Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Atajo and Entail, Tailor

The Spanish Atajo (“shortcut”) comes from the Latin taliare which means, “to split.” How did that transformation come about? Think about it like this: if you want to get somewhere quickly — via a shortcut — then you keep on splitting what remains to get there the quickest way! A more subtle variation of that is, atajo has the a “devious” implication, such as: you’re trying to use the shortcut to get around doing it the hard or honest way. You’re trying to split the path to take a quicker one…

The Latin tailare gives us the English… entail. If a premise entails a conclusion, then, the conclusion is cut for precisely that problem! (This originally happened in reference to inheritances, actually: the inheritance was cut appropriately.)

And from the same root we get the English tailor. A tailor cuts clothing to be right for you!

Brindar, Brindis and Bring

Brindis (a “toast”, in the sense of saluting someone before you drink alcohol) and brindir (“to provide”) both come from the same origin — through a funny story.

In 1527, the German king Charles V sacked Rome — and the soldiers, when sacking the city, screamed out in victory constantly, “Ich bring dir’s!”, meaning, “I’m bringing it!” (“It” here refers to victory, the new king, a new beginning, etc.). This phrase then became popular and repeated around Rome (in Italian), in different senses: it became the toast that everyone used to the new king; and it also entered popular usage in the same sense, of bringing or providing. Then, the word was copied from Italian into Spanish. And, separately, bring, although a German word, is the same word in English. Remember, English is a Germanic language, after all (despite all those French words since 1066 and all that!).

We can thus see the br-n-d of brindis and brindar map to the br-n-g of bring quite clearly. The d/g sounds often swap places as well, thus making the g/d switch make sense: they do sound quite similar, after all.

Costilla and Coast, Accost

Costilla, Spanish for “rib,” is a close cousin of the English coast and accost. All come from the same Latin root, costa, meaning, “side.”

Thus, your rib is literally, “what which is on your side” and to accost is literally, “to come up to you from the side” and, of course, the coast is the definition of the side, your side boundary.

The c-s-t root is clearly visible in all descendents of costa.

Caro and Whore, Cher

Today’s is a good one!

The Spanish caro (simply, “expensive”) has a fun provenance: from the ancient (pre-Latin) Proto-Indo-European root karo– that meant… whore. Yes, the ancient word karo turned into the almost-as-ancient Latin word carus meaning “expensive,” from which we get the modern Spanish word caro, still meaning “expensive.”

So the prostitutes of the ancient world, apparently, weren’t cheap!

Interestingly, we can even see a linguistic connection between the words. The k- sound in Proto-Indo-European stayed the same sound as it evolved into Latin and then Spanish (although usually written with a c-); but as Proto-Indo-European evolved simultaneously into ancient German and then into English, that k- sound became the silent or almost-silent h- or wh-. Think when and cuando, for example. So, we can see therefore that the c-r of caro maps to the wh-r of whore.

The funniest part, however, is that the ancient Latin carus, for expensive, as Latin evolved into French, turned into the French… cher, for “dear”: in the sense of, “My dear friend!”. The exact opposite of a whore! Thus, in French, prostitute became expensive which became that which is dear to you!

Turbio and Disturb

Turbio, Spanish for “cloudy”, comes from the same Latin root as the English disturb: turbidus, meaning, “turmoil; full of confusion; muddy.”

It is easy to see how this one root evolved in time into both the English disturb and the Spanish turbio. Think of a cloudy day, just about to rain: the skies are in turmoil! The Gods are about to fight with one another!

We can see the t-r-b root clearly in both. And the English turbid also comes from the same root, although that word is used only on the SATs.

Cobrar and Recuperate

The Spanish cobrar (“to charge”; in the sense of, to charge a fee or collect a payment) comes from the older Spanish recobrar (meaning, “to recuperate”) — which itself comes from the Latin recuperare for the same “to recuperate.”

We can see the c-b-r mapping to the c-p-r clearly, since the -c- and -p- are often interchanged.

Lesson: charging for something is really just recuperating money that is owed to you anyway!

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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