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Semana and September

Semana (Spanish for “week”) comes from the Latin septimana for the same. Septimana itself comes from the Latin root septem meaning… seven. There are, after all, seven days in the week–by definition!

From the same root, we get the English September. But something isn’t right. Isn’t September the ninth month, not the seventh month? Huh?

The fascinating explanation is that the ancient calendar had ten months, the first of which is… March. So, the numbering is all two behind. This explains not only why September is two off, but so is October (from the root oct- meaning “eight”, not “ten”) as well as November (nov- for “nine”, not “eleven”) and December (dec- for “ten”, not “twelve.”)

Madrugada and Mature

The Spanish for “the hours before sunrise,” Madrugada, is a cousin of the English word mature. Both come from the same Latin root maturare (surprisingly, “to mature”) and you see this because the m‑d-r of madrugada maps to the m‑t-r of mature.

But what is the connection between the two? To mature, in English and Latin, has various meanings and implications: a fruit matures, a child matures, and in all cases, they just grow really quickly. And those wee hours after the depth of the night, before the sunrise itself (amanecer in Spanish)–those hours always go by really quickly. The nightmare of the night matures–literally!–into the light of the day!

Ceniza and Incinerate

Ceniza (Spanish for “ashes”) comes from the Latin cinis, meaning the same.

From the Latin root cinis, we get the English… cinder as well as incinerate. That makes sense: these are either the cause or the result of the process that causes ashes!

The most interesting part is.… this also explains why the Cinderella fairy tale, in Spanish, is called… Cenicienta!

We can see the c‑n root clearly in all these variations.

Destacar and Detach

Destacar (Spanish for “to stand out”) comes from the French destachier (“to detach”) which, in turn, comes from the Latin de- (of, from) plus the old French stakon, meaning a “stake” (literally, as in a pole!).

Thus, “standing out” (destacar) is literally just detaching yourself from the rest around you — who are, presumably, much lower quality than you are!

We can see the root clearly in the d-(s)-t‑c (for destacar) to d‑t-ch (detach) mapping.

Don’t forget that the de- prefix in French and sometimes Spanish is just another form of the de- prefix. Thus, explaining the extra ‑s-. And — clearly! — attach comes as well from the same root, just without the de/des negation!

But the best modern English word from the same root is… staccato. Yup: playing the piano in staccato fashion is just, when you play each note really separated from the others!

Cadena and Concatenate, Chain

Cadena (Spanish for “chain”) is a cousin of chain itself. Both come from the Latin for the same: catena.

The English chain is disfigured from the original for a few reasons. Since the English came to our language via the French, the initial c- changed into a ch‑, as so often French does. French additionally has a tendency to drop letters: the middle ‑d- in this case. Thus, the c-(d)-n of cadena maps to the ch‑n of chain!

From the same root, we have a more obvious connection–but a more obscure word. Concatenate, a nerdy word meaning “to add together” that really only software developers remember these days, comes from the same root. We can thus see the c‑d-n of cadena very easily in the c‑t-n of concatenate, remembering the very common ‑d- and ‑t- swapping. Concatenate begins with the con- prefix (“together” in Latin, like the Spanish “con”) — and what is a concatenation, if not just adding together a bunch of nodes in a chain?

Moda and Modern

Moda (Spanish for “fashion”… to be fashionable is, de moda) comes from the Latin modo meaning, “just now”: what is fashionable or cool is, definitionally, temporal, for just this one fleeting moment;tomorrow, it will no longer be cool, for tomorrow isn’t now!

From the same root is the English Modernity, definitionally, is thus just what is happening right this very moment.

Enojar and Annoy

Enojar, Spanish for “to get angry”, has a fun cousin in the English, annoy.

Both of these (along with the French for “worldly boredom”, ennui) come from the Latin inodiare, meaning, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds emphasis to the odium, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the parallels in all with the open vowel, followed by the ‑n-, followed by a ‑y- sound, although in Spanish the ‑y- sounds (and its corresponding ‑x- and ‑sh- variations) often turned into the ‑j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a‑n-y maps to the e‑n-j.

Hatred, then, dissipates and weakens over time. In English, hatred weakens into mere annoyance. In Spanish, hatred weakens into just anger, enojo. And, best of all, hatred in French weakens into a world-weary boredom of ennui.

Viejo and Inveterate

The Spanish viejo (“old”) comes from the Latin vetus meaning the same, “old.”

From the same Latin root we get the English inveterate (an SAT word meaning, a “long-ingrained habit.”) Lets break down the English: the Latin prefix in- means, well, “in” and the “veterate” means “old”, from the same root vetus. So an inveterate habit is really just a habit you’ve had for a long time!

We can see that the v‑j root of viejo maps to the v‑t of inveterate. The Latin ‑t- turning into the ‑j- sound isn’t that common (more common is that it turns into a ‑sh- sound, as in syrup and jarabe) but isn’t too uncommon: we can hear the similarities between ‑t- and ‑sh- if we say the sounds together quickly!

Charlar and Charlatan

Charlar (Spanish for “to chat”) comes from the Italian ciarla — as does the English… charlatan. We can see the ch-r‑l root in both easily.

Interestingly, the English word has taken a negative turn while the Spanish, not so much. I would attribute this to the Anglo-Saxon culture’s looking down onto talk without action, while the Latin culture’s focus on talk even if it means inaction.

Also from the same root is the English, charade. Charade, like charlatan, contains the negative connotations of the appearance, not reality.

Burro and Burrito

Burro is the Spanish for “donkey” and it is — shocking, shocking! — related to the English… burrito, that Mexican food we all know and love. The Spanish itself comes from burrus for the crimson/maroon color, which comes from the Greek pyros for “fire.”

But how did a donkey become a burrito?

The answer is lost to the annals of history but the two most common theories are: they look like those packs that you roll up and hang on either side of a donkey; or they look like donkey’s ears. In either case, the imagery should make the word easy to remember!


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