Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

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.

Hallar and Flatulence

The Spanish hallar (“to find”) comes from the Latin afflare (“to blow.”) From that same Latin root we get various f-l words involving blowing, including:

  • Flatulence — A fart, after all, is just blowing some air!
  • Souffle — With the French prefix sous– (“under”), a souffle is cooked by blowing hot air under the foot!
  • Conflate — To blow different things together!
  • Inflate — To blow-up something!

All of these share the f-l root. But how did this turn into the Spanish hallar? Well, first remember that the initial F- sound tended to disappear when Latin turned into Spanish; see, fig and higo or fable and hablar. Secondly, note that finding something is just blowing on it, uncovering what was below the dust you blew away!

Temor and Timothy

Temor (Spanish for “fear”) comes from the Latin for the same, timor.

From this root, we also get the English name… Timothy. The -thy ending comes from the Greek theo-, meaning, “God” — so Timothy is literally, one who is scared of God.

From the same root, we also get the less common… temerity, which just means “boldness”: and what is being bold if not, not having any fear?

Mosca and Mosquito

Everyone’s favorite bug, the Mosquito, comes from–at least etymologically–the Spanish mosca (meaning “fly”) and the Spanish suffix -ito (the diminutive). We only wish that mosquitos were merely harmless little flies!

We can see the m-s-c root in both words.

Reírse and Ridiculous

Both the Spanish reírse (“to laugh”) and the English ridiculous come from the same Latin root: ridere (also “to laugh”).

Thus, the r-vowel-d-vowel of ridiculous maps to the r-vowel-disappeared-vowel of reírse. Note that the middle -d- disappeared in the Spanish version, probably as the word was shortened since the Spaniards spent so much time laughing, it became natural to say it shorter and quicker!

Hongo – Fungus

The Spanish hongo, for “mushroom,” doesn’t sound anything like its English counterpart “mushroom.” But it does come from the Latin fungus from which we get the English synonym for mushroom… fungus.

The relation between hongo and fungus is easy to remember if we remember that, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the initial f- (followed by a vowel) usually transformed into an h-. Thus, the f-n-g for fungus maps exactly to the h-n-g of hongo.

Hacer and Fact

The English fact comes from the Latin factum, meaning “something that happened.” It is thus an exact cognate to the Spanish hacer, meaning “to make.” How?

The root of both is the Latin facere, meaning “to do.” Fact, and the Latin factum, is just the same word in a different tense.

The Latin facere turned into the Spanish hacer, although they superficially sound different. Their relation becomes obvious once we remember that Latin words that began with an initial f- almost always turned into h- when Latin evolved into Spanish.

Therefore, the f-c-r of facere maps exactly to the h-c-r of hacer.

This pattern explains many words such as hierro/ferrari, hervir/fever, huir/fugitive, hoja/foliage!

Esposa – Spouse

Esposa spouse english spanish

Esposa and spouse both come from the same root, and both mean the same thing — that one was obvious!

However, it gets more interesting: both come from the Latin spondere, meaning, “to bind”.

From this root we also get the Spanish word esposas, which means (in addition to meaning just “wives”), also means… handcuffs.

Yes, in Spanish, “handcuff” and “wife” are the same word. It gets the point across clearly, doesn’t it?

Romper and Corrupt

The Spanish for “to break”, romper, has a curious English cousin: corruption.

Corrupt comes from the Latin root com- (which just intensifies the following phrase) plus the Latin rumpere, meaning “to break” – just like the almost-identical Spanish romper (unsurprisingly, since the Spanish is descended from the Latin).

The connection is obvious if we see the unchanged r-m-p root in both words.

That which is corrupt, after all, is — definitionally — just broken.

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:

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