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Jabón – Soap

Soap and the Spanish for the same, jabón, sound like they have nothing in common. But sounds can be deceiving.

Both come from the same root: the Latin sebum, meaning “grease”.

How can such different words be so related? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its variations (sh-, ch- and sy- for example) usually became, under the arabic influence, a j- sound in Spanish but remained more intact in English.

Thus, the s-p of soap maps almost exactly to the j-b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are often easily interchanged as well.

Less fun is also noting that, from the same Latin root, meaning “grease” we also get seborrhea (a medical condition of having too much grease on your skin).

Amigo and Friend

Today’s etymology is simple and to the point — and, for me at least, was completely unexpected:

Amigo (Spanish for “friend”), comes from the Latin amare, “to love,” a common word we see everywhere, as in amor and amante.

So, a “friend” is literally someone you love.

The best part is that there is an exact parallel to English as well: the English friend comes from the Old Germanic word frijojanan meaning… “to love”. From this Germanic root meaning “to love” we get various distantly related words in English, like Friday (the day of Love — just like how in Spanish, viernes is named after Venus, the goddess of love) as well as freedom. Freedom is something we love… just like our friend.

Involucrar and Envelope

The Spanish involucrar (“to get involved with”) comes from the Celtic voloper (“to wrap up.”) Isn’t getting “involved” with something just getting yourself wrapped up in it?

From that same Celtic root, we also get the English… envelope. An envelope just wraps up the letter, right? It even envelops it!

We can see the i-n-v-l of involucrar maps to the e-n-v-l of envelope.

Esconder and Abscond

Esconder (Spanish for “to hide”) comes from the Latin ab– (“away”) and condere (“to put together”). Hiding is, after all, just a form of putting yourself away from everyone else!

From the same root we get the less common English abscond, “to secretly run away to avoid capture.” That is just hiding–but taken to the extreme!

Jefe – Chief

Chief jefe spanish english

Chief, and the Spanish for the same, Jefe, both come from the same root: the French chef, which means the same.

But this is odd as they sound so different! How are they related?

It’s not obvious, but it’s easy once you understand the pattern: The Latin sound “sh” and very similar sounds (such as the “ch” and “sy”) almost always became a “j” in Spanish. Like syrup and jarabe. Not obvious!

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”!

Guillermo – William

The “W” sound is a classic Germanic and Anglo-saxon sound. Harsh, it is.

Interestingly, the Germanic and English words with the w- become the gu- sound as these words evolved into Spanish. Yes, in this case, the Germanic and English words — centuries ago — made its way back into Spanish rather than the more common pattern of vice-versa!

One example: the name William maps to the Spanish name… Guillermo. I first discovered this because I was once in a bookstore in Buenos Aires and there was a book “Enrique IV” by “Guillermo Shakespeare”. I needed about a minute to figure out what was happening (Enrique is Spanish for Henry).

Lavar and Deluge

The Spanish lavar (“to wash”) comes from the almost-identical Latin, lavare.

From the same Latin root, we get the English… deluge. What is a deluge of, well, anything if not a flood of it?

Of course, this also means that the English antediluvian (literally, “before the flood”!) also comes from the same root!

We can see the parallel more clearly if we note that the l-v root of the Spanish lavar maps to the (d)-l-u of deluge, with the -u- turning into its cousin -u- during the process.

Madrugada and Mature

The Spanish for “the hours before sunrise,” Madrugada, is a cousin of the English word mature. Both come from the same Latin root maturare (surprisingly, “to mature”) and you see this because the m-d-r of madrugada maps to the m-t-r of mature.

But what is the connection between the two? To mature, in English and Latin, has various meanings and implications: a fruit matures, a child matures, and in all cases, they just grow really quickly. And those wee hours after the depth of the night, before the sunrise itself (amanecer in Spanish)–those hours always go by really quickly. The nightmare of the night matures–literally!–into the light of the day!

Correr and Current

The Spanish correr, “to run,” comes from the Latin for the same: currere.

In a “It’s not obvious until you realize it, then it’s completely obvious moment!”, this is related to the English: current.

Although current obviously does not share the same literal meaning of running, conceptually it is very similar: what is happening right now is what is running or flowing by.

So time doesn’t fly; it flows past, right now — literally.

Not to mention, think of the way they always talk about electricity: the running current.

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