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Cuero and Cork

The Spanish for “leather,” cuero, comes from the Latin corium meaning, “leather or hide.” From that root, we get a few English words, including… cork. A cork is made from the the hide of a tree, after all! 

From the same root we also get cortex (the tree that runs up your spine!), scrotum (feels like a skin, doesn’t it?)

We can see the c‑r root clearly in all these words!

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!

Presupuesto and Presuppose

Today’s pattern is another entry in the “obvious in hindsight” category.

Presupuesto is the common Spanish word for “budget.” Sounds arbitrary and hard to remember.

But it turns out, this is just a participle of presuponer, which is conjugated just like poner and means… to presuppose.

We see the relation between the words obviously in the too-clear pre-s-p‑s pattern.

A budget, after all, is just presupposing how all the money will be spent, right?

Entender and Extend

Entender (Spanish for, “to understand”; and much more common than the other word for the same, comprender) comes from the Latin tendere, “to stretch out.” 

From this root, we get the English extend — which is just a form of stretching.

We can also see how stretching became understanding if we remember that, to really understand something, you need to stretch your brain and creativity to the limits.

The t‑n-d root is clear in both words as well. From the same root, we get other similar words that are metaphors for stretching out: intend, to tender, and even tentative

Buitre and Vulture

The Spanish buitre doesn’t obviously look like the English word it means: “vulture,” both of which are from the Latin vulturis.

But looking below the surface, we see the similarity: the b‑t-r of buitre maps to the v-(l)-t‑r of “vulture.”

This isn’t obvious at first for two reasons. First, the b- to v- transition: the sounds are identical in Spanish and often interchanged with each other, so it makes sense that they swap here.

But more subtly, the ‑l- between the vowels disappeared in the Spanish version, with the ulu becoming u‑i. The vanishing of the ‑l- between the vowels is much more characteristic of Portuguese than Spanish (see almost every example in Portuguese, like comparing the Spanish vuelo with the Portuguese voo — an observation I first made in the Rio de Janeiro airport years ago!).

Pronto and Prompt

Pronto (Spanish for “soon”) comes from the Latin promptus, from “brought forth”. From the same word is the English.… prompt.

Thus, we can see the pr-n‑t mapping to the pr-m‑t, since the n/m are often transformed from one to the other, as languages change.

Pelo and Fight

Pelo (Spanish for “hair”) is a surprisingly militaristic word. Pelo comes from the Latin for the same, pilus–a hairy word, indeed.

But pelo, in the ancient language become a common word to mean a tiny amount, like we might say a “spec” in modern English. Apparently, the Romans lost their hair early!

So, as a euphemism for “a tiny amount”, it became the standard word in Latin for… a small group of soldiers: a pilum.

Then, over the centuries, the word for a group of soldiers came to mean the word for… fighting. Surprise, surprise. Therefore, that’s why the Spanish for “to fight” is… pelear.

Thus pelo (“hair”) and pelear (“to fight”) are almost the same word, in Spanish! Who would’ve thunk!

Cielo and Celestial

Both the Spanish cielo (“sky”) and the English celestial come from the same root: the Latin caelestis, meaning, “sky.” The c‑l root is evident in both.

Not all patterns are subtle; we just need to make the connection!

The Spanish for “light blue,” celeste, comes from the same root, for a reason so self-evident that it’s not worth saying. Just look up.

Colgar and Collocate

Colgar (Spanish for, “to hang”) comes from the Latin collocare — from which, unsurprisingly, we get the English, collocate. We can see the c‑l-g mapping in colgar to the c‑l-c root in the English and the original Latin. Hanging is really just a form of locating it!

Collocare itself comes from the prefix com- (“with”; like the Spanish con-) plus the root locare, “to place.” Thus, the word is a cousin of lugar (Spanish for “place”) and its English cousin… locate. Yes, we see the l‑g map to the l‑c, too. Another example of the c/g swap that we also see in colgar and collocate.

Través and Convert

Través — in the classic phrase, a través de (“going through”) — comes from the Latin transversus, which is just the prefix trans- (“through”) with vertere (“to turn”).

Here is where it gets interesting. From the same root vertere, we get all of the vert- English words, such as: convert, invert, divert, vertebrae. All do involve turning, in one form or another.

This one doesn’t have a mapping that is easy, since only the v- survives, since the trans- lost the ‑ns- and the r‑t-r of vertere disappeared, leaving us with just… v. But we should remember that the v‑, and much more often the v‑r or v‑r-t is just that something is turning, converting into something else.


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