Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Atropellar and Troop

Atropellar (“to knock over, to knock down” in Spanish) comes to Spanish borrowed from the French, troupe, as in, a troop of soldiers or more common these days, a comedy troop.

Although we can see the tr-p root in the English, French, and Spanish words, the question remains: how did a group turn into a knocking-over? The answer is that, large groups of rowdy drunk men almost always result in… knocking lots of people over! This is not a new concept–the word itself attests to the antiquity of drunken revelry!

Estafa and Staff

Estafa, Spanish for “to rip off” in the sense of taking advantage of someone or stealing, comes from the Italian staffa, which means “stirrup”. This change of meaning came about because it was common, back in the day, for people to borrow a horse… and then never return it.

The Italian staffa itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European root stebh, which meant “to fasten, or place firmly” from which we get the English… staff. A staff, after all, is a stick that helps you fasten something into place! At least, it used to.

From the same PIE root, we get other English words including step, stump, stamp and… Stephen.

The st-f root is visible in both estafa and staff.

Sueño and Insomnia

Sueño (Spanish for “dream”) and insomnia come from the same root: the Latin somnus, meaning, “sleep.”

The evolution is easy to spot if we remember that the -mn- sound in Latin usually transformed into the ñ in Spanish. See damn and daño, for example. Or autumn and otoño as well.

Thus, the s-mn of insomnia maps to the s-ñ of, sueño.

Gratis and Gratify, Gratuity

Gratis (Spanish for “free,” in the sense of “free beer”, not “free speech”) is a close cousin of the English gratify and gratuitous (and its cousin gratuity).

Upon realizing this, it suddenly becomes obvious: all share the gr-t root, plus vaguely related meanings. All come from the Latin gratus, meaning, “pleasing.”

Its parallel becomes more obvious when we think of the connection of the English words to the original meaning of “pleasing”: that which is gratifying is pleasing, and you leave a gratuity when you are pleased. And gratis, free, is a reward to those who want to please others!

Alrededor and Round

The Spanish for “around”, alrededor”, comes from the same root as the English “round”: both come from the Latin rota, meaning, “wheel.”

The Spanish is a bit less obvious because of its al- prefix — which was originally a separate word, originally, “al rededor.” Thus, the r-(n)-d of round maps to the (al)-r-d of alrededor.

Cuñado and Cognate

Cuñado, Spanish for “brother-in-law,” comes from the Latin cognatus, from which we get the near-identical English cognate. How can two words so similar mean something so different?

The Latin root cognatus itself came from the roots com– (meaning “together”) and gnasci (meaning “to be born”); thus, literally, “born together.” So, two words that are cognates are — etymologically-speaking — words that are born together. And brothers-in-law are two men who are not brothers but were, in effect at least, born together as well.

Note also that this is an example of the pattern whereby Latin words with a -gn- generally became an ñ in Spanish. Thus the c-gn-t of cognate maps to the c-ñ-d of cuñado.

Libra and Deliberate and Equilibrium

The Spanish libra (“pound”) comes from the same Latin word word, libra, meaning, “pound; balance.”

From that root, we get the English: equilibrium (literally, an “equal balance”) as well as deliberate, which literally means “to weigh carefully” (with the de– emphasis).

In Spanish, you weigh literally — but in English, metaphorically.

You can see the l-b-r root in all of the words.

Colgar and Collocate

Colgar (Spanish for, “to hang”) comes from the Latin collocare — from which, unsurprisingly, we get the English, collocate. We can see the c-l-g mapping in colgar to the c-l-c root in the English and the original Latin. Hanging is really just a form of locating it!

Collocare itself comes from the prefix com– (“with”; like the Spanish con-) plus the root locare, “to place.” Thus, the word is a cousin of lugar (Spanish for “place”) and its English cousin… locate. Yes, we see the l-g map to the l-c, too. Another example of the c/g swap that we also see in colgar and collocate.

Cosecha and Collect

Cosecha (Spanish for “harvest”) comes from the Latin collectus, meaning, “collected.”

This makes sense: a harvest is, well, just collected.

Although the English collected is almost identical to the Latin, we can see how the Latin changed into the Spanish: the -ll- turned into an -s-, in a curious change. But — as is more common — the -ct- became a -ch- (think nocturnal/noche or octagon/ocho). Thus, the c-ll-ct of collect maps to the c-s-ch of cosecha.

Puñal and Pugnacious

The English for eager-to-fight, pugnacious, contains the -gn- pattern inside it: a give-away to the pattern that -gn- words in Latin turned the -gn- into a -ñ- in Spanish yet remained the same into English.

Therefore, pugnacious maps perfectly to puñal, the Spanish for… “dagger.” It makes sense that “dagger” and “eager to fight” come from the same root, after all. And that root, in this case, is the Latin pugnare, meaning, “to fight.”

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:

Buy the Book!

For Nerds Learning Spanish via Etymologies