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Com­prar and Com­pare

Both the com­mon Span­ish com­prar (“to buy”) and the sim­i­lar-sound­ing-but-dif­fer­ent-mean­ing com­pare in Eng­lish come from the same Latin root: com­para­re, mean­ing “to make equal with; bring to­geth­er for a con­test.”

How could one word evolve in­to two very sep­a­rate mean­ings? Well, the orig­i­nal Latin com­para­re comes from the root com (“with”) + parare (“pre­pare”); what do you do with a pair of things oth­er than pre­pare to make a choice be­tween them by com­par­ing them to find sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences — these ei­ther turn in­to a con­flict be­tween them, or be­come the same… or both?

So, the Eng­lish com­pare pre­serves the orig­i­nal sense, al­though with less ri­val­ry with­in the pair. But the Span­ish ba­si­cal­ly tells us that shop­ping is just an ex­er­cise in com­par­a­tive shop­pingcom­par­a­tive, lit­er­al­ly! Just com­par­ing ex­ist­ing prod­ucts and choos­ing the best.

And it’s note­wor­thy that the Span­ish com­prar im­plies much more prepa­ra­tion than the Eng­lish does. Those Span­ish are care­ful shop­pers!

So he who buys with­out com­par­ing it to the oth­er al­ter­na­tives re­al­ly is­n’t buy­ing (or at least, com­prar-ing), in the orig­i­nal sense.


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