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I am sure that the word late as in tardy does not have the same origin. It certainly does not correlate with the terms.

I wonder if the actual suffix is closer to "olate" given my aforementioned terms.

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    English has no such suffix as -late. If it had, you would have been able to find an entry for it in any dictionary.
    – tchrist
    May 21, 2017 at 2:51

3 Answers 3

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The suffix involved is '-ate', and it reached the English nouns (or adjectives) by two different routes. OED gives '-ate' in 'isolate' as

-ate, suffix1

....

  1. In some words, -ate = French -ate, < Latin or Italian -āta, as in pirate, frigate.

'Isolate' reached English from Italian isolato (and French isolé), themselves deriving from Latin insulātus.

For 'desolate' (noun and adjective), the route was more directly from Latin dēsōlātus, past participle of dēsōlāre.

The verbs 'isolate' and 'desolate' also differ significantly, etymologically speaking. 'Desolate' was formed on the model of the adjective, and first occurs much later than the adjective. 'Isolate' is a back-formation from the adjective or derives from French isoler (itself from Italian isolare, which is from Latin insulāre), plus the verb suffix '-ate'.

That's all very tortuous and, as you probably gathered from mention of 'pirate' and 'frigate', the bare meaning of the suffix is not especially germane to the conglomerative meaning of the terms. More germane is the meaning of the Latin stem that gave rise to 'isolate' and 'desolate', that is, sol, meaning "alone, only".

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    Do you have a source for the claim that insulare comes from solus ("alone")? The traditional explanation is that it comes from salum ("sea"). Alternatively, the Online Etymology Dictionary cites an argument that it's actually "a loanword from an unknown language".
    – ruakh
    May 21, 2017 at 3:43
  • @ruakh, good observation, although the discussion seems well out of scope for this answer. Neither the "traditional explanation" nor the suggestion in etymonline are agreeable to me. My own reasoning, to a point, follows that of Nettleship in On the Etymology of Consul, Exsul, Insula, Praesul (1872). I reject in salo and in and sar- (p 273, bottom). In brief, I embrace the sol- suggestion made (p 273, top) but not much explored by Nettleship.
    – JEL
    May 22, 2017 at 22:47
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The suffix in words desolate and isolate is not late at all; it's -ate(1) in adjective desolate and -ate(2) in verb isolate as explained in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

-ate (1): word-forming element used in forming nouns from Latin words ending in -atus, -atum (such as estate, primate, senate). Those that came to English via Old and Middle French often arrived with -at, but an -e was added after c. 1400 to indicate the long vowel. The suffix also can mark adjectives formed from Latin past participals in -atus, -ata (such as desolate, moderate, separate); again, they often were adopted in Middle English as -at, with an -e appended after c. 1400.

-ate (2): verbal suffix for Latin verbs in -are, identical with -ate (1). Old English commonly made verbs from adjectives by adding a verbal ending to the word (such as gnornian "be sad, mourn," gnorn "sad, depressed"), but as the inflections wore off English words in late Old and early Middle English, there came to be no difference between the adjective and the verb in dry, empty, warm, etc. Thus accustomed to the identity of adjectival and verbal forms of a word, the English, when they began to expand their Latin-based vocabulary after c. 1500, simply made verbs from Latin past-participial adjectives without changing their form (such as aggravate, substantiate) and it became the custom that Latin verbs were Englished from their past participle stems.

isolate (v):

"to set or place apart, to detach so as to make alone," by 1786, a back-formation from isolated (q.v.). As a noun, "something isolated," 1890; from earlier adjectival use (1819), which is from Italian isolato or Medieval Latin insulatus.

isolated (adj):

"standing detached from others of its kind," 1740, a rendering into English of French isolé "isolated" (17c.), from Italian isolato, from Latin insulatus "made into an island," from insula "island". English at first used the French word (isole, also isole'd, c. 1750), then after isolate (v.) became an English word, isolated became its past participle.

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It's not really a -late suffix. Isolate comes from insulatus ("made into an island") and desolate from desolatus ("abandoned"). The -atus ending is just the past-participle ending in Latin, equivalent to our -ed.

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  • I had wondered because both these words have a lonely edge to them. Maybe -latus means something, as these two have similarities. May 20, 2017 at 6:12
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    @AbiDanielleBegin No, they just happen to come from words that both have an l in their final root syllable. -latus does mean something in Latin, as in translatus, elatus, allatus, etc.: it means ‘carried’. It is the past participle of ferrō ‘bear, carry’. But that's not what it is in these two words; here the l is simply part of the derivational bases insula of unknown origin and sōlus ‘alone, sole, only’, probably based on the pronoun se ‘(one)self’, but of unknown derivation. May 20, 2017 at 7:17
  • Latin ferro is a wildly irregular verb (principal parts ferro, ferre, tuli, latum) - which might suggest it is really a merger of two or even three different verbs.
    – alephzero
    May 20, 2017 at 19:09
  • @alephzero -- I read that went was originally the past tense of wend, but somehow go picked it up and wend had to content itself with the regular form wended. May 20, 2017 at 20:57
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Should just be one r in ferō. The inflections with two are based on the infinitive not the normal stem.
    – tchrist
    May 21, 2017 at 6:18

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