Lavar and Lavatory

We’ve already discussed how the Spanish lavar is related to other words in English like deluge.

But there’s a more obvious connection, that we’ll discuss today: lavar, meaning “to wash” is related to the English… lavatory. I guess there’s a reason why the British call it the “wash room”!

Both come from the Latin lavare, similarly meaning “to was”. And we can see the l‑v root clearly in both.

Embajada and Embassy

Embassy (and Ambassador) and its Spanish equivalent, Embajada (and Embajador), both come from the same ancestor, the Old French Ambactos.

What is most interesting about these two is that it is an example of the pattern where the ‑j- sound in Spanish maps to the ‑sh- sound (and its cousins, like ‑ss- and ‑ch-) in English. Remember syrup and jarabe, chess and ajedrez, sherry and jerez, and push and empujar for a few examples.

Thus, the m‑b‑j of emabajada maps to the m‑b‑ss of embassy.

Sello and Seal

Sello (Spanish for “stamp”) is a cousin of the English seal — not the animal, but the, umm, stamp that is put onto official documents.

Bot come from the Latin sigillum meaning, “small, engraved picture” because a stamp or seal really was just a small, engraved picture. 

The ‑gl- sound of the original sigillum vanished into English so that the English word seal is left with just the vowels around it (e, a) (in English) while in Spanish, the ‑gl- evolved into the similar ‑ll- sound. This is in the same class of evolutions as pl- to ll- (plenty, lleno), fl- to ll- (flare, llamar), and cl- to ll- (call, llamar) as well, although less common than those.

Mil and Mile

The Spanish for a “thousand,” mil, comes from the Latin milia, meaning the same. 

Here’s the interesting part: the ancient Romans would put a stake in the ground every thousand paces outside the city, to mark how far away you go. And that’s why, from the Latin word for a thousand, we get the English… mile.

Bonus: million comes from the same root – and literally means, “a thousand thousand!”

Aguantar and Bear

The very common Spanish word aguantar, meaning “to put up with”, comes from old Provençal for glove, guanto.

We can see the evolution: something you put up with is, something you (metaphorically) carry around with you, a burden. And what is a glove if not something you wear, something you carry around, something that helps you carry anything else?

There’s an interesting parallel to the English, bear — in this “put up with” sense, not the animal sense. Bear, from the Old English beran, originally meant something you “bring” or “carry”. So, bear follows a parallel etymology as aguantar, both originally meaning what you carry and becoming what you force yourself to put up with.

Funnily enough, the Old English beran also became bore and born in English: women do bear children, after all. I guess children are really just something you need to put up with.

Concurso and Concur

Concurso (Spanish for “contest”) comes from the Latin concursus, (“running together”).

Why? A contest really is just a bunch of people… running together to see who gets tot the finish line first.

From that same Latin root, we get the English… concur. Why? It could also mean in Latin an “assembly”: a bunch of people might be running together, but might also be just talking together in an assembly, to which they come to a conclusion together, to which, they concur.

We can see the c‑n‑c‑r root in both words clearly.

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

Nerds love to pattern-match, to find commonalities among everything. Our approach to learning languages revolves (the same ‑volve- that is in “volver”, to “return”) around connecting the Spanish words to the related English words via their common etymologies — to find the linguistic patterns, because these patterns become easy triggers to remember what words mean. Want to know more? Email us and ask:
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