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Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Abarcar and Brachial

Abarcar (“to cover, take in, take on”) comes from the Latin brachium for “shoulder.”

From the same Latin root brachium, we get the English brachial: as in your brachial artery, the artery that runs down your shoulder!

The b-r root is clearly visible from both.

Unsurprisingly, from the same root we also get the Spanish for shoulder… brazo as well as the English…. bra.

Lado, Lateral, Latitude

The Spanish lado (“side”) comes from the Latin latus (“wide”).

There are many surprising English words from the same Latin root. “Surprising” largely because the l-t sound was preserved in English but evolved into the similar l-d sound in Spanish–thus making the connection less obvious but still interesting.

Some examples include:

  • Lateral, and its variations such as, unilateral, bilateral and multilateral.
  • Latitude: the latitude is literally the width from one side to the other.
  • Dilate: a dilation is indeed a widening.
  • Relate: literally means, “to go back to the side”; relating to someone is going to their side of the fence!
  • Elation: From the Latin ex-latus (and ex- is, of course, “above”); thus literally, “rising above the sides”.
  • Collateral: From com + latus (com is Latin for “with, together”, like the Spanish con-); thus literally meaning, “side by side”.
  • Translate: Since trans– is Latin for “across”, a translation is literally, “bringing something from one side across to another.”

Yerno and Genus

Yerno (Spanish for “son-in-law”) at first sounds like nothing in English.

But let’s look closer! The g- and y- sounds are often mixed up between languages and even regions that speak the same language; in fact, the Old English g- transformed itself into a y- over time (compare the German gestern with the English yesterday, for example). And the n-r sound not uncommonly swaps to become an r-n sound; the two are easily mixed up, especially in slurred speech.

Thus, the bizarre-sounding y-r-n root of yerno maps to the g-n-r root of generic (Maybe sons-in-law are more generic in Spanish cultures than English ones?) as well as genus (which lost the final r-) — yes, genus as in Latin and now scientific classification of your spot in the universe! The son-in-law, I guess, is destined to be the son-in-law as his lot-in-life.

Miercoles – Wednesday

Wednesday miercoles spanish english

Miercoles (Spanish for Wednesday) has a fun parallel between both languages.

Miercoles is named after Mercury — the Roman god of speed. Wednesday is named after Woden — the Germanic god of speed!

Cuidar and Agitate

Cuidar, Spanish for “to take care of” or “to be careful” and commonly used in the warning cuidado, comes from the Latin cogitare, “to think”: cogito ergo sum, as they say.

The Latin cogitare comes from the Latin prefix com with agitare, “to turn in the mind” which comes from agere, “to move”. From this we get the English… agitate!

So, we have an interesting evolution: from moving to thinking (a moving of the mind) to… being careful. Being careful is then the same thing as being thoughtful — at least in Spanish.

Interestingly, the original root has been mostly lost in the modern cuidar, with the c-a-g-t root turning into c-d. But you can still see the outline at the extremes.

Saber and Sage

Saber (Spanish for “to know”, in the sense of “knowing a fact”–not “knowing a person”) comes from the Latin sapere, meaning “to taste.” I guess you can taste a fact more easily than a person!

From the same Latin root, we get (via French) the English word… sage. Sagacity is a form of wisdom — which is a form of knowledge.

The s-b to s-g mapping is clear, and the -b- and -g- have similar soft sounds.

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

Nerds love to pattern-match, to find commonalities among everything. Our approach to learning languages revolves (the same -volve- that is in “volver”, to “return”) around connecting the Spanish words to the related English words via their common etymologies – to find the linguistic patterns, because these patterns become easy triggers to remember what words mean. Want to know more? Email us and ask:
morgan@westegg.com

patterns to help us learn spanish:

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For Nerds Learning Spanish via Etymologies