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Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Ambos and Ambition, Ambiance

The English Ambition comes from the Latin root ambi– (meaning “around”) plus the Latin verb ire (meaning “to go”): someone who goes around. Someone with ambition was, literally, someone who went around soliciting votes and support.

Ambiance also comes from the same root, ambi-: Ambiance is really what’s going around the place you’re in. That is, the environment.

The best part: the very common Spanish word meaning “both”, ambos, also comes from the same root, “around” — but only when there are two around.

Asiento, Superseer and Sedate, Assiduous

Superseer (Spanish for, “to discontinue; cease”) comes from the Latin supersedere which is a combination of the prefix super- (“above”) and sedere (“to sit”). When you stop doing something — you’re now, literally, sitting on top of it. At least in Spanish.

From the Latin sedere root, we get various English words related to sitting, including:

  • Sedate — when you’re on a sedative, you’re just sitting around!
  • Assiduous — this originally meant “constantly sitting down”, but came to mean, “very busy” (since you sit down when you work) and thus the busy people are the assiduous ones!
  • Obsess — with the ob- prefix (“against”), it’s literally, “someone sitting opposite you” — which is what you do when you’re obsessing over someone, watching their every move closely.
  • Supersede — literally, “to sit on top of” — very similar to, “going over their heads!
  • Sedentary — the lifestyle of sitting down. Sounds familiar!
  • Siege — you sit in your castle when it’s under siege!
  • Reside — what do you do in your residence if not, sit around?

From the same Latin root sedere we also get the Spanish… asiento, the common word for, seat. Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?

The s-n-t/d root is visible in most of these words. Note that in superseer, the middle -n- disappeared: hence the -e- on both sides!

Amar and Mother

The Spanish amar, “to love”, comes from the Latin children’s word amma, meaning, mother.

The m- and m- parallel remains between both.

Interestingly, then, the connection between mothers and love is not only ancient but linguistic as well — as opposed to the ancient connection between fathers and discipline and harshness.

Cuello and Collar, Accolades

Cuello (Spanish for “neck”) comes from the Latin collum, also meaning “neck.” From collum, we get the English… collar. We can see the c-ll mapping in both.

More interesting, though, is from that same root, we also get the English accolades, which is just collum with the classic Latin ad- (“towards”) prefix.

How did we get from “towards the neck” to “giving honors and awards”? Well, accolades was originally used in the sense of, resting the sword on your shoulder–like the King does to you when he turns you into a knight. Being knighted was the ultimate honor you could receive, with the king bestowing it upon you by placing the sword on your shoulder.

Since medieval times, apparently, honors have become increasingly easy to give and receive, since now we get accolades for every little “job well done”!

Miedo and Meticulous

The Spanish Miedo (“fear”) comes from the Latin metus, for “fear.”

From that same root, we get the English… meticulous. Meticulous literally means, “full of fear”: and who is meticulous about every tiny little detail if not the person who is full of fear of messing up?

We can see the m-t of meticulous maps to the m-d of miedo.

Hilo and File

The Spanish hilo (cord; thread; string) comes from the Latin for the same, filum. The words sound very different, until we remember that, words in Latin that began with an f- tended to change to h- in Spanish: hijo/filium, and hoja/foliage, for example. Now the hilo/filum makes sense!

Interestingly, however, from that same Latin root filum, we get various English words that also quietly show they are descendants of the word for cord or thread. Including:

  • File (as a verb; to file your nails or papers) — what is filing if not using a thread to shorten or separate different items?
  • Profile — With the Latin root pro- (put forth!), what is profiling it not drawing out or dragging out information about someone?

Camisa – Heaven

The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?

Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).

But they sound so different. How can that be?

The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.

Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.

Hablar and Fable

hablar spanish talk
The Spanish “hablar” (“to talk”) comes from the vulgar Latin “fabulari”, also meaning “to talk” – hence the English, “fable”.

This gets very interesting very quickly, so note:

  • This is an example of the “f” to “h” conversion, in which the initial “f” sound was lost as Latin turned into Spanish
  • There was a fascinating parallel process as vulgar Latin, a bit to the north, turned into French: another Latin word for “talking”, “parabolari” turned into the French for the same, “parlere”, so “parler” (as in, “parlez-vous francias?”) is related to the English word “parables”
  • And isn’t there a conceptual similarity between “parable” and “fable”? Both meant, “to tell stories”: so, in both languages, an exaggerated form of talking, story-telling, over time turned into the common word for talking.

Quebrar – Discrepancy, Decrepit

The Spanish Quebrar, meaning “to break”, doesn’t obviously sound like any English parallel word. But it is related to many similar ones.

Quebrar comes from the Latin crepare, meaning, “to crack.” Cracking to Breaking is not a far stretch at all — just a natural strengthening of the word.

From the same root crepare, we get many great English words, including:

  • Crevice — yes, that little hole caused by… cracks
  • Craven — cravenness usually comes from being defeated. Defeat is being cracked.
  • Discrepancy — A discrepancy is really just a crack in your argument, isn’t it?
  • Decrepit — Old decrepit people are those whose lives have begun to crack in every way.

Lluvia and Pluvial

The Spanish lluvia (for “rain”) comes from the Latin pluvia for the same — a change that may not be obvious because the -pl- of Latin sometimes became a -ll- in Spanish.

From the same root, we get the sophisticated English word pluvial which means… lots of rain!

The ll-v of lluvia clearly maps to the p-l of pluvial.

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

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