Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Gustar – Disgust, Gusto

The common Spanish word gustar (to like — actually, literally, “to be pleasing to”) sounds completely different from the English “like” and “pleasing.” But it is closer to the English than it seems.

It comes from the same gustare, meaning, “to taste.” Interestingly, as the Latin turned into Spanish, the word became more euphemistic: to “taste” turned into to “like”, which is much better.

From the same Latin root, we also get some similar English words:

  • Disgust — The Latin dis- means to dislike (dis-like!), so disgust is literally the opposite of gustar: to not gustar!
  • Gusto — To do something with gusto is to do it with enthusiasm. And enthusiasm is just a manifestation of liking or being pleasing — you only do something with gusto if you really like it!

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.

Encontrar – Acquaint

Although encontrar, the common Spanish word for “to meet”, doesn’t sound like its English counterpart, it does have an unexpected first cousin: acquaint.

Both come from the same Latin root for the same (in contra), although the English one comes to us via the French influence: acointier.

Thus, we can see that the en-c-n-t-r maps to a-cqu-n-t somewhat closely: the final -r disappeared as the French word evolved into the English word, and the opening en- (in- in Latin) became the simpler a-.

Someone you meet, after all, is indeed your acquaintance.

There is, however, another English word that is closer to encontrar although perhaps less obvious until you hear it: encounter!

Olor and Odor

Olor (Spanish for “smell”) comes from the  similar Latin olere “to give off a smell”. Odor and Redolent (which is just a bad smell, after all!) come from the same root.

The curious part is the o-l to o-d transition. This is merely a vestige of the influence of the long-dead Sabine dialects of late Latin. Yes, the same Sabines who were raped. They did transition their l-s to d-s.

Llama – Flame

Latin words that began with the fl- tended to become ll- in Spanish. This is consistent with the pattern in many other hard-constant-plus-L words, like pl- and cl-.

Excellent example: the Latin for “flame” is flamma. This evolved into the different-but-similar Spanish for the same: llama.

Who would’ve thunk?

Abrir and Overt, Aperture

Abrir, Spanish for “to open,” comes from the Latin aperire, for the same.

Less obviously, from the same Latin root we get two similar words in English: overt and aperture. Both are openings — and overt is a very metaphorical opening although, etymologically, a literal one!

In overt, we can see the o-v-r map to the a-b-r of abrir, and in aperture the a-p-r map to the a-b-r of abrir.

Marchitar and Morning

Marchitar (Spanish for “to fade; to wither”) comes from the Latin marcere (“to decay, wither”) which itself comes from the ancient Proto-Indo-European root merk which also means the same, “to decay, wither.”

From the Proto-Indo-European root merk, we get the English… morning (via Old German — just remember the German morgen!).

Morning, after all, is just the end of the decay of the moon!

The m-r root is clearly visible in both!

Olvidar and Obliterate

The Spanish for “to forget”, olvidar, has an interesting cousin in English: obliterate.

Both come from the same Latin root, obliterare, which means, “to cause to disappear; erase; blot out”, but was used in Latin slang to mean “to be forgotten.” You can see this in the o-v-d of olvidar mapping to the o-(b)-l-t of obliterate.

That which is forgotten is, in a sense, obliterated. As the Greeks reminded us: Chronos was a monster who ate his own children. All shall be forgotten!

Obliterare, in turn comes from the Latin root ob– (“against”) and littera (“letter”). Erasing is really just going against the letter itself, after all!

Pronto and Prompt

Pronto (Spanish for “soon”) comes from the Latin promptus, from “brought forth”. From the same word is the English…. prompt.

Thus, we can see the pr-n-t mapping to the pr-m-t, since the n/m are often transformed from one to the other, as languages change.

Cielo and Celestial

Both the Spanish cielo (“sky”) and the English celestial come from the same root: the Latin caelestis, meaning, “sky.” The c-l root is evident in both.

Not all patterns are subtle; we just need to make the connection!

The Spanish for “light blue,” celeste, comes from the same root, for a reason so self-evident that it’s not worth saying. Just look up.

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:

patterns to help us learn spanish:

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