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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish »

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!

Cuñado and Cognate

Cuñado, Spanish for “brother-in-law,” comes from the Latin cognatus, from which we get the near-identical English cognate. How can two words so similar mean something so different?

The Latin root cognatus itself came from the roots com– (meaning “together”) and gnasci (meaning “to be born”); thus, literally, “born together.” So, two words that are cognates are — etymologically-speaking — words that are born together. And brothers-in-law are two men who are not brothers but were, in effect at least, born together as well.

Note also that this is an example of the pattern whereby Latin words with a -gn- generally became an ñ in Spanish. Thus the c-gn-t of cognate maps to the c-ñ-d of cuñado.

Rencor and Rancid

The Spanish for “anger,” rencor, has a fun English cousin: rancid.

Both words come from the Latin rancere, meaning “to stink.”

Thus, literally, both rotten food stinks and, anger stinks.

We can see the relationship clearly if we see the r-n-c mapping between the words.

Mil and Mile

The Spanish for a “thousand,” mil, comes from the Latin milia, meaning the same.

Here’s the interesting part: the ancient Romans would put a stake in the ground every thousand paces outside the city, to mark how far away you go. And that’s why, from the Latin word for a thousand, we get the English… mile.

Bonus: million comes from the same root–and literally means, “a thousand thousand!”

Demasiado and Master

The Spanish demasiado (“enough!”) comes from the Latin adverb magis, meaning “more!”.

From that same root magis, we also get the English… master.

It goes to show you: a master is really someone who, as Depeche Mode said, just can’t get enough.  So they keep going and going and going, until they’ve become a master.

The m-s root maps clearly to both words.

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