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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish »

Pegar and Pituitary and Fat

The Spanish pegar (“to paste”) comes from the Latin pix, meaning “tar.” That makes sense: “paste” looks like just a more diluated “tar.”

But pix itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European root pei(e), which meant, fat — think of animal fat, for example. It makes sense that this word evolved into a word meaning “tar”: that’s a bit what animal fat looks like.

From this same root pei(e), we get a few notable English words:

  • Fat — Fat itself comes from this root! This is through the PIE p- sound transforming into the f- sound as it evolved into German and English. Think about father/padre, for example.
  • Pituitary — The same root came back in, via an educated Latin, to mean, the pituitary gland. Why? Because the ancients believed that this slimy gland is what produced mucous/snot — the smile of the nose. A bit like tar, isn’t it? We can see the P- root preserved here, too.

Esmero and Mere

Esmero, a Spanish word meaning “done with care” comes from the Latin prefix ex– combined with the Latin merus which meant, “unmixed; pure” (such as, pure wine — not diluted by water). Anything done with care will be pure, right?

From that same Latin root merus, we also get the English… mere. The interesting part is that, over the centuries, mere has gone on to almost take on the opposite of its original meaning: the original, more Latinate sense, was similar to “pure” and its Spanish derivative, done with care. But over time, in English at least, its become degraded and degraded to the point in which today, it means to do “just barely enough.” This is an example of a broader pattern: words tend to degrade over time.

We see the m-r root clearly in both languages.

Tirar and Retire, Tirade

The Spanish tirar, meaning “to throw, to pull”, has two unexpected cousins: the English retire and tirade.

The two English words come from the same root, also meaning the same. Thus, retire literally means, to pull back (the Latin root re- means “back”): to go on a tirade is literally just throwing out lots and lots of words!

Oddly, no one knows where this whole family of words comes from. No obviously similar cognate exists in Latin.

Pluma and Fleece

Pluma, Spanish for “feather”, sounds nothing like the English feather.

But it is a cousin to the English fleece.

Both come from the same Indo-European root *pleus-, which meant “feather” or to “pluck.”

But they sound so different! That is because the Indo-European p- sound stayed the same into Latin then Spanish, but changed into a f- in the Germanic branch (including English).

Thus the p-l of pluma maps to the f-l of fleece.

Volver and Vulva

It might seem obvious in retrospect but it wasn’t at the time. Vulva (yes, that word!) and the Spanish for “to return”, volver, all come from the same root: the Latin volvere also meaning “to return.” Yes, the words are almost identical and the v-l-v in both maps exactly to the other. It should have been glaringly obvious, I just never realized it! The vulva, after all, does roll back and forth! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the comment!).

Lots of other super-interesting words come from the same root: valve, etc. Over the next weeks we’ll post them too! Volver is a particularly rich root; people have been going back and forth since time immemorial!

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