Increase your understanding of English words by seeing the many terms that derive from the Latin adverb 'foras' meaning 'outside'

At the Wording Desk

Bill Casselman

An artist’s reconstruction of a patterned Roman vault with its ornate coffering hiding the wedged voussoirs that comprise and uphold the arch, sheltering a colonnade in ancient Rome’s Forum of Trajan.

“To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab."                                                

                                                  ― Fran Lebowitz

 A majority would not agree with Ms. Lebowitz, one of America’s funnier agoraphobes. In youth, as we became socialized, many of us found who we were only when we encountered, mingled and conversed with other citizens. The place to do that in ancient Rome was in the Forum.

In Latin, the prime meaning of forum was ‘what is out of doors, an outside space or defined place’ derived as the noun is from the adverbs foras or foris Latin ‘outside, out of doors.’ Indeed foris is cognate with the English word door and its many reflexes like Swedish dörr, Dutch deur, the common modern German word for door, Tür and the ancient Greek θύρα thura ‘door’.

Foras is outside the door of any hut, hovel, abode or habitation however low. Early in Roman history, the Latin word forum came to mean a space outside, set aside for people to meet, to market goods, to perform money transactions like loans and to talk politics and perhaps elect their next king.

Later, during the early years of the Roman Republic, public buildings were erected facing the forum and ornamental structures like patterned colonnades helped fora (Latin and formal English plural of forum) become the centers of judicial and public business in most of the great Roman cities. Still later, when emperors ruled Rome, they often vied with one another in the building of sumptuous marbled forums encircled by richly decorated temples dedicated to one or another of the Roman gods and godlets who thronged a tatty Roman Olympus.

From these sundry uses descend the other meanings of forum in current English: a court or tribunal and an internet site for users to share information or opinions, often on one particular topic.

From the Latin adjective from forum, forensis ‘public, of a law court’ derives our English adjective forensic and its many uses in the technical language of the professions. A forensic autopsy is one conducted at the behest of the police, perhaps to obtain bodily evidence of a murder. Samples from a corpse may be sent to a forensic pathologist. Forensic medicine involves the relations of medicine with the law. A criminal may be convicted on forensic evidence.

One may read of an individual lawyer’s forensic skills, that is, his ability to perform his advocate’s function in courts of law.

Now - as always - to word-thirsty readers I offer the cooling chalice, the refreshing spring water of a rare, obscure term. Farouche, a borrowed French adjective, enjoyed a brief lifespan in English prose and then waxed obsolescent in the middle of the twentieth century. Novelist D.H. Lawrence used the word and liked its sound. It means sullen in a shy manner which may repel some people.

My sample sentences:

(a) The farouche peasant lacked all the social graces.

(b) She was a farouche bit of a tart, with not an inkling of polish.

Rarely farouche can mean wild, ferocious, untamed.

(c) The disorderly household he entered was a nightmare of farouche child raising, with half-naked, dirty-faced infants crawling across the broken linoleum of the unclean kitchen.

How I dislike persons of no means who use poverty as an excuse to give up personal hygiene! I’m trying to plumb this toxic aquifer from which loathing bubbles up and quite overfoams the calm cistern of my tolerance. To date, the probe has been of scant avail.

Farouche stems from a Late Latin adjective forasticus ‘like a bumpkin, unmannered, having come from somewhere else, exhibiting “outdoor” behaviours not fitting for civilized life.’ The ultimate root is foras ‘out of doors,’ akin to foris or fores Latin ‘door.’

A Pet Obscurity
Since this is my own word column, I permit myself to include the most obscure verbal delight which questing diligence may discover. Here it is: the wonderfully bloated adjective, circumforaneous (sir-come-for-ANEE-ous). Its literal import is ‘sauntering from market to market,’ admittedly of limited use in customary English.

Circumforaneous is compounded of Latin circum ‘around’ + forum market + a common adjectivizing suffix. But the word’s developed meanings, though equally recondite, make it worthy of revival. On the stroll from market to market, one was thought eventually to acquire the criminal behaviour of a low varlet, the wicked thievishness of a vagabond or the pert ruses of a quack. This dodgy mode allows the word to be paired well with others descriptive of villainy and iniquity. For example, I have eagerly coined phrases like:

“the circumforaneous skullduggery of an aluminum siding salesman.”

Latin Foras Derivatives in Other Languages
Fuori is an Italian adverb and preposition that means ‘out, outside.’ One thinks immediately of an Italian fire: “Tutti, fuori!”  ‘Everybody out!’

Fuori i Barbari” (“Out with the Barbarians!”) was the title of a little anti-German propaganda sheet that appeared in Rome during the Second World War. Every Italian was not like Mussolini, kissing kraut ass whenever a Nazi bent over.
An Italian elevator may be fuori servizio ‘out of service.’
A distraught person may be fuori di sé ‘beside himself.’

Some Outside Spanish
Fuera de in Spanish means ‘outside, outside of.’

fuera de límites = “off limits”
fuera de lugar = “out of place”
¡fuera!  = get out!
fuera de línea  = (computer term)  off-line

Alas, gentle toe-dippers in the fathomless pool of verbiage, now we too are fuori tempo e fuori dallo spazio ‘out of time and out of space.’

Bill Casselman, April 24, 2017

Text Copyright 2017 by William Gordon Casselman


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