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Sueño and Insomnia

Sueño (Spanish for “dream”) and insomnia come from the same root: the Latin somnus, meaning, “sleep.”

The evolution is easy to spot if we remember that the -mn- sound in Latin usually transformed into the ñ in Spanish. See damn and daño, for example. Or autumn and otoño as well.

Thus, the s-mn of insomnia maps to the s-ñ of, sueño.

Pedir and Petition

The Spanish pedir (“to ask”) comes from the Latin petere, meaning the same.

From that Latin root, we get the English words, petition — which is, after all, merely a formal request.

We can see the mapping in the p-d of pedir to the p-t of petition. The t/d are often swapped as languages evolve and are often pronounced similarly as well.

Apañar and Pane

The Spanish apañar (“to fix, to rig”, as in “to fix the jury”) comes from the Latin pannus, which meant “cloth, garment or rag.” How did this transformation happen, as Latin turned into Spanish? Well, you use a cloth to tie people, which is one way of applying pressure — physically and metaphorically.

From the same Latin root pannus, we get the English… pane. As in a window pane. Here, the metaphorical meeting of the cloth or clothing took on the meaning of a divider — which divides one section from the other. Which is precisely the opposite meaning of the Spanish!

You can see the p-n root in both. And it’s always noteworthy that the Latin double n –nn– consistently transformed into the ñ in Spanish.

Cargarse and Caricature

Cargarse (Spanish for, “to take charge”; a very common word, often used in the sense of, assigning or accepting responsibility) comes from the Latin carrus, meaning, cart.

How did this evolution happen? Easy: you load a cart; so the cart takes on the burden; just as you, by accepting responsibility, are taking on a burden, too. In other words, any action you might need to be responsible for achieving is just like the annoying junk in your trunk, holding down the car!

From the same Latin root, we get the English, caricature. You can see the c-r root in both. The word for “cart” turned into caricature because, well, a caricature is an overloading (!). A caricature, then, is literally just piling on more and more needless extra, exaggerated observations into the picture you paint, until your trunk is similarly burdened down!

Funny how, in English, over-loading a car is an exaggeration, a caricature. But in Spanish, it is just the normal way of taking responsibility.

Pulga and Flea

It is both surprising and funny that in Spanish, a Flea Market is translated to be, literally, exactly the same: Mercado de Pulgas.

But it is even more surprising (although probably less funny) that flea and its Spanish translation, pulga, are close cousins – despite the different sounds.

Both derive from the Indo-European *plou. To understand this transformation, we should remember that the Indo-European p- sounds stayed the same in Latin (and thus Spanish) but became an f- sound in German (and thus English).

Therefore, the f-l of flea maps exactly to the p-l of pulga!

Sacar and To Sock

Sacar (Spanish for “to take out”) comes from the old German sakan meaning “to fight”, That does, oddly, make sense: in a fight, you do take someone out — we still use that other sense today, in English, in that very phrase!

From the same old German root, we get the English…. to sock. No, not the word for the slip over your toes but in the old-fashioned verb sense my grandpa uses: to punch someone. So we still see that it still retains some of the fighting sense!

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!

Cabeza and Head

The Indo-European root kaput, meaning “head”, led to words for the head in almost every western language, with no change.

The kaput turned into the almost-identical caput in Latin; and then that evolved, through very minor changes, to the almost-the-same cabeza in Spanish. The main sound shift is the p to b, but those are very clearly aligned signs that often swap.

Kaput, however, evolved into the German kopf — which then became the English head. How so?

The Germanic sound “k-“, as German evolved into English, generally became the “h-” sound in English. Take century/hundred or horn/cornudo or, my favorite, hemp/cannabis as other examples.

Thus, the c-b(-z) of cabeza maps to the h-d of head. In the English pattern of short, powerful words, the final sound was lost as well, to give us the simple, straightforward head.

Guillermo – William

The “W” sound is a classic Germanic and Anglo-saxon sound. Harsh, it is.

Interestingly, the Germanic and English words with the w- become the gu- sound as these words evolved into Spanish. Yes, in this case, the Germanic and English words — centuries ago — made its way back into Spanish rather than the more common pattern of vice-versa!

One example: the name William maps to the Spanish name… Guillermo. I first discovered this because I was once in a bookstore in Buenos Aires and there was a book “Enrique IV” by “Guillermo Shakespeare”. I needed about a minute to figure out what was happening (Enrique is Spanish for Henry).

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!


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