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Árbol and Herb

Árbol, Spanish for “tree” comes from the Latin arbor, for the same. We can see the Latin to Spanish evolution easily recognizing the common r-to-l swap, where the “r” and “l” sounds in many languages are often interchanged.

From the same Latin root, we get a variety of related English words, such as herb and arbor, as in Ann Arbor, home of the great University of Michigan. We also get some other Spanish words, such as hierba, meaning “grass”.

The pattern is easy to spot in the vowel-r-b root: a-r-b for árbol and e-r-b for herb.

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.

Tornar and Tornado

Tornar (“to turn”) has given us directly an English word: tornado. A tornado turns, doesn’t it? Since this word came into English directly from Spanish – the word is unchanged from its Spanish participle form. We can see the t-r root clearly in all. And, if we go back a bit further, both words are also related to the English… turn.

Sierra and Serrated

Sierra (Spanish for “mountain range” — think of the Sierra mountains out west!) comes from the Latin serra, meaning “saw” (no, not the verb; the tool you use to cut wood apart!).

From the same root we get the English… serrated. Think of the serrated edges of cut paper! It does look a bit like a mountain, doesn’t it?

The s-rr root is clearly visible in both.

Arena – Dirt and Stadium

The Spanish arena means “sand” or “dirt” while the English arena means, well, arena (something similar to a stadium). Nothing to do with sand!

Or so it seems…

Interestingly, both come from the same root: the Latin harena which meant “a place a combat, usually a sandy place” but came from an older, Etruscan word meaning, “a sandy place”. From the older meaning we get the Spanish sand, but from the Roman variation — apparently, the Romans often fought on sand! — we get the newer, English meaning.

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.

Segun and Second

Según (Spanish for “according to…”) comes from the Latin secundum, meaning the same. Secundum itself comes from the Latin… sequor, meaning, “to follow” — just like the Spanish for the same, seguir!

Thus, we can see in all these variations, not only the s-g-r or s-c-r root (the g/c are easily and often interchanged!) but also the commonality with the English… second, that also comes from the same origin.

Second, after all, follows the first.

Soler and Insolent

Insolent derives from the Latin prefix in– (meaning, “the opposite of,” of course) and the Latin root solere, meaning, “to be used to (doing something).” So, an insolent man is literally someone who is used to not doing the things he is expected to do. That sounds pretty insolent to me!

From the same Latin root, we get the Spanish soler meaning “to be used to (doing something)” just like the original Latin root, before the negation. So next time you hear in Spanish, Suelo (“I’m used to…”) you should think, “Don’t be insolent!”. No one will get the pun other than you, me, and our fellow ForNerds fans.

Note that this has no relation to the Spanish suelo meaning, “ground”, which comes from the Latin solum.

Zapato and Sabotage

No one quite knows the origin of zapato, Spanish for “shoe.” But the same word — or words from the same root — are still used in Portuguese, French, Italian, and even Arabic and, most shocking of all, Basque (shocking since Basque is unrelated to any other known language).

Most interesting, though, is that from the old French for shoe, savate, which is from the same root as zapato as we can see with the z-p to s-v mapping, do we get the English, sabotage.

Indeed, they say sabotage comes from the word for “shoe” since French workers used to throw their (wooden) shoes into machinery in order to sabotage their factory.

Mientras and Interim

Mientras (Spanish for “while”), comes from the Latin dum interim, meaning, “in the meantime,” which itself comes from the earlier basic prefix, inter-. Interim has entered formal English speech meaning the same, of course.

The n-t-r root is visible in both mientras and interim — but it is less obvious because of the m– opening sound, from the lost prefix dum (“out of”).


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