Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Lazar and Lasso

Lazar (Spanish for “to tie, such as with a ribbon”) comes from the Latin laqueum, meaning “a tie, such as a noose”. From that same root, we get the English… lasso. A lasso, after all, is really a cable that can be used to tie someone or something up…!

The l‑z of lazar clearly maps to the l‑ss of lasso.

Autopista and Pizza

Autopista (Spanish for “highway”) comes from the words auto- (you can guess what that one means!) and pista, which is Spanish for “track” (think, train tracks, or the track that runners run on).

But where does pista come from? The Latin pistus (“to pound” — think of the motion of pounding something into dust as being a bit like the running around the track! Pounding the pavement!). From this Latin pistus, we get a few English words including… pizza (via Italian, of course! Think of the pounding needed to make the pizza dough!) and piston (the piston engine going in circles is a bit like running as well!).

Thus, we can see the p‑st of autopista maps to the p‑zz of pizza and the p‑st of piston.

Dejar — Relax

The “sh” sound — often represented in writing as an “x” — transformed in all different ways to the “j” letter (and the accompanying mouth-clearing sound, influenced by Arabic) as late Latin turned into Spanish. See lots of examples: sherry/jerez, for example.

Here’s another: the common Spanish word, dejar, meaning, “to leave to the side” or “to put down” or to “put away” or to just “let go.”

Dejare comes from the Latin laxare, meaning, “to loosen”. From this same root, we get a few English words — which did not go through the x‑to‑j transformation Spanish did including:

  • Lax –  which basically means to loosen up, so it is similar conceptually!
  • Laxative — this loosens up the remains of your food inside your body so you can excrete, to be euphemistic.
  • Relax — this is a loosening of your muscles and body and mind as well. According to this same pattern, we also know that relax in Spanish is, relajar.

See more examples of this same pattern including lejos and leash here.

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.

Nacer and Renaissance

Nacer comes from the Latin for the same, nascere: “to be born.”

From the Latin nascere, with an added prefix of re- meaning “again”, we get the Renaissance — literally, “the rebirth”!

Thus, Nacer and Renaissance are close cousins, and we can see that the n‑c of nacer maps to the ®-n‑s of renaissance.

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.

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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For Nerds Learning Spanish via Etymologies