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Aval and Avalanche

The Spanish aval (“guarantee, as in a bank guarantee”) comes from the French aval, meaning “downward”. The French word comes from the Latin vallem, meaning valley — a valley does slope downward, after all. From that same root, we get the English… avalanche, which is an overwhelming amount of the valley tumbling downwards!

But all this leaves the question: how did the word for “downward” turn into the word for a “loan guarantee”? That part is unknown. But we could speculate that the creditor calling upon a guarantor to pay in the case of a default is a low point for the borrower. Or perhaps, you need a guarantor only when you’re at a low point yourself. Or…? Since we don’t know the history, we can create infinite variations that sound like they might make sense, as a fun exercise.

You can see the a-v-l root in all the variations clearly.

Facil – Difficult

The everyday Spanish word facil, meaning “easy” is the exact opposite — literally — of the English, difficult.

Both come from the latin facere, meaning, “to do” (hence the Spanish hacer and the English fact, as well).

So, facil — easy — is literally, doing! Doing is easy, we hope.

Difficult is really just de-facil : that is, not facil. Now that is easy, indeed!

The connection becomes clear when we remember the f-c-l root in both words!

Lluvia and Pluvial

The Spanish lluvia (for “rain”) comes Latin pluvia for the same — a change that may not be obvious because the -pl- of Latin sometimes became a -ll- in Spanish.

From the same root, we get the sophisticated English word pluvial which means… lots of rain!

The ll-v of lluvia clearly maps to the p-l of pluvial.

Morder – Remorse

The Spanish morder, “to bite”, sounds completely different than anything in English (except for obscure SAT words like mordant – which literally means, biting!).

But who would’ve thunk that it’s related to remorse.

Remorse comes from the Latin remordere, which means, “to bite back” – from the earlier re- (the prefix meaning “back” in this case) and mordere, from which we get, morder.

The remorseful do bite back indeed!

Disheveled and Cabello

Disheveled — as in, having messy hair! — comes from the same Latin root as the Spanish cabello, meaning “hair” or “a head of hair.” Both of these come from the Latin capillus, meaning hair.

We can see the pattern more clearly if we remember the dis- prefix at the beginning of disheveled: thus the (d)-sh-v-l of disheveled maps to the c-p-ll of capello.

Also from the same Latin root capillus, we get the English capillary. A capillary, after all, looks just like a thin strand of hair.

Regalo and Gala, Gallant

Regalo, Spanish for “gift,” comes from the Old French galer (“to rejoice; make merry”), with a re- prefix added for emphasis.

From the same root we get the the English gala, as well as gallant.

It makes sense: a gala is a big, merry, ball after all. Gallant is a bit more subtle: it meant, in old French, courteous — but earlier, it had originally meant, “amusing, entertaining,” from which we can see a clear relationship to making merry.

So it is noteworthy, therefore, that, good manners (being courteous) originally began as… being fun.

And all share the same g-l root to make the connection clear.

Ladrón – Burglar

The Spanish ladrón, for thief, sounds unrelated to any English word.

But, it does have an interesting connection to the English for the same, Burglar.

Burglar comes from the Latin burgus, which meant “castle” or a “fortified town” — think about the -burg ending in many place names, like Pittsburgh or Edinborough.

But, if burglar comes from burgus, then where did the -l- in the middle come from?

Well, the -l- was inserted slowly over time under the influence of the Latin for thief, latro. The word for “thief” was, unconsciously, made to sound similar to the other word for thief! And from latro we get, directly, the Spanish ladrón.

Thus, although burglar isn’t directly descended from ladrón, they are incestuous cousins.

Ubicar and Ubiquitous

Ubicar (Spanish for “to put somewhere” or “to place”) comes from the Latin ubi, meaning “where.”

From the Latin ubi, we get a bunch of location-related words in English, such as, ubiquitous — which actually means, “everywhere!” Something that is ubiquitous really is everywhere.

The u-b-c of ubicar maps clearly to the u-b-qu of ubiquitous.

Ajedrez – Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

Camisa – Heaven

The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?

Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).

But they sound so different. How can that be?

The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.

Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.


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