HydroEtymology: Aquifer, infer

By Daniel Collins 07/04/2010

HydroEtymologyIconThe first known instance of ‘aquifer’ dates to a 1901 Science article:

“The artesian system shows four or five aquifers, or water-bearing strata, more or less completely separated from one another.”

‘Aquifer’ is a combination of the Latin ‘aqui-‘ meaning ‘water’, and ‘-fer’ meaning ‘bearing’ (from the Latin verb ‘ferre’).

‘Ferre’ is also the origin of the English verb ‘to infer’. It was inferred into the English language by 1526 with the meaning ‘to bring into discourse’ or ‘to mention’. By 1529, it had adopted the present connotation, ‘to bring in or draw as a conclusion’.

‘Ferre’ also lent itself to the word ‘feracious’ (1637), meaning ‘bearing abundantly, fruitful or prolific’.

If someone could send me a PDF of the 1901 Science article, I’d appreciate it. And one thing I don’t know is if the English preceded the French ‘aquifère’ or vice versa.

Reference: Oxford English Dictionary, 2 edition, 1989. Simpson and Weiner.

0 Responses to “HydroEtymology: Aquifer, infer”

  • Merci! C’est très interesant.

    I’ll see what a Larousse can say, but in the meantime, some more translations of that website…

    Biologist Lamarck used ‘aquifer’ in the context of ‘trachea’, using it as an adjective to distinguished between air-conducting passages and water-conducting passages. If the noun had came first, I would assume the French would have been ‘aquifèrique’, but no. Then in 1834 it entered hydrological lexicon, still as an adjective, in this case to qualify ‘layers’ (‘nappe’) or ‘beds’ (‘couche’), which obviously both refer to strata.

    So I am now still curious if the English borrowed it from French, or created it independently. And how the adjective become the noun.