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Es­puma and Scum

Es­puma (Span­ish for “foam”) is a (sur­pris­ing) cousin of the Eng­lish, scum.

Both come from the same In­do-Eu­ro­pean root skeu-, which meant, “to cov­er, hide.” In the Ger­man­ic side of In­do-Eu­ro­pean, this evolved in­to sku­ma — lit­er­al­ly “foam” — which then evolved in­to scum.

Tran­si­tion from the mean­ing of “foam” in the old Ger­man­ic to the cur­rent mean­ing hap­pened be­cause of the sense of “foam”: the lay­er above the liq­uid” turned in­to “a lay­er of dirt on top of some­thing clean­er”. And that then evolved in­to just pure dirt. Words de­grade over time, at least in Eng­lish.

The In­do-Eu­ro­pean skeu- sep­a­rate­ly evolved in­to es­puma (via the Latin spuma, al­so just mean­ing neu­tral­ly “foam”) which — still to­day — re­tains the more neu­tral con­no­ta­tion of just foam.


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