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!

Caja – Case, Cash, Capsule

The Spanish caja (“box”) comes from the Latin capsa for the same.

This gives us a surprising connection to some English words that, on the surface, sound very different than caja:

  • Case — In the sense of, well, a box.
  • Capsule — Still retains the -ps- of the original Latin.
  • Cash — Originally meant “money box”. Funny how the name of the container turned into the name of the thing itself.

The Latin turned into the Spanish through an interesting pattern: the -sh- sound in Latin consistently turned into the -j- sound in Spanish (at first retaining the original pronunciation, but then under the influence of Arabic, grew to the throat-clearing sound). With caja, we have a slight variation of the pattern, where the -ps- sound turned into the -j- sound. Thus, the c-ps maps exactly to c-j.

Suerte and Sort

You wouldn’t think that suerte (Spanish for “luck”) would be related to the English sort. They sound similar — both with an s-r mapping to each other — but the definitions are completely different. How could they be related?

Both come from the Latin sortem meaning, “fate, lot” (“lot” in the sense of “your lot in life”).

The evolution of sortem into the Spanish suerte is straightforward: “luck” is just a less metaphysical version of “fate” — fate without attributing it to The Gods.

But the same evolved into the English sort because, your fate, your lot in life sorted you into a class, a rank. In the hierarchical view of the world (which the Romans had) everything and everyone existed in degrees. So your fate was also your portion: what you were given. Thus, the ranking of everything by degrees is… a sorting.

This, too, explains the other definition of the word lot: not only your fate, but the portion that has been allocated to you.

Seguir and Sequester

Seguir (which we’ve discussed before here!) is also related to another interest word: sequester.

To sequester comes from the Latin sequestrare, which means, “to put in safekeeping”. This, in turn, is from the earlier Latin sequester “trustee, mediator”. The Latin Sequester is from the Latin segui, meaning, “to follow”, from which we also get the Spanish for the same, seguir.

In other words, Sequester went from meaning “to follow” to “being a trusted party” to “the trusted party holding something apart from everything else” to “holding something apart from everything else”. This is interesting because of the surprising implication of trust in the earlier connotations–but not the earliest connotations. Today, when you sequester someone or something, there is often a distinct lack of trust involved!

You can see the connection with seguir because the s-g of seguir maps to the s-qu of sequester easily!

Cinco – Five

The relation between “five” in Spanish (cinco) and English is one of the more surprising relationships: they are indeed direct second cousins!

Both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, *penkwe, meaning the same, five. (The greek for five also comes from the same: think about pentagon, for example).

The interesting part is this: the p- sound in Proto-Indo-European evolved into the Germanic and then English f- sound. Think about father and padre, for example or foot and pie. Five and cinco follow this pattern too, but in a more subtle way.

The Proto-Indo-European for the same, *penkwe, evolved into the Latin word for “five”: quinque. The qu- was pronounced in a hard way like a k- and then, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the k- was softened into the soft c- in cinco. So p- to k- to c-. You can see it through the similar sounds.

Indeed, the pattern is most obvious in the repetition of the sounds in both works cin-co as the c/k sound twice, at the start of each syllable. And the fi-ve as the f- sound (and its closely related, usually identical and often interchangeable sound of v-) at the start of each of its syllables as well.


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