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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish »

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!

Mentira and Amendment

Spanish for “lie” (Mentira) comes from the Latin mandacium for the same, which in turn, comes from the earlier Latin menda for “defect; fault”. But the Latin Menda comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *mend- meaning the same, fault or defect.

Thus we see an interesting transition over time: defect turned into lie. The word took on more and more agency: the problem didn’t just happen; it was an explicit lie!

The same PIE root *mend-, in English, took a different route: via French, it turned into the modern English amend and amendment. Thus, in English, “defect” turned into the more accidental, less bad, “lets make a change!”.

We can see the parallels easily: the m-n-t of mentira map to the (a)-m-n-d of amend. The d- and t- transformation is very common and the sounds often interchangeable.

We also have the English mendacious that is a direct parallel to mentira… but everyone seems to have forgotten that word.

Torcer and Torture

Torcer, Spanish for “to twist”, as well as retorcer (meaning the same) both come from the Latin root torquere.

From the Latin torquere, we also get the English… torture. You can see the t-r-k sound mapping to the English t-r-t, since the “k” sounds are very similar to the “t” sounds.

Torture, after all, is just an extreme form of being twisted: mentally, physically, in all ways.

From the same root, we also get the English… to thwart. Funnily enough, to thwart is–in a sense–the exact opposite of torture.

Traer and Traction, Tractor

The Spanish traer, meaning “to bring,” comes from the Latin trahere, meaning “to drag.”

From the Latin root, we also get a few related English words that aren’t obvious at first glance:

  • Tractor: What is a tractor if not a machine that brings or drags machinery around the plot of farmland?
  • Traction: What is traction if not something moving so quick that it drags everyone else up along with it?

Note that the -h- vanished when the Latin turned into Spanish but became a -ct- when the Latin became English. Thus the t-r-[nothing] of traer maps to the t-r-ct of the English words.

Azul and Azure

The Spanish for “blue,” azul, is originally an Arabic word referring to a particular type of valuable blue stone, the lapis lazuli. In Spanish, the word degraded over time, and the l- was lost (as though it was the the french l’ for “the”) and we were just left with azul for just “blue.”

The English for azure — which is really just a shade of blue! — comes from the same root, although azure still retains a luxury connotation that was lost with the simple blue implication of azul in Spanish.

Many languages, including Spanish, have an -l- and -r- shift, where, over time, the -l- and -r- sounds are swapped. We see this here, as the a-z-l root of azul maps to the a-z-r root of azure.

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