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Traer and Traction, Tractor

The Spanish traer, meaning “to bring,” comes from the Latin trahere, meaning “to drag.”

From the Latin root, we also get a few related English words that aren’t obvious at first glance:

  • Tractor: What is a tractor if not a machine that brings or drags machinery around the plot of farmland?
  • Traction: What is traction if not something moving so quick that it drags everyone else up along with it?

Note that the -h- vanished when the Latin turned into Spanish but became a -ct- when the Latin became English. Thus the t-r-[nothing] of traer maps to the t-r-ct of the English words.

Nombre and Nominal

The usual Spanish word for “name”, nombre, is very closely related to the English word nominal, in an interesting way. Not only does nominally mean “relating to the name”, but there is an interesting etymological pattern between the words.

Latin words with an m-n sound usually turned the m-n into an mbr sound as Latin evolved into Spanish. Thus, we see curious patterns like hominem becoming hombre, and famine and hambre being closely linked.

The same pattern applies here. The Latin nominalis turned into the Spanish nombre and the English nominal — thus the n-m-n of nominal maps exactly to the n-mbr of nombre!

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!

Vestirse and Vest, Invest, Travesty, Transvestite

Vestirse (Spanish for, “to get dressed”) comes from the Latin for the same, Vestire. Some fun English words that come from the same root include:

Vest– It makes sense since it is an article of clothing!

Invest– This originally meant, “to clothe” and was used in a metaphorical sense meaning, “to surround”. Your investors do surround you every moment–literally!

Travesty– This one is less obvious. Travesty originally meant, “dressed in a way to purposefully look ridiculous”. Ah! It does tie-in to clothing!

Transvestite– Dressed in the clothing of… oh you know how this one ends 🙂

Estremecer and Tremor

The Spanish estremecer (“to shake”) comes from the Latin prefix ex– (which more commonly means “out of”, but can also add emphasis, as in “thoroughly”), with the Latin verb tremere which means the same: “to shake”.

From the same Latin root, we get the English… tremors. That is when the earth shakes, after all?

We can see the tr-m root clearly in both the Spanish and English words. But it’s easy to miss because of the misleading es prefix!

Amenazar and Mine

Amenazar (Spanish for “to threaten”) has a curious origin: from the Latin mine, meaning, “lead” or sometimes “silver.” Remember, this was the material that weapons — swords, arrowheads, etc — were made of. If you don’t comply with my threat–I will hurt you!

Although this isn’t directly related to the English mine (the place where you get silver!), they might have the same original root–and it is an easy mnemonic. After all, we mine silver in the mines.

Ayudar and Young

Although ayudar (Spanish for “to help”) sounds little like the English “young”, both have the same great-grandfather.

Ayudar comes from the Latin adiutare also meaning “to help”, which in turn comes from ad- (meaning “towards”) and iuvenis, meaning “young”. To help, after all, is — at its core — what those with strength (the young) do for the elderly and those who can’t help themselves. Iuvenis is often written with the modern Latin-ish spelling of Juvenis — ahhh! Think Juvenal!

The Latin iuvenis comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *yeu-, which means “youth, strength”. From that root we get the Germanic jungas, from which we get the English young.

So youth, seemingly everywhere, is strongly tied to strength; and strength is tied to helping those who need it.

Cannabis – Hemp

Today is time for what is perhaps my all-time favorite example of how sound patterns change over time. Here we go, no more delays:

The Proto-Indo-European sound k- changed into the h- sound into German (then English) — but it remained the k- sound (often spelled with c-) into Latin then Spanish. Thus we get many great parallels we’ve discussed before, such as head/cabeza. Another example of the same pattern:

The English hemp, for everyone’s favorite weed to smoke. The Spanish for the same, which we also say in English, is cannabis.

Now look closely: if we remember that the h- in the Germanic/English words maps to the c- in Latinate/Spanish words, then it becomes very clear that the h-m-p of hemp maps the c-n-b of cannabis. The m/n and p/b cross and change very easily between each other, so those sound changes are much more obvious.

Who would’ve thunk!

Torta and Tart

Torta (Spanish for “cake”) comes from the Latin torta, meaning “a loaf of bread that’s round”. Bread, after all, was a treat, until sugar conquered our diet!

From that same Latin root, we also get the English… tart. A pop tart is a type of cake, after all!

The t-r-t root is clearly visible in both.

Rechazar and Cazar

The Spanish rechazar (“to reject”) doesn’t sound like anything in English. At least not obviously.

The word, however, comes from more basic Spanish word cazar (“to hunt”), which we’ve previously discussed here — related to the English “chase.”

But how did the word for “hunt” become “reject”?

Well, lets think about it: you hunt after your opponent, your enemy, the big bad bear you’re trying to kill. You hunt after that which you reject. Hunting could then be seen as the strongest form of rejection!


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