Rome, roman, romance
September 20, 2010 Leave a comment
All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
It’s a very good question, but for now, let us look just at the word “Roman”.
In English, “roman” refers to a type “of a plain upright kind used in ordinary print” (OED). Rome may be in Italy but the antonym of this kind of “roman” is italic. The antonym of “roman” as in roman numerals is, of course, arabic. (I have no idea whether and how it is possible to combine these adjectives. Can one describe the upright arabic numerals as “roman arabic”?) In many European countries, Roman (or Роман) is a rather common given name.
The Latin word for “Roman” was Romanus. Its descendant, român, gave the name to Romanians and Romania. In many languages, the noun roman means “novel”. What is the Roman connection? It seems that modern roman got the name from Romance novel, the literary genre descended from medieval romance. According to Wiktionary, French roman is derived
From Old French romanz [“common language (as opposed to Latin)”], from Vulgar Latin romanice [“in the way of the Romans (as opposed to the Franks)”]. The meaning “common language” changed into “book in common language” and then into “adventure novel”.
In later romances, particularly those of French origin, there is a marked tendency to emphasize themes of courtly love, such as faithfulness in adversity.
In French, the adjective roman refers both to Romanesque style (art roman) and Romance, as in Romance languages (langues romanes), the language family that includes French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian, as well as Romansh and Romagnol. (It has nothing to do with Romani language spoken by Roma.) The Russian word роман also stands for love affair, i.e. romance. In music, romance is a type of ballad originally sung in a Romance language. The Spanish phrase hablar en romance means “to speak clearly”, as opposed to hablar en griego, “to talk double Dutch” (literally, “to speak Greek”).
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