0

In French, c’est à savoir originally signified (1) 'that is to know', then (2) 'that is to say'.

The English verb 'wit' underwent the same semantic shift; see Etymonline:

The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is first recorded 1570s, from earlier that is to wit (mid-14c.), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-French cestasavoir, used to render Latin videlicet (see viz.).

  1. So what semantic notions underlie (1) and (2)?

  2. Which category is this semantic shift? I'm guessing Metonymy?

  • Don't be misled by the use of « c'est à dire » in the first heading. Both « à savoir » and « c'est à dire » mean "that is" or "namely". That is, both "that is to know" and "that is to say" have converged on "that is", rather than one moving to the other. – Luke Sawczak May 27 '18 at 16:00
  • @LukeSawczak Thanks for the warning. But doesn't "that is" abbreviate, while signifying the same thing as, "that is to say"? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal May 31 '18 at 5:35
  • Hmm... I 'm not sure why that step has to be made, but the OED does have "that is (more fully that is to say, that is to wit)". That said, even their earliest examples quoted don't seem to have that fuller phrase, e.g. 1340 - Ayenbite (1866) 210 - "Huanne þou woldest bidde god..wisliche and diligentliche, þet is ententifliche and perseuerantliche." Personally I doubt it's an abbreviation, but not sure. – Luke Sawczak Jun 2 '18 at 17:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.