I am looking for the etymology of the Romanian verb a cicăli (to make reproaches repeatedly, to nag), which is reported of unknown origin, and I have found an almost identical word in Italian: cicalare. (And I've asked this question).

It seems that Occitan has cicala as such, meaning "cicada", and it ended up in English with the same form, also in French cigale. Spanish and Portuguese cigarra might come from a different intermediary (**cicār(r)*a)

Romanian too has cicoare, meaning "cicade", which appears as a diminutive form of a possible *cicară (rhotacization of cicala). (This word is as rare and regional in Romania as the insect, unknown to most speakers: to the point that La Fontaine's fable "La Cigale et la Fourmi" was translated as "The Cricket and the Ant" - Greierele și furnica. But it is formally identical (a homophone) of the much more commonly used cicoare="chicory" and might have been contaminated by it. It cannot be considered the origin of cicăli because the l>r shift is not inherited there.— In fact, cicoară=cicada might not even have to be of Latin origin: while Aromanian has cingală, closer to Italian and Latin, Megleno-Romanian țicoari is closer both to the Romanian and the Greek forms ζειγαρά, ζειγάρη —).

Romanian also has the rarely used noun cicală ("nagging, quarrelsome person", for which, oddly, unlike for the verb, an Italian connection is mentioned —but Italian cicala doesn't mean a nagging person). It looks more like the Romanian noun cicală is a back-formation from the verb cicăli.

I am looking for a similar word in other Romance languages with the same root and a similar meaning as those verbs in Romanian and Italian. — Does the late Latin, and/or early Medieval Latin word cicala have other descendants in Romance languages with a similar meaning (to talk too much, make repeated statements/reproaches)?

(Or: if this question is better fit to Latin, please flag it or indicate so that I move it.)

UPDATE after chat(GP)ting a bit:

I get this info:

In Spanish, the verb "chillar" can sometimes carry a similar meaning to "cicalare" or "cicăli," although it's more commonly used to describe the action of screaming or shouting loudly. However, it can also be used informally to describe someone who talks excessively or noisily.

In Portuguese, the verb "chilrear" also exists... It's used to describe the chirping of birds but can also be applied metaphorically to describe people chatting or gossiping.

I think that's true. But they don't seem related to cicada>cicala. Couldn't they be considered parallel constructions anyway? Semantically and formally they seem rather close to Italian cicalare, and their etymology is not very categorically proven, as onomatopoeic origin is suggested beside Latin *cistulāre<fistulāre ... Even "cicada" is of onomatopoeic origin it seems (Sanskrit ciścira, while English to chirp sounds almost like Romanian a ciripi). I can imagine a verb that is not necessarily based on the noun, but is just a parallel construction, naming the basic sound (be it bird on cicada).

3 Answers 3


Spanish and Portuguese have the word cigarra, which also refers to the insect and ultimately comes from Latin (there is debate whether the Portuguese word is native or replaced its native word with the Spanish one), but no verb that comes from this noun. Naturally, there are words in these languages that mean "nagging".

I recommend that you refer to actual dictionaries instead of Wikipedia, which is not edited by educated people. It is easy to use, but it is lazy.

  • Wiktionary is tricky, but can work as a stable basis of discussion. Stackexchange is also meant at improving or discussing Wikipedia and Wictionary articles, although its own articles are not always published by very educated people. The idea here is to educate each other. The information that Spanish and Portuguese have words for "nagging" is not very useful and not at all unexpected, but the one that they don't have verbs based on cicada/cicala with the discussed meaning is useful.
    – cipricus
    Mar 25 at 13:22
  • 2
    Wiktionary is absolutely edited by educated people. Not exclusively so, but many of the people who contribute etymologies to Wiktionary are trained historical linguists who definitely know what they’re doing. Mar 25 at 14:08
  • Oddly, Spanish has the word chillar and Portugues has chilrear, related to bird sound, not cicadas. Semantically and formally they seem rather close to Italian cicalare, and their etymology is not very categorically proven, as onomatopoeic origin is suggested beside Latin *cistulāre<fistulāre ... Even "cicada" is of onomatopoeic origin it seems, so I can imagine a verb that is not necessarily based on the noun, but is just a parallel construction, naming the basic sound (be it bird on cicada).
    – cipricus
    Mar 25 at 14:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Trained historical linguists from the university of dingledong. Serious scholars are not editing Wiki sites.
    – Quaestor
    Apr 14 at 21:21
  • @Quaestor [dubious claim] [citation needed] Apr 15 at 2:23

I don’t have any particular sources for this, but this is too long for a comment, so it’ll have to go in an answer.

My guess (and it is only a guess) would be that Romanian has obtained the word for a cicada at least two, perhaps three times over:

  • Cicadă is the most straightforward version: it corresponds exactly to the Classical Latin form, and it refers to the animal itself
  • Cicală formally looks like a borrowing from some Romance form that substituted /l/ for /d/ in the word (a not-unheard-of change in Latin and Romance), which – if Wiktionary data is reliable here – appears to be a form that flourished especially in the eastern parts of the Latin-speaking world (including Italy)
  • Cicoare may be the same as cicală with subsequent rhotacisation and influence from the ‘chicory’ word, both within Romanian; or it may be a loan from another Romance form with further rhotacised /l/ to /r/ (similar to the Iberian forms), with only the vowel qualities changing within Romanian based on the ‘chicory’ word

I’m not sure it’s really possible to neatly etymologise which is which in such a tangle of words (or even which are inherited and which borrowed) – onomatopoeia so often results in variations and derivations that seem to criss-cross and not fully correspond, and forms with /d/, /l/ and /r/ are found throughout the Romance-speaking area.

As for the meaning, it seems to be accepted that the noun cicala ‘cicada’ led to the Italian verb cicalare ‘chatter, jabber, gossip; say insistently’. This makes sense, based on the noise made by cicadas: it does sound like an insistant, constant, buzzing chatter.

I would venture that Romanian a cicăli must be based on cicală through a similar process. I’m guessing that formally, a fourth-declension verb in Romanian would not be the expected reflex of a borrowed first-declension Italian verb, so it’s not likely to be a direct borrowing of cicalare; but ‘nag, pester, reproach insistently’ is also quite a straightforward meaning for a verb derived from a noun referring to cicadas (swarms of cicadas are certainly a pestering nuisance to listen to), so I would posit that a cicăli was likely derived within Romanian.

As such, while parallel constructions in other Romance languages would certainly be nice additional data points, their absence is not necessarily highly significant.

  • cicadă is not in discussion here, but a recent cultured borrowing from French and Latinized formally. Cicoare is mysterious: there's Meglo-Romanian țicoari, close to a Greek ζειγαρά, ζειγάρη. Could be a Balkan form. But my main concern is the verbs, not the nouns. What baffled me is the identity of Romanian and Italian verbs and the fact that Romanian dictionaries ignore this. Cicală ("nagging person") is most probably retroactively formed based on the verb, unlike in Italian. - Presence of similar verbs in Romance would comfort my idea that Romanian verb is inherited, not borrowed.
    – cipricus
    Mar 25 at 15:06
  • Unlike in Italian, what seems primary in Romanian is the verb. All nouns can be separated from it: one is a neologism, one is a back-formation, one may not even be related.
    – cipricus
    Mar 25 at 15:11
  • @cipricus What makes you say that the verb seems more primary than the noun rather than the other way around? Does Romanian not normally use the fourth declension for denominal derivatives or something? (I did assume that cicadă was probably the most recent, since it’s the most transparent.) Mar 25 at 15:35
  • I mean that "cicală", unlike the verb, is a very rare word and only means "nagging person", never "cicada", so I think it was formed later in Romanian based on the verb cicăli. So we cannot say that Romanian verb is based on a Romanian noun (in the way Italian verb is based on an Italian noun "cicala"). The Romanian verb stands alone, separate from cicoare (which might even be pre-Latin, that is of Balkan substrate, beside also being extremely rare and maybe also a regionalism —I didn't know it existed with this meaning until today! I though "cicoare" was just chicory!)
    – cipricus
    Mar 25 at 15:59
  • 2
    @cipricus The fact that the noun is rare and the verb isn’t doesn’t say anything about which was originally derived from which, though. There are lots of examples of rare words being the base for very common words. My suggestion is that cicală was originally borrowed as ‘cicada’, whence ‘someone who makes an annoying cicada-like racket = a nagger’, whence the verb ‘act like a nagger = nag’. Subsequently, the original ‘cicada’ meaning was lost when that word was reborrowed, and the ‘nagger’ noun fell out of use, though the verb remained more common. Mar 25 at 17:10

I am looking for a word in other Romance languages with the same meaning as those verbs in Romanian and Italian.

French has a verb "chicaner" (https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/chicaner) which can mean something similar to "to make reproaches repeatedly, to nag" (see meanings 5 to 8 in particular in the above-linked wiktionary entry).

  • From title and the context you could see that what I am looking for is in fact words with the same root and a similar meaning. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough, I have edited now. The French word is reported of Germanic or other origin, not from Latin cicada>cicala.
    – cipricus
    Apr 3 at 14:07
  • @cipricus What you were looking for was clear to me. I mentioned this word because the etymology was reportedly uncertain in Wiktionary, so I thought that, given the similarities in sound, it could be interesting to have a look at this word to see it it could be a possible member of the "cicada" family. Are there regular correspondences between French "n" and Latin "d" and Romanian "l" or "r"?
    – bli
    Apr 5 at 11:13
  • No. Just like all the other Romance languages, French has a descendant from V.Lat. cicala: cigale, as in La Cigale et la Fourmi. And the corresponding verb ("cigaler", not yet in the dictionaries) is an ad hoc (playful, childish derivation) of La Fontaine's fable, meaning "to have fun instead of working".
    – cipricus
    Apr 7 at 7:19

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