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Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Hoja and Foliage

Hojas leaves

The Initial F, followed by a vowel, disappears: So, “hoja“, meaning “leaf” (in all senses: the autumn trees, the piece of paper) is thus, from the same Latin root as “foliage“, the green plant leaves!

Guillermo – William

The “W” sound is a classic Germanic and Anglo-saxon sound. Harsh, it is.

Interestingly, the Germanic and English words with the w- become the gu- sound as these words evolved into Spanish. Yes, in this case, the Germanic and English words — centuries ago — made its way back into Spanish rather than the more common pattern of vice-versa!

One example: the name William maps to the Spanish name… Guillermo. I first discovered this because I was once in a bookstore in Buenos Aires and there was a book “Enrique IV” by “Guillermo Shakespeare”. I needed about a minute to figure out what was happening (Enrique is Spanish for Henry).

Hilo and File

The Spanish hilo (cord; thread; string) comes from the Latin for the same, filum. The words sound very different, until we remember that, words in Latin that began with an f- tended to change to h- in Spanish: hijo/filium, and hoja/foliage, for example. Now the hilo/filum makes sense!

Interestingly, however, from that same Latin root filum, we get various English words that also quietly show they are descendants of the word for cord or thread. Including:

  • File (as a verb; to file your nails or papers) — what is filing if not using a thread to shorten or separate different items?
  • Profile — With the Latin root pro- (put forth!), what is profiling it not drawing out or dragging out information about someone?

Camisa – Heaven

The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?

Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).

But they sound so different. How can that be?

The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.

Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.

Hablar and Fable

hablar spanish talk
The Spanish “hablar” (“to talk”) comes from the vulgar Latin “fabulari”, also meaning “to talk” – hence the English, “fable”.

This gets very interesting very quickly, so note:

  • This is an example of the “f” to “h” conversion, in which the initial “f” sound was lost as Latin turned into Spanish
  • There was a fascinating parallel process as vulgar Latin, a bit to the north, turned into French: another Latin word for “talking”, “parabolari” turned into the French for the same, “parlere”, so “parler” (as in, “parlez-vous francias?”) is related to the English word “parables”
  • And isn’t there a conceptual similarity between “parable” and “fable”? Both meant, “to tell stories”: so, in both languages, an exaggerated form of talking, story-telling, over time turned into the common word for talking.

Lluvia and Pluvial

The Spanish lluvia (for “rain”) comes from the Latin pluvia for the same — a change that may not be obvious because the -pl- of Latin sometimes became a -ll- in Spanish.

From the same root, we get the sophisticated English word pluvial which means… lots of rain!

The ll-v of lluvia clearly maps to the p-l of pluvial.

Hallar and Flatulence

The Spanish hallar (“to find”) comes from the Latin afflare (“to blow.”) From that same Latin root we get various f-l words involving blowing, including:

  • Flatulence — A fart, after all, is just blowing some air!
  • Souffle — With the French prefix sous– (“under”), a souffle is cooked by blowing hot air under the foot!
  • Conflate — To blow different things together!
  • Inflate — To blow-up something!

All of these share the f-l root. But how did this turn into the Spanish hallar? Well, first remember that the initial F- sound tended to disappear when Latin turned into Spanish; see, fig and higo or fable and hablar. Secondly, note that finding something is just blowing on it, uncovering what was below the dust you blew away!

Hongo – Fungus

The Spanish hongo, for “mushroom,” doesn’t sound anything like its English counterpart “mushroom.” But it does come from the Latin fungus from which we get the English synonym for mushroom… fungus.

The relation between hongo and fungus is easy to remember if we remember that, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the initial f- (followed by a vowel) usually transformed into an h-. Thus, the f-n-g for fungus maps exactly to the h-n-g of hongo.

Hacer and Fact

The English fact comes from the Latin factum, meaning “something that happened.” It is thus an exact cognate to the Spanish hacer, meaning “to make.” How?

The root of both is the Latin facere, meaning “to do.” Fact, and the Latin factum, is just the same word in a different tense.

The Latin facere turned into the Spanish hacer, although they superficially sound different. Their relation becomes obvious once we remember that Latin words that began with an initial f- almost always turned into h- when Latin evolved into Spanish.

Therefore, the f-c-r of facere maps exactly to the h-c-r of hacer.

This pattern explains many words such as hierro/ferrari, hervir/fever, huir/fugitive, hoja/foliage!

Gastar and Waste

Gastar (Spanish for “to spend”) has an interesting first cousin: waste.

Both come from Latin vastare (“to lay to waste”) which in turn comes from vastus (“empty.”)

The v- sound of vastare turned into a gu- sound as Latin turned into Spanish. But in English, this French word took on the more Germanic w- sound. Thus, although not directly descended from German, it does follow the common g-/w- pattern (guerra/war).

We can thus see the g-st map to the w-st clearly.

After all: spending money is wasting money!

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:
morgan@westegg.com

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