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Reluctant and Luchar

Luchar, Spanish for “to fight”, doesn’t sound like its cousin reluctant – although of course everyone is reluctant to fight. But the relationship is closer than it seems.

Reluctant comes from the Latin roots re- (“against”) and luctari (“to fight”). Reluctance is to fight against what should be done — literally.

From luctari, we also get the Spanish for exactly the same, “to fight.”

But they don’t sound similar. How did luchar evolve?

Interestingly, in most Latin words that had a -ct- sound, this -ct- sound evolved into -ch- as Latin evolved into Spanish. Think about night/noche and eight/octagon. The same pattern explains luctari turning into luchar.

We see this relationship clearly with the l-ct to l-ch mapping between the two.

Ligar and Allegiance

Allegiance is a very Roman idea: strong loyalty to your team, your empire.

So it’s not surprising that the word itself comes from the Latin, ligare — to bind. Your allegiance is what binds you or ties you to your team.

From the Latin ligare, we get the Spanish… ligar, meaning the same, tying or binding!

Thus, the l-g root is clearly visible in both versions.

Apostar – Position, Posit

Apostar, Spanish for “to bet”, sounds nothing like bet or any related English word.

But it turns out to be a close cousin of Posit and Position: Betting is indeed just an extreme form of putting forth a position or positing something — literally putting your money where your mouth is.

All come from the same Latin, positionem, which come from the Latin root verb ponere (“to put”)  from which we also get the Spanish for the same, poner.

Desarrollar and Roll, Control

Desarrollar (Spanish for “to develop”) comes from the Latin roots des– (“reversal”) and rotulus (“a roll of paper”).

This implies a few interesting questions. First, how do we get from a “roll of paper” to “developing”? The story is fun: the Latin rotulus (“roll of paper”) evolved into the Spanish arrollar, meaning “to crush, destroy”. Perhaps because you need to destroy a tree to create a scroll? Perhaps paper destroys the sacred oral tradition? Perhaps the words on paper have the power to destroy? Perhaps destruction is caused by modernity, by the wheel itself (since rotulus was often used to mean “wheel”)?

The conservativeness of the word, however, doubles down. Over time, however, it became more common to use arrollar with the negative (des-) prefix. So, development in Spanish is really just not destroying. The language reveals a far more fundamentally conservative bias than politics ever could.

From the Latin rotulus, we also get the English roll (in the sense of, a roll of toiletpaper) as well as control — which itself comes from contra (“against”) and rotulus. So, control is just what you do in order to fight against the wheel? The more prosaic explanation, however, comes from the rolls being used to record business balances in medieval times, and the control was to double verify each datum. Not as metaphorical but words have layers of meaning, buried deeply under each other, we must not forget.

Golpe and Coup

The Spanish for “a hit”, Golpe, comes from the Greek for the same, Colaphus. We can see the transition in the g-l-p of golpe mapping to the c-l-ph of colaphus.

The more interesting part, however, is that, from the same root we also get the French, and English, word coup — as in, a coup d’état. Coup is just colaphus, but with the middle -l- sound disappearing in French.

So, a coup d’état is just a big hit against the state!

Leche – Lactose

Ah, one of our all-time favorite patterns and examples: leche, the common Spanish word meaning, “milk.”

Leche is a first cousin of the English lactose via a very interesting pattern: the -ct- to -ch- pattern.

Both come from the same Latin root, lactatio (literally, “suckling.”) The -ct- in that root remained unchanged as it entered English (because it entered via the sophisticated French) but that sound almost always turned into a -ch- sound as Latin evolved into Spanish. Thus the l-ct maps to the l-ch almost exactly.

Many other awesome words follow the same pattern: think octagon/ocho, for example. Some more coming up soon (or see the pattern page linked below).

Través and Convert

Través — in the classic phrase, a través de (“going through”) — comes from the Latin transversus, which is just the prefix trans– (“through”) with vertere (“to turn”).

Here is where it gets interesting. From the same root vertere, we get all of the vert– English words, such as: convert, invert, divert, vertebrae. All do involve turning, in one form or another.

This one doesn’t have a mapping that is easy, since only the v- survives, since the trans– lost the -ns- and the r-t-r of vertere disappeared, leaving us with just… v. But we should remember that the v-, and much more often the v-r or v-r-t is just that something is turning, converting into something else.

Autopista and Pizza

Autopista (Spanish for “highway”) comes from the words auto– (you can guess what that one means!) and pista, which is Spanish for “track” (think, train tracks, or the track that runners run on).

But where does pista come from? The Latin pistus (“to pound” — think of the motion of pounding something into dust as being a bit like the running around the track! Pounding the pavement!). From this Latin pistus, we get a few English words including… pizza (via Italian, of course! Think of the pounding needed to make the pizza dough!) and piston (the piston engine going in circles is a bit like running as well!).

Thus, we can see the p-st of autopista maps to the p-zz of pizza and the p-st of piston.

Guerra and War

The Spanish for “war” guerra doesn’t sound like it would actually be the same word. But it is!

The Latin words beginning with the harsh gu- sound generally have the same root and are parallel with the English w- words. Think, William and Guillermo, for example. The gu- and w- sounds do sound alike, if you say both in a thick way.

Guerra and War are another great example of this pattern. The English war comes from the French guerre, which in turn comes from the old German verwirren — meaning “to confuse people.” War is confusing indeed and confusing people is indeed a form of warfare.

Caballo and Chivalry

The Spanish for “horse” caballo, comes from the Latin for the same. From that Latin root, we get a bunch of English words including:

  • Cavalry — Cavalry, after all, is just a group of knights on horses!
  • Chivalry — Yes, from the same root as “horse” we get the word for the behavior of a gentleman! The “knight in shining armor” is the cross-roads between the fighter turning into a gentleman.

All of these share the same c-v-l root (which turns into c-b-l in Spanish).


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