμήν, which itself is from the Hebrew אמן, which means “certainly” or “truly” or “It is so.” This Semitic root, transliterated to the Roman alphabet as a-m-n, means in general, “to be trustworthy, confirm, support”

Funnily enough, the word amen in Spanish is the third-person plural present tense of amar, or “to love,” which is a direct descendant of the original Latin amare. It’s etymologically unrelated to the Hebrew amen (as far as I know), but the vagaries of Spanish conjugation managed to bring us full circle. I like it when that happens.

  1. If you’re wondering why all of these words came from French, it’s because the Norman Conquest introduced the majority of English’s latinate words via French[]
§2041 · April 23, 2008 · Tags: , , , ·

Leave a Reply