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Camisa – Heaven

The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?

Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).

But they sound so different. How can that be?

The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.

Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.

Sacudir and Percussion, Discussion, Concussion

Sacudir, Spanish for “to shake” comes from the Latin for the same, quatere.

From that same root, we get a bunch of English –cussion words, including:

  • Discussion — that’s when you shake up what you’re talking about!
  • Concussion — that’s when you shake someone so hard, they get hurt!
  • Percussion — that’s when you shake the drums a lot!

You can see the s-c in reverse in the Spanish sacudir and the –cussion words.

Carne and Reincarnation

Carne (Spanish for “meat”) comes from the Latin carnis (“flesh”) — not surprising at all.

But there’s a mystical connection as well: from this Latin root, we also get the English… reincarnation. Combined with the re– prefix for “again”, reincarnation literally means “in the flesh… again”. Sounds just like what reincarnation is!

Note: see also our previous posts about Carne and carnival as well.

Suggested by: Hong Linh

Cárcel and Incarceration, Cancel

Cárcel (Spanish for “prison, jail”) comes form the Latin for the same, carcer. Note that the words are almost identical except for the l/r swap — a very common switch linguistically (think of the Japanese, who pronounce both interchangeably, “Frushing meadows! Frushing meadows!” as they joke in New York).

From that same Latin root carcer, we get two English words.

More directly, Incarceration. That makes sense — incarcerating is going to jail! We can see the c-r-c root in both.

More subtly, we also get the English cancel. The English made the same l/r shift as the Spanish — but, as it came via French, the first -r- became an -n-. But that’s a French pattern for another day!

Mano – Manufacture

The Spanish for “hand,” mano, has a first cousin in the English manufacture.

Manufacture comes from the Latin manus (like in Spanish, also “hand”) and the Latin factura (which is from facere — “to do”, and almost identically in Spanish, with an f-to-h conversion, hacer).

Thus, “manufacturing” is literally, “making by hand” — the work of an artisan!

Also from the Latin for “hand”, and thus still cousins with the Spanish mano is manual as well: manual labor is also work done with your hands–literally.

Pudrir and Foul

The Spanish pudrir, “to rot,” has a surprising connection to the English, foul, a word meaning the same but sadly very underused these days — although still when quoting Macbeth: fair is foul and foul is fair!

Both come from the same Indo-European root *pu, meaning, “to rot.”

But the English one sounds so different because, in the Germanic branch of Indo-European, the p- sound turned into the f- sound. But now in the Latin branch.

Thus the initial f+vowel of foul maps to the initial f+vowel of pudrir.

From the same root are more fun words including defile, putrid, and pus. What wonderful imagery!

Cuñado and Cognate

Cuñado, Spanish for “brother-in-law,” comes from the Latin cognatus, from which we get the near-identical English cognate. How can two words so similar mean something so different?

The Latin root cognatus itself came from the roots com– (meaning “together”) and gnasci (meaning “to be born”); thus, literally, “born together.” So, two words that are cognates are — etymologically-speaking — words that are born together. And brothers-in-law are two men who are not brothers but were, in effect at least, born together as well.

Note also that this is an example of the pattern whereby Latin words with a -gn- generally became an ñ in Spanish. Thus the c-gn-t of cognate maps to the c-ñ-d of cuñado.

Hablar and Ineffable

The Spanish hablar (“to talk”) comes from the Latin fabulare, as we’ve previously discussed. The initial F- turned into an H-, as happens only in Spanish (think fig vs higo.)

From the same root, however, also comes the English ineffable, that SAT word meaning “unable to be described in words.” So, ineffable literally means “without” (in-) and “speaking” (fabulare).

We see the h-b-l of hablar map to the (in-)f-b-l of ineffable quite clearly!

Sentarse and Saddle

Sentarse, Spanish for “to sit”, comes from the root *sed-, meaning the same.

The surprising English cognate is… saddle. A saddle is what you do sit in, indeed!

This mapping is not obvious at first, but you can see that the s-d root of saddle maps to the s-(n)-t of sentarse. Anglo-Saxons are shorter and to the point–as usual.

English does have another word from the same root, but it comes via the Latin and is thus more pretentious and closer to the Spanish: sedentary. A veritable SAT word!

Sanguche and Sandwich

The Spanish for sandwich is sánguche — just the English word, as it is pronounced in Spanish. That one is easy!

However, what is noteworthy is that the -w- becomes a -g-. At first, that seems odd. But then, we remember the -w- to -g- transformation: that in a lot of Germanic words, when they’re brought into Spanish, the -w- sound becomes a -g- sound. Think war/guerra, for a great example.

Suddenly, the weird letter change makes sense!

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