Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

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 were 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!

Vecino and Vicinity

The Spanish for “neighbor”, vecino, comes from the Latin vicinus for “neighborhood”. From that root, we also get the similar… vicinity.

After all, what is your neighbor, if not someone who is in the same vicinity as you!

This one is in the class of very obvious ones (the v-c-n root is clear in both), but you don’t realize it until someone tells you.

Pie and Pioneer

Pioneer is literally, one who does something… on foot. Thus it’s related — via the French paonier, from which we get the word — to the Spanish for “foot”, pie. Thus, the p-i-vowel opens both words!

Fallar and Flatulent

Today’s etymological comparison is a bit weird, but one I love. Fallar is Spanish for “to fail” and Flatulent is, well, a fancy word for “farting.”

Both come from the Latin Flare, meaning, “to blow.” A fart is definitely a type of blowing; and failing at something being considered a type of blowing is a common image in languages around the world: think about Bart Simpson, in our own language, saying, That Blows!

The f-l root makes the relationship clear in both words.

Interestingly, from the same Latin root Flare, we also get olfactory (another fancy word for, “the sense of smell”), and blow itself is the anglo-saxon cognate to flare.

Sospechoso – Suspect

Suspect and the Spanish equivalent, sospechoso, are easy to identify and obviously the same word, both from the same Latin root, suspectus.

That’s not the interesting part. Rather, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the Latin sound -ct- turned into the Spanish -ch- sound. Think lactose/leche or octagon/ocho.

And suspect falls exactly into this pattern: the English s-s-p-ct maps exactly to the Spanish s-s-p-ch.

Remolino and Mill

Remolino (Spanish for “whirlpool” or “swirl”) comes from the Latin molinum, which means…. mill. This makes sense: a mill just moves around and around in a circular motion — for example, think of a windmill. In fact, the English mill comes from the same root! So, we can see the m-l root in both words!

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

Nerds love to pattern-match, to find commonalities among everything. Our approach to learning languages revolves (the same -volve- that is in “volver”, to “return”) around connecting the Spanish words to the related English words via their common etymologies – to find the linguistic patterns, because these patterns become easy triggers to remember what words mean. Want to know more? Email us and ask:

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For Nerds Learning Spanish via Etymologies