Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Trasladar and Translate

Trasladar (Spanish for, “to move”) comes from the Latin translatus (“carried over”). From that root, we get the English… translate.

After all, what is translating if not carrying over from one language to another?

We can see that t-r-s-l-d of trasladar maps to the t-r-(n)-s-d-t of translate with only a d/t sound shift, one of the most common mix-ups.

Mismo and Lorem Ipsum

The Spanish mismo for “same; self” comes from the Latin metipsimus meaning “same”. That word, in turn, comes from the combination of the Latin roots: met (just giving emphasis) and ipse (“himself; itself”) and the suffix -issismus (also adding emphasis; think “-ism” in English).

Here’s where it gets interesting: from that same Latin root, we get… lorem ipsum, the Latin phrase (still used in English!) that we use as the filler text when we don’t know what else to write, before the real wording comes in. Where does lorem ipsum itself come from? Well, Google around, there’s a lot written about that; but the exact phrase itself means “pain onto himself” (with the lorem short for dolorem — thus related to the Spanish dolor for “pain”!). So, we can see how the ipse that turned into mismo was also retained without change in lorem ipsum.

Not to mention… ipse dixit!

Exito and Exit

The Spanish éxito (“success”) comes from the Latin exitus (“an exit”) — from which we get the English… (surprise, surprise) exit.

But how are “exits” — like the sign you see to leave a building in an emergency! — and “successes” related?

Well, remember that investors and company founders often call a successful sale of a company, an “exit.” It’s leaving… but on a high note.

What is noteworthy is that, over the centuries, in Spanish, the notion of “leaving” has taken on such a positive connotation, that the word for exiting became the word for success!

Suggested by: Paul Murphy

Helado, Hielo and Gelatin, Jello

It’s easy to forget: the silent “h” can turn into a whole variety of soft, almost silent sounds in different languages.

Case and point: helado, Spanish for “ice cream” (and related words: helar for “to freeze”, and hielo, “ice”). All of these come from the Latin for gelare for… gelatin. And what is sweetened gelatin for mass consumption if not the brand… jello!

We can see the pattern best if we remember that the silent h- is very similar to the barely audible soft g- and soft j- sounds in English. Thus, the h-l-d of helado maps to the g-l-t of gelatin!

Echar and Jet

Echar (Spanish for “to throw,” particularly in the metaphoric sense such as, “to throw out”) comes from the Latin Iactare, meaning “to throw”. From the same root, we get the English jet — a jet plane throws itself at an incredible speed!

But the words look nothing alike? How is that?

Two patterns, we must remember. Firstly, the ct- sound in Latin became a ch- in Spanish. Hence the ct- in ictare now looks like the ch- in echar. Secondly, Latin had no “j” and the initial “i” in Latin often became a “j” in English. Hence, the “j” in jet!

Iglesia and Ecclesiastical

Both Iglesia (Spanish for “church”) and Ecclesiastical (also similar English words: think of the book of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes) come from the same root: the Latin Ecclesĭa for “church”, which comes from the Greek ekkalein (“to call out”). After all, a preacher does call out to God. That is his vocation, what he professes!

This pattern is not obvious because both the Spanish i-g-l-s maps to the English e-c-l-s. The I/E vowel shift isn’t particularly common while the g/c vowel shift is more common, but sometimes harder to recognize.

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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