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Dis­frazar and Fric­tion, Traf­fic

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.

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!

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

Mo­da and Mod­ern

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.

Tarde and Re­tard

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 and Herb

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.

Caer — Case, Ca­dav­er, Ca­dence

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:

  • Ca­dav­er — The most ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion is Ca­dav­er, a dead body.
  • Ca­dence — The ca­dence of your voice does go up and down!
  • Ca­den­za — The ca­den­za is the dra­mat­ic falling off of the mu­sic at the end!
  • Case (in the sense of, some­thing that hap­pens: a de­tec­tive’s case or “in case of”; not in the “box” sense) — Case is the least ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion. Cadere turned in­to the Latin ca­sus, mean­ing “an event, an ac­ci­dent” which then that turned in­to the more stan­dard, “some­thing that hap­pens.” So, falling/death turned in­to an ac­ci­dent which turned in­to some­thing that just hap­pens — talk about words be­com­ing eu­phemistic over time!

Olvi­dar and Oblit­er­ate

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 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!

El­o­gio and El­e­gy

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?


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