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Pelo and Fight

Pelo (Spanish for “hair”) is a surprisingly militaristic word. Pelo comes from the Latin for the same, pilus–a hairy word, indeed.

But pelo, in the ancient language become a common word to mean a tiny amount, like we might say a “spec” in modern English. Apparently, the Romans lost their hair early!

So, as a euphemism for “a tiny amount”, it became the standard word in Latin for… a small group of soldiers: a pilum.

Then, over the centuries, the word for a group of soldiers came to mean the word for… fighting. Surprise, surprise. Therefore, that’s why the Spanish for “to fight” is… pelear.

Thus pelo (“hair”) and pelear (“to fight”) are almost the same word, in Spanish! Who would’ve thunk!

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.

Rencor and Rancid

The Spanish for “anger,” rencor, has a fun English cousin: rancid.

Both words come from the Latin rancere, meaning “to stink.”

Thus, literally, both rotten food stinks and, anger stinks.

We can see the relationship clearly if we see the r-n-c mapping between the words.

Mil and Mile

The Spanish for a “thousand,” mil, comes from the Latin milia, meaning the same.

Here’s the interesting part: the ancient Romans would put a stake in the ground every thousand paces outside the city, to mark how far away you go. And that’s why, from the Latin word for a thousand, we get the English… mile.

Bonus: million comes from the same root–and literally means, “a thousand thousand!”

Demasiado and Master

The Spanish demasiado (“enough!”) comes from the Latin adverb magis, meaning “more!”.

From that same root magis, we also get the English… master.

It goes to show you: a master is really someone who, as Depeche Mode said, just can’t get enough.  So they keep going and going and going, until they’ve become a master.

The m-s root maps clearly to both words.

Romper and Corrupt

The Spanish for “to break”, romper, has a curious English cousin: corruption.

Corrupt comes from the Latin root com- (which just intensifies the following phrase) plus the Latin rumpere, meaning “to break” – just like the almost-identical Spanish romper (unsurprisingly, since the Spanish is descended from the Latin).

The connection is obvious if we see the unchanged r-m-p root in both words.

That which is corrupt, after all, is — definitionally — just broken.

Eje and Axle

The Spanish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, axis. The English axle comes from the same common ancestor as the Latin axis, the proto-indo-european root *aks– also meaning the same.

The Spanish eje is easy to understand if we remember that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the ancient languages became the throat-clearing -j- sound in Spanish. Thus, the e-j of eje maps to the a-x of axle pretty clearly.

It’s interesting how such a simple word has remained mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps, the axle is one of the most fundamental discoveries in human history. It is, after all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civilization.

Todo and Total

Todo (Spanish for “all; everything”) comes from the Latin for the same, totus. From that same Latin root, we also get the English… total. Anything that’s total is really all-encompassing, right? Hannah Arendt would certainly say that about a totalitarian government!

We can see the t-d to t-t mapping very clearly!

Batir, Batido and Battery, Batter

Batir (Spanish meaning, “to beat”) and its very common derivative, batido (meaning “milkshake” — you beat the ingredients together after all!) both come from the Latin battuere meaning the same, “to beat.”

From that same Latin root we get the English battery — think of the phrase, assault and battery! (Over time, the meaning shifted from beating, to artillery — that which beats the enemy to the ground, literally! — and then from there, to the electric power that powers the artillery, and from there, our more common modern definition of the word.) And batter, like the mixture you make while cooking — that’s you beating the eggs together, right?

The b-t root is visible in all these words.

Semana and September

Semana (Spanish for “week”) comes from the Latin septimana for the same. Septimana itself comes from the Latin root septem meaning… seven. There are, after all, seven days in the week–by definition!

From the same root, we get the English September. But something isn’t right. Isn’t September the ninth month, not the seventh month? Huh?

The fascinating explanation is that the ancient calendar had ten months, the first of which is… March. So, the numbering is all two behind. This explains not only why September is two off, but so is October (from the root oct- meaning “eight”, not “ten”) as well as November (nov– for “nine”, not “eleven”) and December (dec– for “ten”, not “twelve.”)


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