Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Acabar — Bring To A Head

Acabar — the everyday Spanish word meaning “just”, “finish”, and, wait for it “to ejaculate” (don’t ask how I learned the last definition!) — comes from the Latin caput, meaning “head”.

Thus, it has a parallel in the English expression: to bring to a head. Although that phrase doesn’t exactly mean to finish (it means, to force a decision to be made, basically), it is a similar concept: bringing about a totality that finishes or just about finishes something that had been happening.

Thus etymology proves the common sense wisdom that, it’s easy to start something… but it requires real intelligence, a head, to finish what you start.

Pais and Pagan

País (Spanish for “country”) comes from the Latin pagus meaning “countryside”. From that same root, we also get the English… pagan.

Funny how, beliefs in traditional gods was a feature of people living far from the cities… even back then. The more things change, the more they remain the same!

Only the initial p- sound has been retained in both.

Rechazar and Cazar

The Spanish rechazar (“to reject”) doesn’t sound like anything in English. At least not obviously.

The word, however, comes from more basic Spanish word cazar (“to hunt”), which we’ve previously discussed here — related to the English “chase.”

But how did the word for “hunt” become “reject”?

Well, lets think about it: you hunt after your opponent, your enemy, the big bad bear you’re trying to kill. You hunt after that which you reject. Hunting could then be seen as the strongest form of rejection!

Ciento and Hundred

Today’s link is another gem: despite sounding completely different, hundred and its ciento are actually the same word. Here’s how.

The ancient Proto-Indo-European root *kmtom meant a hundred. As PIE evolved into Latin, the word stayed basically the same phonetically, turning into centum, and stayed the same (but with a soft‑c pronunciation) into the Spanish, ciento.

But as PIE evolved into German, the k-/c- sounds evolved into h- sounds. Think about heart/corazon and hemp/cannabis, for example. 100 followed the same pattern, with the initial k-/c- sound turning into the h-.

Thus, the c‑n-t of ciento maps exactly to the h‑n-d of hundred. The t/d were interchanged but that’s a very common, similar, and more obvious pattern.

Afinar and Refine

Afinar, meaning “to tune” — as in, you tune your guitar — comes from the Latin finis, meaning, “border”: tuning a guitar is really finding the exact border between this note and the other one. 

From the same Latin root finis, we get English words such as fine, refine (remember the re- prefix is just an intensifier), as well as the English finish.

Tuning your guitar, in other words, as really an act of refining the souds.

The f‑n root is clearly visible in all.

Correr — Horse

The Spanish correr, “to run” seems completely unrelated to the English horse. Looks can be deceiving.

Correr comes from the Latin for the same, currere. Currere, in turn, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *kurs, which also means, “to run” — just like horse does! Both have the same common ancestor.

The weird thing is: how did the PIE *kurs turn into horse, they sound so different.

The explanation is that, in the Germanic languages like English, the k- sound turned into the h- sound. But in Spanish, the original k- sound remained, although usually written with a c-.

This explains many parallel words that have c- and h- sounds that map to each other between Spanish and English, like heart/corazon and head/cabeza.

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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