Language Oddities: the spanish word “compromiso”

This is something that has bugged me for a long time.  The spanish word for “commitment” is “compromiso.” This leads to many native spanish speakers, upon trying to translate their thoughts into english, saying things like “I’m sorry I have to leave early, but I have a prior compromise.”

The difficulty is that the spanish word for “compromise” is also “compromiso,” something I didn’t actually realize until just a few days ago. In english, “commitment” and “compromise” are two totally distinct concepts, but to spanish speakers, they are apparently linked.

How could this be? It appears that the word “commitment,” or “commit,” derives from the latin “com,” meaning “together”, and “mittere,” meaning “to send.”  The suffix “ment” turns the verb into a noun (specifically an act or process.) Similarly, the word “compromise” breaks down into “com,” meaning together, and “promittere,” or “to send forth.”

So “committment” seems to mean “the act or process of sending together” while “compromise” seems to mean “to send forth together.” If I commit to something, then I am entering into a pact with someone else (or myself) to do something, or to go forth and do something in the future.  If I reach a compromise, then I enter into a pact with someone else to put a course of action forward that is mutually agreeable, in other words, we send ourselves forth together. Both words involve the idea of “sending together.”

It may sound like a stretch, but it’s not as though I’m making this up. These are the derivations of the words, and their connection is borne out by the fact that, in the Spanish language, they meet to form the same word, “compromiso.”

It may be useful, therefore, to consider that to commit is in fact to compromise, and to compromise is to commit.


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