Finders, inventors, and discoverers

For a long time, I had given pupils to understand that invenire tended to mean finding something by chance, while reperire suggested that one had been looking for it.

Then I looked both up in Lewis and Short—properly, perhaps, for the first time—and found this to be wrong. The words are almost interchangeable, and they both can mean finding in either sense.

As it happened, I was giving information to a junior class about the introduction of the alphabet, which, like coinage, belongs to history rather than prehistory—and both came into Europe from the Levant. One pupil asked whether the alphabet was an invention or a discovery. Or perhaps, she suggested, it was both: the discovery was that the sounds of human speech could be separated into vowels and consonants, totalling only 24; and the invention was the devising of the symbols. I could not disagree: but wondered afterwards whether the first stage might not possibly be called a realisation.

By chance the same evening I overheard someone speaking about Il Trovatore, and considered that word. There is dissatisfaction when someone says, “Oh, it means a troubadour.”  Surely to an Italian, the word has all the connotations of a finder, discoverer, as well as inventor: think of the common Italian words that are cognate with it: the original verb trovare, and trovato, trovabile, and even trovatello, a foundling.

The origin of trovare—a verb present also in French, Spanish and Portuguese—is unknown, with no identifiable Latin word as its parent, although turbare by metathesis has been suggested. Not quite convincing.

The Oxford Dictionary of English (see recent post*), so remarkable for the conciseness of its definitions, has a rival for that virtue in the shape of the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, although the latter has more in the way of etymology. Here is an extract:

trouveur, -euse, subst.
A. 1. Personne qui découvre quelque chose, d’une manière fortuite ou non. Trouveur de trésor
2. Personne qui invente, par un effort de l’esprit, de l’imagination ou grâce à une heureuse inspiration. Trouveur de   nouvelles formules
B. Rare. Trouvère ou troubadour.

Meanwhile, the OED entry for the English word find is a philologist’s dream, connecting it with the Old High German fendo, a pedestrian, the Greek πόντος and the Latin pons. There is even a tenuous link to trovare. It is a long, mystified entry, with no final answers.

What emerges is that the concepts of finding, discovering, realising and inventing seem to blur and overlap for speakers of European languages.