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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.

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