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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish »

Rehusar — Refuse

The Spanish rehusar — literally, “refuse” — sounds odd to English ears: it’s the same word, but the ‑f- became an ‑h-. Huh?

This is explained via the pattern of Latin words that began with an f- tended to turn into an h- in Spanish and only in Spanish. See famine/hambre, and huir/fugitive for example.

Refuse and Rehusar follow the same pattern. Both come from the Latin refundere — from which we also get the English, refund. They are all ways of giving back.

This f‑to‑h pattern usually happens with the first letter of the word. But here it is the first letter of the second syllable — because the re- is of course the standard prefix so it didn’t effect the sound pattern change.

Lunes and Monday

Monday lunes spanish english

The days of the week in Spanish and English parallel each other in weird, eerie detail.

Lets start with the most obvious: Monday. It was originally the Moon-day — the day to worship the Moon.

The Latins felt the same way — and thus Lunes comes from Luna, the Latin for moon!

Stay tuned for the next installments, where it gets more interesting. A hint: Thursday = Thor’s Day; Jueves = Jove’s Day.

Buitre and Vulture

The Spanish buitre doesn’t obviously look like the English word it means: “vulture,” both of which are from the Latin vulturis.

But looking below the surface, we see the similarity: the b‑t-r of buitre maps to the v-(l)-t‑r of “vulture.”

This isn’t obvious at first for two reasons. First, the b- to v- transition: the sounds are identical in Spanish and often interchanged with each other, so it makes sense that they swap here.

But more subtly, the ‑l- between the vowels disappeared in the Spanish version, with the ulu becoming u‑i. The vanishing of the ‑l- between the vowels is much more characteristic of Portuguese than Spanish (see almost every example in Portuguese, like comparing the Spanish vuelo with the Portuguese voo — an observation I first made in the Rio de Janeiro airport years ago!).

Madrugada and Mature

The Spanish for “the hours before sunrise,” Madrugada, is a cousin of the English word mature. Both come from the same Latin root maturare (surprisingly, “to mature”) and you see this because the m‑d-r of madrugada maps to the m‑t-r of mature.

But what is the connection between the two? To mature, in English and Latin, has various meanings and implications: a fruit matures, a child matures, and in all cases, they just grow really quickly. And those wee hours after the depth of the night, before the sunrise itself (amanecer in Spanish) – those hours always go by really quickly. The nightmare of the night matures – literally! – into the light of the day!

Remolino and Mill

Remolino (Spanish for “whirlpool” or “swirl”) comes from the Latino molinum, which means.… mill. This makes sense: a mill just moves around and around in a circular motion — for example, think of a wind-mill. In fact, the English mill comes from the same root! So we can see the m‑l root in both words!

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