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Valija – Valise

In some of the Spanish words, they say maleta to mean “suitcase.” But in other parts, such as Argentina, they say valija.

Valija, although it sounds different from anything English, actually is quite similar to the almost-forgotten–my grandparents still use it!– English word, that also means “suitcase” , of valise.

Although they sound different, the connection becomes clear if we remember the pattern of the sh- to j- conversion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tended to turn into the j- sound in Spanish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise entered English unchanged but when the French word was borrowed into Spanish, it was Spanish-ified with the s- sound turning into a j- sound. Thus, the v-l-s maps to the v-l-j.

Vaca and Vaccine

The Spanish for “cow” vaca, comes from the Latin vacca, meaning the same. From that same root, we get the English…. vaccine/em.

Huh? How?

Interestingly, the first, umm, vaccine, was to give the cow-pox virus to people with small-pox! Thus, the word for cow turned into the word for vaccine!

We can see the v-c root clearly in both.

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!

Salchicha and Chisel

Hot dog salchicha spanish

To chisel, and the Spanish salchicha (basically, hot dog) both come from the same root: the Latin secare, meaning “to cut, sever, decide”.

Other English words some from the same Latin root secare, such as dissect.

How did “to cut” turn into “hot dog”? Via the Italian Salsiccia — and if you think about it, the hot dog is indeed just a very finely chiseled piece of meat!

Cinco – Five

The relation between “five” in Spanish (cinco) and English is one of the more surprising relationships: they are indeed direct second cousins!

Both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, *penkwe, meaning the same, five. (The greek for five also comes from the same: think about pentagon, for example).

The interesting part is this: the p- sound in Proto-Indo-European evolved into the Germanic and then English f- sound. Think about father and padre, for example or foot and pie. Five and cinco follow this pattern too, but in a more subtle way.

The Proto-Indo-European for the same, *penkwe, evolved into the Latin word for “five”: quinque. The qu- was pronounced in a hard way like a k- and then, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the k- was softened into the soft c- in cinco. So p- to k- to c-. You can see it through the similar sounds.

Indeed, the pattern is most obvious in the repetition of the sounds in both works cin-co as the c/k sound twice, at the start of each syllable. And the fi-ve as the f- sound (and its closely related, usually identical and often interchangeable sound of v-) at the start of each of its syllables as well.

Elogio and Elegy

It should be obvious, but it wasn’t to me: the Spanish for “compliment; praise” (elogio) comes from the Latin elogium meaning “inscription; short saying.” The Latin elogium comes from the Greek elegeia, meaning, “elegy” — from which we get that same English word!

This should be clear, since the e-l-o-g of elogio maps to the e-l-e-g of elegy quite neatly.

But how did we get from “short saying” to “compliment”? Easy: the short sayings that we used to say about other people, over time — centuries — got nicer and nicer and nicer, until everything turns into a compliment. Who wants to be remembered as the nasty guy insulting everyone, anyway?

Catarata and “Cats and Dogs”

It is unknown where the English phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs” comes from. But there’s one likely etymology that it is a corruption of the Latin catadupa for “waterfall”. From that same Latin root catadupa, we get the Spanish for waterfall…. catarata.

The c-t root that begins both catarata and “cats and dogs” does make this etymology plausible. But is it real? I just don’t know.

It does, however, make it easy to remember: a waterfall has the intensity of rain showers even stronger than with “cats and dogs”!

Hijo – Filial, Affiliate

The Spanish for “son”, hijo, doesn’t sound like anything in English. But it is a close cousin of the English synonym for brotherliness: filial.

Both come from the Latin for “son,” filius. The transformation to Spanish came about through two interesting patterns: the initial f- in Latin usually turned into an h- in Spanish (such as, hacer and fact, or hablar and fable). The other pattern is less common: the -li- sound turned into a -j- sound – it’s just a less common sound! Thus the f-li maps to h-j almost exactly.

From the Latin filius, we get a few other English words, including: affiliate: an affiliate is, in a way, a child you rear!

From the same root we also get the English fetus, fecund and even feminine. These come, via the Latin filius, from the Proto-Indo-European root *dʰeh₁y-li-os, meaning, “sucker” — in the literal sense of, “one who sucks.” Children, indeed, are defined by their sucking their mothers; so your hijo is literally, “the one who sucks.” And, some might argue, even affiliates themselves usually do suck!

Atropellar and Troop

Atropellar (“to knock over, to knock down” in Spanish) comes to Spanish borrowed from the French, troupe, as in, a troop of soldiers or more common these days, a comedy troop.

Although we can see the tr-p root in the English, French, and Spanish words, the question remains: how did a group turn into a knocking-over? The answer is that, large groups of rowdy drunk men almost always result in… knocking lots of people over! This is not a new concept–the word itself attests to the antiquity of drunken revelry!

Apretar and Pectoral

Apretar (Spanish for “to squeeze”) comes from the Latin pectus, meaning, “chest.” Think of having a heart attack: your chest feels squeezed. It’s not a coincidence that doctors in the USA today still call a heart attack, angina pectoris — that is, “angina of the chest” since pectoral in English today still means “relating to the chest”! The p-t maps to the p-ct, with the -ct- just simplifying into its first -c- sound.

Related: see also Pecho/Pectoral. From the same pectus root, we see other interesting words, following the ch/ct pattern.

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