Emptiness in the origin of ‘evanescence’

The word evanescence means “the quality of being fleeting or vanishing quickly; impermanence”. It is also a pretty ok band from Arkansas. But what’s really neat are the connections to other commons words that share a central theme. They all come from the Latin word vanus meaning “empty or unsubstantial”. Here are the most interesting descendants:

  • evanescence: Comes from Latin evanescere “to disappear”, composed of ex- “out of” +‎ vanus “empty” +‎ -esco (suffix that forms verbs from adjectives )
  • vanish: Also from Latin evanescere “to disappear”, via earlier English form evanish
  • vain: “overly proud of oneself”, from the earlier idea of being “empty of values”
  • vanity: “that which is vain” and by extension “furniture to assist with applying makeup, preening (i.e. to assist with vanity)”
  • vaunt: “To speak boastfully”. From the idea of “speaking empty words”

But wait, there’s more! Latin vanus comes from an earlier, reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root, h₁weh₂- “to leave, abandon, give out”. You can see how vanus would follow considering that “v”s in Latin sound like “w”s in English. One of the more prolific Latin descendants is vaco “I am empty, void”. Here are the English descendants of vaco and its variants:

  • vacuum: “empty space” from Latin vacuus (equivalent to vaco +‎ -uus)
  • vacant: “not occupied” from the present active participle of vaco
  • vacation: from the idea of “being free (empty) of obligations”
  • vacate: from the idea of “making empty”
  • evacuate: from the idea of “emptying out” with Latin ex- “out”
  • vacuous: “empty of ideas”
  • void: “containing nothing”. The form is believed to have changed via Vulgar Latin *vocitus, “emptied” (reconstruction)
  • devoid: “completely without” via Old French vuidier “to empty”
  • avoid: “to withdraw, have nothing to do with” via Old French vuidier “to empty”

There were many other paths down from h₁weh₂- aside from those major two. Here are six other “empty” descendants with similar forms:

  • devastate: “lay waste, make desolate, make empty” from Latin vastus “desolate, unoccupied, empty”
  • vast: also from Latin vastus, but from the meaning of “immense, extensive, huge”. The two meanings of vastus probably originally attached to two separate words, one with a long -a- one with a short -a-, that merged in early Latin [source]
  • waste: “desolate, empty region”. It probably got the “w” from influence by Frankish *wostjan “waste”. Also from Latin vastus
  • wane: “A gradual decrease in power” from Proto-Germanic wanaz “lacking, missing, deficient”
  • wanton: “deliberate and unprovoked”. More literally, “without discipline”. Also from Proto-Germanic wanaz, but with Old English teon “to train, discipline”
  • want: from Proto-Germanic wanô “lack”

Please check out the EtymologyExplorer app if you liked this info! I used it to find and gather all the family words. I then use wiktionary and etymonline to get additional details.

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