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Cuñado and Cognate

Cuñado, Spanish for “brother-in-law,” comes from the Latin cognatus, from which we get the near-identical English cognate. How can two words so similar mean something so different?

The Latin root cognatus itself came from the roots com– (meaning “together”) and gnasci (meaning “to be born”); thus, literally, “born together.” So, two words that are cognates are — etymologically-speaking — words that are born together. And brothers-in-law are two men who are not brothers but were, in effect at least, born together as well.

Note also that this is an example of the pattern whereby Latin words with a -gn- generally became an ñ in Spanish. Thus the c-gn-t of cognate maps to the c-ñ-d of cuñado.

Caballo and Chivalry

The Spanish for “horsecaballo, 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).

Empatar and Pact

Empatar (Spanish for “to tie” — in the sense of, both teams scoring equally) comes from the Latin pactum for, well, “pact, deal”.

The connection between teams being tied and a pact is interesting: both imply an equality. A pact is a deal that both teams benefit from equally, because if they didn’t, they just wouldn’t enter into the pact! Without equality between the sides, it’s not a pact; it’s a “treaty”!

The p-t of empatar maps to the p-ct of pact, with the -ct- sound being simplified into just -t-, as often happened.

Sala and Salon, Saloon

Sala, the common Spanish word meaning “room,” comes from the same root as two very similar English words: salon and saloon. All come from the old German sal meaning “hall” or “house” and thus it’s an interesting example of how words degrade overtime: something big and grand like a hall or a house is now just your little back room.

The s-l root is clearly visible in all variations.

Jeringa – Syringe

Jeringa, Spanish for Syringe, sounds like it has nothing in common with its English counter-part. But they are literally the same word.

The Latin sh- sound often evolved into the j- sound in Spanish — originally retaining the sh- sound but eventually, under Arabic’s influence, transforming to the throat-clearing sound we know and love.

This explains how both jeringa and syringe derive from the same root: the Latin siringa, itself from the Greek syringa. The sy- sound is a variation of the sh- sound and therefore the sy-r-n-g of syringe maps to the j-r-n-g of jeringa.

Viernes – Friday

Friday viernes spanish english

Continuing in our days-of-the-week series, there is finally Friday — the night we love to go out on. Indeed, this is basically the meaning of this weekday name, in both Spanish and English!

The Spanish viernes for the last day before the Weekend comes from Latin for the day of the Goddess “Venus”, the Goddess of Love, of course (who went by the name of Aphrodite in Greece).

And the English Friday comes from the old Germanic for the Day of Fryga — Fryga was the Germanic Goddess of Love, their equivalent of Venus!

We can see the parallel with the V-R in viernes and the F-R in Friday. The Germanic F-s also often maps to Latin V-s.

Buitre and Vulture

The Spanish buitre doesn’t obviously look like the English word it means: “vulture,” both of which are from the Latin vulturis.

But looking below the surface, we see the similarity: the b-t-r of buitre maps to the v-(l)-t-r of “vulture.”

This isn’t obvious at first for two reasons. First, the b- to v- transition: the sounds are identical in Spanish and often interchanged with each other, so it makes sense that they swap here.

But more subtly, the -l- between the vowels disappeared in the Spanish version, with the ulu becoming u-i. The vanishing of the -l- between the vowels is much more characteristic of Portuguese than Spanish (see almost every example in Portuguese, like comparing the Spanish vuelo with the Portuguese voo — an observation I first made in the Rio de Janeiro airport years ago!).

Mismo and Lorem Ipsum

The Spanish mismo for “same; self” comes from the Latin metipsimus meaning “same”. That word, in turn, comes from the combination of the Latin roots: met (just giving emphasis) and ipse (“himself; itself”) and the suffix -issismus (also adding emphasis; think “-ism” in English).

Here’s where it gets interesting: from that same Latin root, we get… lorem ipsum, the Latin phrase (still used in English!) that we use as the filler text when we don’t know what else to write, before the real wording comes in. Where does lorem ipsum itself come from? Well, Google around, there’s a lot written about that; but the exact phrase itself means “pain onto himself” (with the lorem short for dolorem — thus related to the Spanish dolor for “pain”!). So, we can see how the ipse that turned into mismo also retained without change in lorem ipsum.

Not to mention… ipse dixit!

Entender and Extend

Entender (Spanish for, “to understand”; and much more common than the other word for the same, comprender) comes from the Latin tendere, “to stretch out.”

From this root, we get the English extend — which is just a form of stretching.

We can also see how stretching became understanding if we remember that, to really understand something, you need to stretch your brain and creativity to the limits.

The t-n-d root is clear in both words as well. From the same root, we get other similar words that are metaphors for stretching out: intend, to tender, and even tentative

Empujar and Push

The Spanish empujar (“to push”) has the same common ancestor as the English for the same, push: the Latin pulsare.

Pulsare meant, in Latin, “to beat”. A push is a sort of beat, in both senses: a punch and, a punch happening over and over again!

From the same root we also get the English, to pulse, of course. As does… impulse. Yes, an impulse is indeed a strong punch!

The sound here is a variation of the sh-to-j pattern, where variations of the s/x/sh/soft-g sound in Latin turned into the “j” in Spanish (via the Arabic influence) but remained the same as it transformed from Latin into educated English. Hence the “sh” sound in “push”!


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