I am interested in the etymology of the Romanian verb a cicăli (to make reproaches repeatedly, to nag), which is reported of unknown origin.

That is obviously wrong, given the existence of the Italian cicalare. — Infinitive form of Romanian verbs doesn't end in -re, but the language uses verb+re to create nouns that name the action of the verb: e.g., cicălire=the action of cicăli (also: a putea=”to be able to”, putere=power, parallel to Italian potere)—.

The third meaning of cicalare mentioned at the Wiktionary link above (transitive, rare: to say insistently) is exactly the Romanian meaning.

It doesn't seem the kind of word that one would expect as an Italian neologism in Romanian, where it appears as a popular (rural) word, not one of high culture anyway. (As such, it can be found in the first big collection of folk tales gathered and published by Ispirescu in 1862.)

Cicăli is either a very old word coming from late Latin, or a neologism that followed an obscure path into the popular speech.

An archaic, rarely used word (that I was ignoring when I have first posted this question) for "cicada" is cicoare, which appears as a diminutive form of a possible *cicară (rhotacization of cicala). Thus, it is formally identical (a homophone) of the very commonly used cicoare="chicory" and initially might have been contaminated by it.

Romanian also has the rarely used noun cicală ("nagging, quarrelsome person"), for which an Italian connection is mentioned —but I don't really understand whether the connection is suggesting a common origin or a borrowing. It rather seems to me as a back-formation from the verb a cicăli. Anyway, the verb and the noun have to be considered together, along with other derivate forms (cicălitor, adjective), while cicoare=cicada might be considered separately.

I personally think that cicăli is a rather old word, because most Italian borrowings are rather recent.

In order for it to be a borrowing, the Italian form has to have or to have had in the past a rather central position in the language, to have been largely used and even to have been largely present in literary works (because direct contact between the speakers of the two languages was absent before the 19th century, when the Romanian word already appears well established). Was that the case? Or is it a rather marginal, colloquial and/or rare word, like cicăli/cicălire?

Answering @Hachi question in comment:

what is the real issue about the verb cicalare? Are you trying to understand if it existed in Italian before it was used in Romanian? Or what?

  • Was the Italian word largely used? in what cultural context? I want to assess the possibility of it being borrowed into Romanian in the 19th century. The Romanian word is so popular and also almost vulgar that the chances for that are slim: therefore it must be of late-Latin>common-(Eastern) Romance origin. But to be really sure, I want to know more about the Italian word: e.g., if it is/was used in a popular/colloquial way (analogous to the use of the Romanian word in its own context), then I'll be 99% sure it couldn't have travelled to Romanian, where Italianisms are cultured borrowings.

  • On the other hand, cultured borrowings mostly keep a relative highbrow use in Romanian, and don't appear in folk tales. I'm not a specialist and don't know about a theory on how neologisms and borrowings are formed, I just have some literary background in Romanian where I can assess a lot of examples. On that basis, it is hard to find a model for an Italian origin of that Romanian word. In a way my mind is made, but want to put my idea at test (note that Romanian dictionaries give unknown origin!).

  • It is hard to find examples of Romanian words that are old words but also possibly of Italian origin. I was looking at neguțător, (negoț=negozio), but that seems clearly of Latin origin. Here's a small list of what kind of Italian words ended up in Romanian and here a larger article (in Romanian) about this topic. Based on that, the only Italian word that entered popular (rural) speech seems to be the now archaic acioaie (meaning "bronze" or alloy thereof), from acciaio ("steel")! - Otherwise, words common to Romanian and Italian, even if absent in the rest of the Romance languages, are most probably inherited from a common root. Unless there are some strong arguments in favor of a borrowing, and that's why I've asked the question.

  • 3
    Not an answer, just a pointer for further research. The Grande dizionario della lingua italiana shows several examples of use of this word, across several centuries and in several famous writers (among those from the 19th century on, at least Manzoni, Verga and D'Annunzio): gdli.it/sala-lettura/vol-iii/3 (p. 119 = immagine 125). As a useless, personal remark from a native Italian, it's a word that it's not extremely familiar to me. I understand it, but it's unlikely I'd use it spontaneously. Perhaps this will change now!
    – DaG
    Commented Mar 22 at 16:27
  • @DaG - The more I look at it, the less I can comprehend it as a possible borrowing. It is almost impossible to identify the cultured milieux for that. It is a popular, almost vulgar word, not the stuff of neologism creation. Usually, Italian words in Romanian are French words adjusted Italian-style to fit better the Romanian pronunciation, which is closer to Italian (liberté>libertate, amour>amor, etc etc).
    – cipricus
    Commented Mar 23 at 13:58
  • 2
    Sorry, what is the real issue about the verb cicalare? Are you trying to understand if it existed in Italian before it was used in Romanian? Or what?
    – Hachi
    Commented Mar 23 at 19:18
  • 1
    I see, @cipricus. I was not expressing an opinion about a possible derivation in Romanian, about which unfortunately I don't anything, just giving some material for further research.
    – DaG
    Commented Mar 23 at 22:23
  • 1
    Cicalare as a verb is not overly common, but there is a word strictly connected that is rather common, i.e., cicaleccio that strictly means the background noise made by the cicadas in a summer afternoon, but by extension refers to two or more people that are speaking together (and not necessarily talking to each other ;-) in a relentless manner. Commented Apr 18 at 10:39


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