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Hu­mo and Fumes

If he is fum­ing, he is smok­ing — lit­er­al­ly. And it is, sub­tly, the same word in Span­ish.

“To fume” comes from the Latin root fu­mus (“smoke”) from which we al­so get the com­mon Span­ish word for “smoke”, hu­mo. But they don’t sound alike, so how are they re­lat­ed?

The Span­ish hu­mo is a great ex­am­ple of the pat­tern of the Ini­tial F turn­ing in­to an H in Span­ish, alone among the lan­guages of the world. Many Latin words that be­gan with an F, and come to us in Eng­lish through the Lati­nate F form, be­came the equiv­a­lent word but with an H- in Span­ish. Take her­mano and fil­ial, for ex­am­ple. Or fact and he­cho.

Oth­er Eng­lish words from the same root fu­mus in­clude fu­mi­ga­tion (ah­h­hh!) and the less com­mon fetid. Fetid is a dirty, Shake­speare­an word, af­ter all.

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