Chapter 13: Hiring and Leasing


Unlike French, Latin opposes conducere ‘to hire, take on lease’ to locare ‘let out on hire, to lease’. The specialized sense of conducere , which basically signifies “lead,” started in the military context of recruiting and becomes specifically “to hire” when a chief (dux) engages men for a given sum of money: conducere mercede. By a parallel development, locare ‘to put a thing in the place where it belongs’ became specified in the sense of “hire” once it was applied to men or their work, especially when the price of hire was specified, as in Plautus’ expression: locare operam suam tribus nummis. In the Germanic world the expression for hiring had a quite different origin: the custom, described by Tacitus, which the ancient Germans had of burying in the ground anything they wanted to preserve explains the strange polysemy of Gothic filhan ‘to bury’ and ‘to entrust, to let out’.


Our next object of study is a compound of the verb ducere ‘to lead’. For “hire, take on lease,” Latin uses conducere; and the complementary expression is locare ‘to hire out, let’, from which French louer has developed. Thus Latin has two terms for these different notions, for which French uses only one—louer. Conducere ‘hire, take on lease’ can be said of many things: a servant, soldiers, land, houses, furniture, work; even the construction of a building: conducere templum aedificandum ‘to contract for building a temple’.
This specialized sense of conducere is doubtless derived from the general sense “to lead,” “conduct”: “to lead workers, soldiers,” hence “take them for hire.” We have here a technical expression in Latin which appears to have been created within the language and taken on its special sense under our eyes. But what eludes us is precisely the transition to the sense “to take for hire.” Failing this, “lead” and “hire” remain different notions. It is this transition point which we must elucidate.
We must first consider the simple verb; duco signifies “lead,” but it corresponds etymologically to Gothic tiuhan (German ziehen) ‘to draw’. The Gothic verb is very common, with numerous preverbs that differentiate the modalities of the action: “draw,” “drag,” “lead.” We can further adduce Gr. δαιδύσσεσθαι· ἕλκεσθαι (daidússesthai: hélkesthai, ‘drag’). This is formed from the root *deuk/duk with the suffix -y and reduplication: dai-duky-, meaning “drag vigorously.”
The comparison of Gothic and Latin alone enables us to draw the conclusion that the original sense of duco was “draw.” In fact with ensem it signifies “draw the sword.” Duco is also used with murum, vallum, ‘wall, an entrenchment’. Now there is in Latin another verb meaning “draw”: traho, which has become traire in French. What is the difference between the two verbs?
Whereas traho means “to draw towards oneself, to pull something which resists,” duco is “to lead along an established line”; all uses of duco confirm this sense. Ducere aquam (cf. aquae ductus) ‘to draw water’, but along a prepared way; ductus can be said of littera ‘a letter’ with reference to writing: a letter by its shape conforms to a prescribed model; dux, the agent noun, is used of somebody who leads, who “draws on” along a way where others will follow. In the military sense, duco is “to draw behind one, towards a definite goal”; the correlative verb is sequor ‘follow’, to comply with a movement or an imparted impulse. There is another familiar phrase ducere uxorem, ducere in matrimonium ‘to lead away a woman in marriage’.
With its preverb, conducere is not merely “to lead” but “to lead in such a way as to gather together.” From this comes the technical sense of “contract.” In medicine, conducitur aut laxatur is said of a muscle which contracts or relaxes. To explain conducere in the sense of “hire,” we must observe how it is used when applied to men. An instructive passage in Caesar (De Bello Gallico, I, 4, 2) shows this: a Gaulish chieftain under the impact of a serious accusation seeks to defend himself by all possible means. On the day of the trial omnem suam familiam coegitet omnes clientes obaeratosque suos conduxit: he collected all his connections and those with obligations towards him so that they could lend him their support before the tribunal. For his suos ‘the members of his household’ the verb is coegit ‘to push before him to assemble them’; but for his clients and his debtors conduxit is used. It applies to those over whom one has the rights of a patron vis-à-vis a client, or a creditor vis-à-vis a debtor. This is the relationship conveyed by conducere: it is not merely “to assemble” but “to assemble in virtue of a certain authority.” In fact, in the military language conducere copias is “to mobilize one’s own troops”; conducere always implies the natural authority of the dux and, for the men, the duty of gathering together to serve him.
Here we have the conditions of use favoring the semantic transition to the sense “to hire.” It must be added that conducere when it signifies “hire,” “take for hire,” is accompanied by mercede ‘for pay’. This adjunct completes the specialization of the sense. By itself, conducere suffices to denote the levying of troops by someone who exercises his right to assemble his own troops. But, apart from this situation, one can recruit men by paying them, mercede, and it is the payment that provides the possibility of conducere. Hence the expression mercede milites conducere—with a number of variants, auxilia, mercenarios conducere. To begin with it referred to the action of a chief, the practice of those who disposed of their liege men. It presupposes, as with Greek laós, the authority of a chieftain over men pledged to his personal service and always ready to take up arms in his cause.
In this way the sense of “to take for hire” developed originally with reference to the hiring of soldiers. Later it was used of those from whom some difficult or dangerous work was expected; these could be hired assassins, or more often workmen. In popular language, in Plautus, we often find conducere for the “hiring” of cooks, musicians, mourners at a funeral, etc. The strictly economic sense thus emerged from the relation of the chief to the men under his authority: but very soon conducere was applied to the hiring of labor of any kind. The agent noun shares these various usages. The conductor is the man charged with recruiting men for an expedition. He is also a contractor who recruits workers, “hires” them for some work. Once this notion of “hiring” had become established, conducere was employed for “leasing” of land, a house (agrum, fundum) and not merely for manual work.
We must now turn to the term locare. The lexical opposition with conducere could not have developed until after conducere had assumed the sense of “recruit, take for hire.” We must briefly show what prepared locare for its function as a correlate of conducere. To the expression ducere in matrimonium ‘to take (a woman) in marriage’ there corresponds locare in matrimonium, which applies to the father of the girl. The established juridical term in this connection is dare ‘give’. But locare is often found in Plautus, and even as careful a writer as Caesar also used it. We also find collocare in matrimonium.
Why is this verb used in this way? Here we have a function of the sense of locare which itself depends on the sense of locus. In such vague words as those designating “places” we must make an effort to grasp the sense of the word. Locus is to be defined as the “natural place of something.” This is likewise the sense of the Greek term which locus serves to translate: tópos (τόπος). It would be easy to establish this, but we content ourselves with the bare assertion.
It follows that locare is not simply “to put something somewhere” but “to put something in its proper place, the place to which it naturally belongs.” In French one says in the same sense établir sa file, i.e. “marry off.” Thus locare is very different from ponere ‘to abandon, to leave something just anywhere’.
The transition to the sense of “to put out for hire” came about in the same way as with conducere, i.e. when locare was applied to men or their work: locare operam suam tribus nummis (Plautus, Trin. 844), literally “to place his work for three coins,” which means “hire out.” Similarly, if someone has a fundus which he knows he cannot cultivate himself, he “places” it, i.e. “hires it out”: locare fundum. With the development of cities and public works, the authorities “invited tenders” for municipal works, e.g. locare viam exstruendam ‘to put out under contract the construction of a road’. In this way, the sense of “let out on hire” became established, complementary to, but not simultaneously with, the technical use of conducere.
Both expressions were used together only when it was necessary to specify “taking” and “giving” a lease. If Latin used two different verbs, this was not only because of their solicitude for legal precision, for which the Romans are famed, but because Latin lacked the faculty which Greek had of using the same verb by varying the voice. Greek preserved for a long time the possibility of employing the same verb in the active and middle voice to indicate two correlative notions. Examples are daneízō ‘lend’, daneízomai ‘borrow’; misthō̂ ‘to put out for hire’, misthoûmai ‘to take for hire’. Latin, once the deponent verbs had gone out of use, lacked this resource. It was made up by lexical means, by specializing locare and conducere.
This example will serve to illustrate a methodological principle on which we may insist at the risk of repeating ourselves: if the signification of a word is subject to such specialization, we must try to discover the particular usages which determined the new sense.
We may now turn to a quite different term, which connects with the concepts just studied. It is taken from Germanic, in particular from Gothic: this is the verb filhan ‘to hide’ and, with different preverbs af-, ga-, us- filhan ‘to inter, bury’. But ana-filhan, strangely enough, signifies “give,” “deliver” and also “hire out.” This is why it is of concern to our study. The verb filhan translates Greek krúptō ‘hide’ and tháptō ‘bury’: let filhan, áphes thápsai ‘bury him’ (ga-filhan is also used). As for af-filhan, the sense is “hide, put out of sight”: Luke 10, 21 apékrupsas taûta apò sophō̂n ‘you have hidden (affalht) this from the wise’. As for ga-filhan, it also translates tháptō ‘bury’: etáphē ‘he has been buried’, gafulhans war. This is confirmed by other Germanic evidence: OHG fel(a)han ‘bury, hide’.
The case of anafilhan is quite special. The verb, which is abundantly attested, translates Greek paradidónai ‘hand over to someone, to entrust to’, and ekdídosthai ‘to hire, lease’. We have a characteristic use in a parable in Luke XX, 9: a man plants a vineyard and leases it out to farmers because he has to go away: anafalh ina waurstwjam, ἐξέδοτο γεωργοῖς. The same sense relationship still appears in Middle High German bevehlen ‘to bury, entrust’, cf. German befehlen, empfehlen, in which only the notion of “command, recommend” persists.
Nowhere do we find an adequate explanation of this semantic development. Such a change of sense at first seems incomprehensible: how has a verb signifying “hide,” when furnished with a preverb denoting movement towards someone, come to mean “transmit, entrust”?
Now the original notion implied by these divergent significations may be found in the description of certain customs of the Germans in Tacitus’ Germania, 16: “The German peoples do not inhabit towns, and cannot abide contiguous habitations; their villages, different from those of the Romans, are not adjacent and do not adjoin one another; instead, each man surrounds his habitation with a large space.” Then, after having stressed that the Germans do not have the same methods of construction as the Romans, Tacitus goes on to say (16, 4):
They have the custom of hollowing out subterranean caverns which they cover from above with large piles of manure, a refuge in the winter and a receptacle for their harvest; in this they mitigate the rigors of their climate, and if ever an enemy happens to approach, he plunders what is to be seen; but what is hidden, or is buried in the ground, either escapes their attention or eludes them precisely because they have to be searched for.
Solent et subterraneos specus aperire eosque multo insuper fimo onerant, suffugium hiemi et receptaculum frugibus, quia rigorem frigorum eius modi molliunt, et si quando hostis advenit, aperta populatur, abdita autem et defossa aut ignorantur aut eo ipso fallunt, quod quaerenda sunt.
Here we have a custom which might explain the use of filhan. The original sense of filhan is “to hide, to bury”; it would not be surprising if the operation described by Tacitus was precisely the one which the Germans expressed by this verb. The puzzling signification of anafilhan (which translates paradidónai, parádosis) ‘to hand out, to deliver somebody or something’ will be explained as “to deliver that which has been put into safekeeping and hidden,” or “to deliver for putting into safekeeping.” What was thus put in a safe place were precious articles and provisions.
In this way the notion “to put into safekeeping” originated in the custom of keeping indispensable resources hidden. Then it evolved towards the sense of “lease,” “hire out,” which is a specialization of “entrust”; anafilhan can then translate ekdídosthai, parádidonai: ‘to deliver to somebody with confidence, to entrust to him, what is kept in reserve’.
Here is a possible explanation of a semantic development peculiar to Germanic, the justification for which cannot be found in etymological considerations. Further on we shall study the connection of bergen ‘to put under cover’ and borgen ‘lend, borrow’ in German.
There are thus no specific expressions for “hire” in Germanic, but only a specialization of the verb “to put into safety, to hand over (a precious possession, one put in reserve).” Financial operations, introduced at a late date, could not have had any particular terminology in Gothic. Once again we grasp the complexity of these usages of economic life which were created at various dates, starting from different notions and which borrowed their vocabulary from previously existing institutions.