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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish »

Recinto and Precinct and Cinch

Recinto (Spanish for “enclosure” or “facility”) comes from the Latin re- (which just adds emphasis) and the Latin cintus (a noun meaning “surrounding” — in the literal sense, of something that surrounds something else, like enclosing a circle around them; or similarly, “encircling.”)

From that same root, we get the English word precinct — which makes sense, since a precinct is really just a radius or… encircling to define a neighborhood.

More surprisingly from same root is, cinch. This Latin word meaning a circling came to mean sword-belt (it is a belt that encriclces you!), which then came to mean the Spanish cincha, meaning “girdle.” That then came back to English to mean, “a sure thing” and then “easy” — because your girdle stays on tightly to be a sure thing. It is a cinch!

1859, American English, “saddle-girth,” from Spanish cincha “girdle,” from Latin cingulum “a girdle, a swordbelt,” from cingere “to surround, encircle,” from PIE root *kenk- (1) “to gird, encircle” (cognates: Sanskrit kankate “binds,” kanci “girdle;” Lithuanian kinkau “to harness horses”). Replaced earlier surcingle. Sense of “an easy thing” is 1898, via notion of “a sure hold” (1888).

We can see the c‑n-t root clearly in recinto and precinct, and the very similar c‑n-ch in cinch as well.

Celoso and Jealous, Zeal

The Spanish celoso and the English for the same, jealousy, come from the same Greek root: zelos.

But how did this happen? They should so different!

The answer is that the Latin (and Greek) words with a ‑ch- sound and variations (like ‑sh‑, the soft ‑j-, ‑z-, etc) usually turned into the hard, guttural, throat-cleaing ‑j- sound in Spanish. Think about sherry and jerez, for example, or quash and quejar, or soap and jabón.

Thus, the c‑l-s of celoso maps to the j‑l-s of jealous.

Curiously, the ancient Greek form — zelos — meant jealousy, but in the more positive sense of enthusiasm and friendly rivalry. In a word: zeal — which also comes from the same root!

Creer — Incredible

The Spanish creer, “to believe”, is easy to remember once we realize it comes from the same root as… incredible. Both are from the Latin credibilis (meaning “worth of believing”), and the in- prefix is a negation, so that which is incredible is literally… unbelievable. And thus creer is also a first cousin to being… credible. Ahhh!

Martillo and Malleable

The Spanish martillo (“hammer”) comes from the Latin malleus meaning the same. And from this Latin root malleus we get the English… malleable. So something that is malleable, changeable, is figuratively… hammerable. 

We see that the Spanish m‑rt-ll maps to the English m‑ll.

Enviar and Envoy

Enviar (Spanish for “To send”) comes from the Latin for the same, inviare. From that same root, we get the English… envoy. An envoy just sends a message, after all!

The e‑n-v root is self-evident in both words. And the Latin inviare comes from the root via for “road”, from which we get endless English words, including… via!

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