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Hem­bra and Fem­i­nine

The Span­ish hem­bra, for “fe­male” (usu­al­ly in re­gards to an­i­mals) sounds noth­ing like the Eng­lish fem­i­nine. But it turns out that they are et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly iden­ti­cal.

Both come from the Latin for fe­male, fem­i­ni­na. Hem­bra sounds so dif­fer­ent be­cause the f‑m-n root is changed to h‑mbr via two dif­fer­ent pat­terns:

  • The f‑to‑h pat­tern, where words be­gin­ning in the Latin f- change to an h- in Span­ish, such as fil­ial and hi­jo, or hac­er and fact — chang­ing the ini­tial h- of fem­i­ni­na to h-.
  • The m‑n to ‑mbr- pat­tern, where Latin words with the m‑n to­geth­er usu­al­ly changed to an ‑mbr- in Span­ish, like il­lu­mi­nate and alum­brar — chang­ing the m‑n of fem­i­ni­na to the ‑mbr- of hem­bra.

These two, tak­en to­geth­er, show a clear map­ping of f‑m-n to h‑mbr.


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