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Olor and Odor

Olor (Spanish for “smell”) comes from the  similar Latin olere “to give off a smell”. Odor and Redolent (which is just a bad small, after all!) come from the same root.

The curious part is the o‑l to o‑d transition. This is merely a vestige of the influence of the long-dead Sabine dialects of late Latin. Yes, the same Sabines who were rapped. They did transition their l‑s to d‑s.

Jugar and Joke

Jugar (Spanish for “to play,” in the sense of a sport, not an instrument) and the English joke both, surprisingly, come from the same root: the Latin iocus, meaning, “joke, sport, pastime.”

Interesting: although the j‑g of jugar maps to the j‑k of joke, their meanings are sufficiently different so that, to an English speaker, the connection isn’t obvious.

Upon reflection, however, the key that binds them together is the other definition of iocus, “pastime”: both telling jokes and playing sports really are, indeed, pastimes.

Rechazar and Cazar

The Spanish rechazar (“to reject”) doesn’t sound like anything in English. At least not obviously.

The word, however, comes from more basic Spanish word cazar (“to hunt”), which we’ve previously discussed here — related to the English “chase.”

But how did the word for “hunt” become “reject”?

Well, lets think about it: you hunt after your opponent, your enemy, the big bad bear you’re trying to kill. You hunt after that which you reject. Hunting could then be seen as the strongest form of rejection!

Correr — Recur

Although we’ve already discussed the etymology of correr (Spanish for “to run”) and its connection to the English horse, there is another — more obvious — connection that helps us remember it:

Recur. Recur literally comes from the Latin recurrere, meaning “to run back and forth”: re — correr. Yes, that which recurs keeps on running back and forth!

Aval and Avalanche

The Spanish aval (“guarantee, as in a bank guarantee”) comes from the French aval, meaning “downward”. The French word comes from the Latin vallem, meaning valley — a valley does slope downward, after all. From that same root, we get the English… avalanche, which is an overwhelming amount of the valley tumbling downwards!

But all this leaves the question: how did the word for “downward” turn into the word for a “loan guarantee”? That part is unknown. But we could speculate that the creditor calling upon a guarantor to pay in the case of a default is a low point for the borrower. Or perhaps, you need a guarantor only when you’re at a low point yourself. Or…? Since we don’t know the history, we can create infinite variations that sound like they might make sense, as a fun exercise.

You can see the a‑v-l root in all the variations clearly.

Ajedrez — Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

Golpe and Coup

The Spanish for “a hit”, Golpe, comes from the Greek for the same, Colaphus. We can see the transition in the g‑l-p of golpe mapping to the c‑l-ph of colaphus.

The more interesting part, however, is that, from the same root we also get the French, and English, word coup — as in, a coup d’état. Coup is just colaphus, but with the middle ‑l- sound disappearing in French.

So, a coup d’état is just a big hit against the state!

Apañar and Pane

The Spanish apañar (“to fix, to rig”, as in “to fix the jury”) comes from the Latin pannus, which meant “cloth, garment or rag.” How did this transformation happen, as Latin turned into Spanish? Well, you use a cloth to tie people, which is one way of applying pressure — physically and metaphorically.

From the same Latin root pannus, we get the English… pane. As in a window pane. Here, the metaphorical meeting of the cloth or clothing took on the meaning of a divider — which divides one section from the other. Which is precisely the opposite meaning of the Spanish!

You can see the p‑n root in both. And it’s always noteworthy that the Latin double n -nn- consistently transformed into the ñ in Spanish.

Decir/Dicho and Dictionary

Dictionary decir spanish english

The Spanish Decir (“to say”) comes from the Latin dictio for “word”. Its participle form is dicho — and dicho also means “saying”, in the sense of, a cliche.

Thus decir is another example of the “ct” sound in Latin turning into the “ch” sound in Spanish — and is also related to the English word… dictionary.

Veda and Veto

Veda (Spanish for “closed season” such as, the time of year when you can’t hunt for your favorite beast) comes from the Latin vetare, which meant, “to forbid”.

In fact, from the same Latin root, we get the English… veto. Veto is actually the first person conjugation in Latin: “I forbid!”

We can clearly see the that the v‑d of veda maps to the v‑t of veto.

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