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Chicle and Chiclets

Chicle (Spanish for “gum”) gives us the English chiclets, the gum brand. Through a funny story: when Mexican general Santa Anna lost Texas, he fled — dressed up in drag, actually (true story!) — to Staten Island. There, he stayed with an inventor Thomas Adams and told him about the Mexican love of chewing chicle… the rest is history.

Llenar and Expletive

Llenar comes from the Latin plere (“to fill”), as we’ve previously discussed. But here’s another English word that comes from the same Latin root: expletive, yes, that euphemism for vulgar words!

Expletive literally means to “fill” with the expansive ex- prefix which, taken together, mean, “to fill out your words.” An expletive is literally filling conversation with words when you don’t know what else to say!

Acatar and Capture

The Spanish Acatar (meaning “to follow, obey, respect”) comes from the Latin captare, meaning “to capture, take hold of”. From that root, we get a few English words, including:

  • Capture — surprise, surprise.
  • Capable — if you’re capable, you take hold of the solutions!
  • Captive — if you’re captive, someone else has taken hold of you!
  • Cater — the caterer is literally the person who takes hold of the food for you.

The c-℗t root is visible in all, although the ‑p- in the ‑pt- has been lost in a few variations.

Faro — Lighthouse

Lighthouse faron spanish english

Lighthouse in Spanish is Faro. Seems totally random, doesn’t it? Well…

The greatest and most famous lighthouse in history was, of course one of the 7 Wonders of the World, the infamous Lighthouse at Alexandria, in ancient Egypt.

And the ancient Latins — knowing all about and in awe of the amazing lighthouse- referred to it by the title of the man who built it which was, of course, the King of Egypt. And they called their Kings, Pharaohs!

Pharaoh — yes, the same Pharaoh featured in the Old Testament who enslaved the Jews and thus of course gave them the holiday of Passover — in Spanish is written faraón. Thus, giving rise to the word faro for lighthouse.

Alcanzar and Calcium

Alcanzar (“to reach”, in the sense of “to achieve” such as, reaching a goal) comes from the Latin prefix in- with the Latin calx meaning, limestone. Limestone? Huh?

The word for Limestone became the word for achieving because, quite simply, you need to step on it to get a bit higher, to be a bit closer to the stars. Think of the word reach itself — there is a literal sense of holding your hand a bit higher, a bit further, so you can get to something. A bit like stepping on a stone. But there is the metaphorical sense of both words, reaching a goal.

From the root calx, we also get the English… calcium. Calcium is just another really hard substance that looks just like limestone.

You know another hard substance that looks like limestone? Chalk. And yes, chalk comes from calx, too!

Also from calx we get, calculate and calculus. We can never forget that little pebbles (of limestone) were initially used to count. That’s what the word itself reminds us.

Rencor and Rancid

The Spanish for “anger,” rencor, has a fun English cousin: rancid.

Both words come from the Latin rancere, meaning “to stink.” 

Thus, literally, both rotten food stinks and, anger stinks.

We can see the relationship clearly if we see the r‑n-c mapping between the words.

Llave — Clef

Key llave spanish english

The Latin words that began with “cl” changed, pretty consistently, to “ll” as Latin changed into Spanish.

Today’s example of this: the Latin word for “key” was clavis. This became the modern Spanish word for “key”, llave.

There are, however, a few interesting other descendants of clavis, and thus distant relatives of llave. They include:

  • the Spanish clavo, meaning, “nail”. It’s a more educated word, coming to Spanish via Latin scholars later on, so it didn’t lose the natural cl- sound the way the traditional words did.
  • English words like clef and enclave. Yes, in music you talk about the “key” and the “clef” and they come from the same word originally!

Alegre and Alacrity

Alegre, Spanish for happiness, has a close English cousin in alacrity (a SAT word meaning “eagerness” or “cheerful readiness”).

Both come from the Latin alacritas meaning the same as the English.

It’s funny, to me at least, how the word for eagerness turned into the word for happy in Spanish: there is a strong and ancient correlation between being willing to do things, and excited about them — and being happy.

Cara and Cheer

The Spanish cara (“head”) comes from the same Latin word (cara), also meaning the same, “head.”

From that Latin, we get the English cheer (via French’s chere). Thus, the ch‑r of cheer maps to the c‑r of cara.

A face — after all — is the most human instead to make us thankful (to cheers a toast!) for life. And most faces fill us with enough happiness to make us cheerful!

Mientras and Interim

Mientras (Spanish for “while”), comes from the Latin dum interim, meaning, “in the meantime,” which itself comes from the earlier basic prefix, inter-. Interim has entered formal English speech meaning the same, of course.

The n‑t-r root is visible in both mientras and interim — but it is less obvious because of the m- opening sound, from the lost prefix dum (“out of”).

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