The Spanish disfrazar (“to dress up”, as in a costume) comes from the Latin fricare meaning “to rub; to rub off.”
From this same Latin root, we get the English friction — and what is friction if not, rubbing against something to wear it down?
We also get the English traffic (the tra- comes from a shortened version of the trans- “across” prefix). And what is traffic if not, friction across the road?
The fr‑z of disfrazar maps to the fr-ct of friction and just the ff of traffic.
But the question is: how did the word for “rubbing” turn into the word for “dressing up in a costume”? That part is interesting: the Latin fricare (“to rub off”) turned into the Late Latin frictiare, meaning, “walking and leaving footprints (just like animals do).” Leaving tracks as you walk gave away who you are and where you’re going, letting you be followed. But with the de- prefix (meaning “not”) which negates that, disfrazar (literally, de- “not” and frictiare “leaving a trail behind you as you walk”) together meant: not being able to be tracked or followed. Hence, a costume.
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:
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
Moda (Spanish for “fashion”… to be fashionable is, de moda) comes from the Latin modo meaning, “just now”: what is fashionable or cool is, definitionally, temporal, for just this one fleeting moment;tomorrow, it will no longer be cool, for tomorrow isn’t now!
From the same root is the English Modernity, definitionally, is thus just what is happening right this very moment.
The common Spanish tarde, “late”, is a close cousin of the English retard.
Retard is literally the re- prefix (which just adds emphasis) and the Latin tardare, which means, “slow, stupid.”
From tardare we also get the Spanish tarde. So, the ones that are the stupidest do things slowest — literally!
Of course, we also get the English tardy from the same root as well.
Árbol, Spanish for “tree” comes from the Latin arbor, for the same. We can see the Latin to Spanish evolution easily recognizing the common r‑to‑l swap, where the “r” and “l” sounds in many languages are often interchanged.
From the same Latin root, we get a variety of related English words, such as herb and arbor, as in Ann Arbor, home of the great University of Michigan. We also get some other Spanish words, such as hierba, meaning “grass”.
The pattern is easy to spot in the vowel-r‑b root: a‑r-b for árbol and e‑r-b for herb.
The Spanish caer, “to fall”, sounds weird to English ears. But it is closer than it sounds to many English words.
Caer comes from the Latin cadere — meaning “to fall, sink, die” — and the middle ‑d- was lost as Latin grew into Spanish.
From this same Latin root cadere, we get a bunch of English words — mostly that came from the Latin to English via French — including:
The Spanish for “to forget”, olvidar, has an interesting cousin in English: obliterate.
Both come from the same Latin root, obliterare, which means, “to cause to disappear; erase; blot out”, but was used in Latin slang to mean “to be forgotten.” You can see this in the o‑v-d of olvidar mapping to the o-(b)-l‑t of obliterate.
That which is forgotten is, in a sense, obliterated. As the Greeks reminded us: Chronos was a monster who ate his own children. All shall be forgotten!
Obliterare, in turn comes from the Latin root ob- (“against”) and littera (“letter”). Erasing is really just going against the letter itself, after all!
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!
It should be obvious, but it wasn’t to me: the Spanish for “compliment; praise” (elogio) comes from the Latin elogium meaning “inscription; short saying.” The Latin elogium comes from the Greek elegeia, meaning, “elegy” — from which we get that same English word!
This should be clear, since the e‑l-o‑g of elogio maps to the e‑l-e‑g of elegy quite neatly.
But how did we get from “short saying” to “compliment”? Easy: the short sayings that we used to say about other people, over time — centuries — got nicer and nicer and nicer, until everything turns into a compliment. Who wants to be remembered as the nasty guy insulting everyone, anyway?