It appears that I never remembered to post this. dEhiN is gone now, but I might as well do it...
On 2015-10-23, at the begining of the Random language thread 4, linguoboy posted
linguoboy wrote:I don't know why it never occurred to me before that Latin casus is derived from cadere "to fall", despite the fact that German Fall has many of the same senses (e.g. auf jeden Fall = in any case). Apparently the Latin usage is calqued on the Ancient Greek πτῶσις, which also has the literal sense of "fall".
What prompted me to realise this is that the Irish word for "case" in the grammatical sense is tuiseal, which literally means "fall, stumble".
dEhiN wrote:What's the connection here in concept between "fall, stumble" and "case" (both in the grammatical and non-grammatical sense)?
linguoboy wrote:Ask the Greeks.
The reason is that as early as Dionysius Thrax's grammar in the 2nd century BC, cases were talked about in terms of a metaphor of the equilibrium of an object.
The nominative (ὁ ὀνομαστική 'the one related to naming', from ὀνομάζω 'to name sth') was first placed at a 90-degree angle, due to being the most prominent case as it was what came out when saying the name of an object. The metaphor was to place it in the balanced position of equilibrium, the normal way for things to rest. Then the other cases were thought of as changes to the equilibrium, so they were considered "fallings" of the object resting at 90 degrees. That is, the "fallings" were what happened when the noun at rest was tipped over.
Because the nominative was at that angle, it was also called the "right" case (ὁ ὀρθός 'the straight/correct/right-angled one', or ἡ εὐθεῖα 'the straight line'), and it was opposed to the other cases which were called the "oblique" ones (αἱ πτώσεις πλάγιαι 'the slanting/oblique-angled fallings').
Over time, the term "falling" (πτῶσις) was also applied to the nominative case as well, so they all became "fallings". These terms were then carried over to Latin, where nōminātīvus
'the one related to naming' (from nōmināre
'to name sth') was used to calque ὀνομαστική, rēctus
'straight' to calque ὀρθός and ἡ εὐθεῖα, and cāsūs oblīquī
'slanting fallings' was used to calque πτώσεις πλάγιαι.
I don't know why the Latin phrase cāsus rēctus
is usually translated as "the direct case" in English (as opposed to "the right case"), but I suspect it may be an influence of the phrase "direct object", besides, perhaps, some confusion with the actual meanings of dīrēctus
. I also find it interesting that in French scholarship on Old French and Old Occitan, the direct case and oblique case of those two languages are traditionally called cas sujet
'case of the subject' and cas régime
'case of what is ruled', even though French linguistics does use the terms cas direct
and cas oblique