Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Siglo and Secular

Siglo, Spanish for “century”, closely related to the English secular.

How? The connection seems surprising.

Both come from the Latin saeculum, meaning, “age, span of time, generation”.

The evolution from saeculum to siglo is obvious: a century is just a unit or breakdown of time.

But in English, it evolved into the sense to mean “worldly.” While the religious concerns itself with the spirit and the “other-worldly,” it is the characteristics of time — growing, aging — that are the most fundamental characteristics of this world.

Life in the real world, in other words, is defined by getting old.

Luego and Locate

Luego (Spanish for “later”) comes from the Latin locus (“place.”) From this same Latin root, we get various place-related English words, including…

  • Local — This is really just a place!
  • Locale — A locale is just a type of place!
  • Locomotion — Local + motion = moving from one place to another!
  • Locate — To just find the place where something is!

We can see the l-g of luego map to the l-c of locate clearly.

The interesting question is how “place” came to mean “later” in Spanish. It’s interesting. Basically, in ancient Latin (and even moreso in vulgar Latin), locus (“place”) was used in lots and lots of expressions related to time. So, over time, the word for “place” became more and more associated with the word for “time” — until, eventually, it became a type of time… being late. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Latins are always late — stereotypically, at least!

Creer – Incredible

The Spanish creer, “to believe”, is easy to remember once we realize it comes from the same root as… incredible. Both are from the Latin credibilis (meaning “worth of believing”), and the in- prefix is a negation, so that which is incredible is literally… unbelievable. And thus, creer is also a first cousin to being… credible. Ahhh!

Boda – Vote

Boda, Spanish for “wedding,” comes from the Latin word votum, meaning a “vote, promise”.

This, indeed, makes sense: what is a wedding if not just a vote for the other person, and a promise to be with them? At least in Spanish it is. (The other word for wedding in Spanish, casamiento, is related to the Spanish for “home”, casa).

This one isn’t obvious, at all, based on the spelling, but it is based on the sound. One lesson is to guess parallel words based on the sounds more than the letters. But pay attention to the letters when they are unexpected or voiced weirdly.

Espalda and Spatula

The Spanish espalda (“back”, meaning the part of your body where your spine is!) comes from the Latin spatula meaning also “back” (same sense) or “short wooden blade.”

It’s hard to predict what English word came from the same root? Spatula! It’s easy to see how this evolved: a short wooden blade can look like your shoulder. (Hence the French word for “shoulder” is épaule!)

The s-p-t of spatula maps clearly to the s-p-(l)-d of espalda.

Elegir and Elect, Elegant

Elegir (Spanish for “to choose”) comes from the Latin for the same, eligere.

From the Latin root eligere, we get the English… elect. We can see the e-l-g map to the e-l-ct clearly; the “g” and hard “ct” sounds do sound similar. To choose, to elect–’tis the same!

More surprisingly, from the same root, we also get the English… elegant. We can see the e-l-g mapping preserved here. Is not something elegant just something that the elites have chosen?

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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