estivate + edify

Fast Mash

  • Proto-Indo-European root *aidh– (burn) gave Latin aestus (heat) and aestās (summer)
  • From aestās English forms estival (of summer) and estivate (to spend the summer)
  • *Aidh– also gave Latin aedes (building, shrine, hearth), basis of English’s edify (originally, to build up the church or soul in holiness) and edifice

Estivate and edify aren’t exactly everyday words, but, boy, do their roots show some curious connections.

While writing my last post on summer, I was struck by the absence of any Romance cognates of the season’s origin.  (Two words are cognates, it is worth repeating, when they derive from the same source.  Consider the English father and Spanish padre.)

Given that summer‘s sound and sense have changed so little over the past centuries, I expected—OK, I hoped—the root would prove more pervasive. Haven’t we’ve seen the etymological cousins of words like stream simply proliferate in Proto-Indo-European lineages? So, why not for summer? I’d think it be like linguistic chicken stock.

I know, I know. Linguists—and sensible professionals of all stripes—please roll your eyes at my pursuit of etymological holy grails. I promise to spend some more time with Saussure—or, hell, Lewis Carroll for that matter. Languages are structured, systematic, and situated. Static and stable they are not. But let an armchair etymologist dream!

But speaking of Lewis Carroll, summer may have delivered me down no rabbit holes, but its Latin equivalent, aestās, most certainly did.


Ancient Romans referred to summer as aestās. This noun gave Latin its related adjective, aestīvus, as well as the verb aestīvāre, which means to spend the summer (somewhere or doing something).

Both forms have made their way into English words. From the former English gets estival (or aestival in the UK, often with a long i and stress on the second syllable). It means pertaining to the summer. The latter kept its meaning in the sadly-less-than-useful estivate (or aestivate). In fairness to biologists, the verb it does take on more technical and practical meanings for zoological purposes. Estivation: No, not the process of transforming into Emilio Estevez, but like hibernation in hot, dry seasons.

By the way, neither word will impress your high school English teacher. Especially not when used in casual conversation in the hallway at the end of the school year. And in the same sentence.

Admired Teacher (AT): “Mr. Kelly, what are your plans for the summer?” (Teachers at all-male Jesuit high schools seem to love formal address. Or the potential for mockery therein.)

Fawning Pupil (FP): “Well, I, uh, plan to estivate by playing music, reading, working. You know, the usual estival fare.”

AT: “Oh, you’re going to music festivals? And isn’t estivating sharing a little too much?”

FP:  “No, um, estival, like summer—”

AT: “—Estival. Like summer. Mr. Kelly, I know what it means, but…”

And so I learned what fifty-cent word means, how one’s love of Latin has some very practical limits, and, most important, how to distinguish perplexity and vexation in human body language.

Real quick, though. The adverb aestīvē means scantilyas in “scantily clad.” Fantastic, right?

OK. Now, here’s where it starts to pick up heat. Aestās is related to aestus, whose meanings include agitation, heat, glowsultriness, and tide, and could also refer to billowy, boiling seas. This word, in turn, is rooted in the Proto-Indo-European *aidh-, or to burn. Its Greek iteration ultimately gave English ether. It is also responsible for estuary (via Latin). And, new to me, oast, an obscure word once generally referring to kilns in Old English (āst) but now more narrowly signifying just those used for drying hops.

Oh, and there’s another word *aidh- is eventually responsible for: edify. Yep, edify.


Out of this root *aidh- Latin built aedes,  a noun that could mean apartmentbuilding, temple, shrine, and rooms (of a house). The Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, the Online Etymological Dictionary, and Shipley add hearth. Interestingly, I did not find hearth in my Latin sources, though cells (of a beehive), tomb, and rent-free home were glossed. (And if you were wondering, focus is the principal word for hearth in Latin, as well as a word for home and family. Now there’s a good rabbit hole.)  

From my cross-referencing, it seems that earliest meaning of aedes might have been hearth. Later, the sense of shrine and sanctuary came to dominate. And eventually the sense of building became common alongside its religious usage.

So, what’s the connection between burning and buildings? Did aedes come about because the use of fire for building materials? The ancient Romans did build an empire out of fired clay brick. Or simply because it named the floor or area around a fireplace? Or perhaps because of burning offerings to gods in their shrines? Indeed, for ancient Romans, an aedes housed the image of a god, and thus was considered a sanctuary or dwelling place of the god. Could the prominent Vesta, household deity and goddess of hearth and home, have had any compounding influence?

Whatever the case, aedes joined with facere (to do, make, an immensely productive root in English) to form aedifcāre (to erect a building). This generated aedificium (building, in the general sense).

And from these, via the French, English gets edify and edification. The OED dates both back to 1340, although edify technically appeared earlier (posthumous publication). Edifice comes in the 1380s.

Around 1340, edify first meant build or construct, but even then it also had a religious usage. From the OED:

To build up (the church, the soul) in faith and holiness; to benefit spiritually, to strengthen, support.

And around 1382 entered edification, which the OED notes was modeled after the Greek oikodome (οἰκοδομή), which appeared in 1 Corinthians 14. As the New International Version has it (pay attention to verses 3-5; the glosses are mine):

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue [another language] does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening [edifying], encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues [other languages], but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

What’s the benefit (edification) when people can’t understand what your saying? What’s the point of saying estivate when you can say spend the summer— and actually be understood. I’m talking to you, John.

The OED’s definitions of edification adds that such spiritual strength and stability came about through “suitable instruction and exhortation.” It’s interesting to note here the connection between early education and religion. And so through metaphorical extension, edify came to figure a moral or intellectual buildup. Today, I think we see the word most as a present participle, edifying.

Burning and heat, hearth and home, sanctuary and shrine, the church and the soul, morals and the mind. All that from the Latin word for summer. Edifying, eh?

 m ∫ r ∫


One thought on “estivate + edify

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