Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Flecha and Fletcher

Today’s pattern is so easy that you won’t recognize it until we tell you!

The classic English last name Fletcher was given to those who made arrows. This is unsurprising if we remember the Spanish word for arrow is… flecha. The f‑l-ch root is obvious in both of them!

Now is when we all go in unison: ahhhhh!

Amenazar and Mine

Amenazar (Spanish for “to threaten”) has a curious origin: from the Latin mine, meaning, “lead” or sometimes “silver.” Remember, this was the material that weapons — swords, arrowheads, etc — were made of. If you don’t comply with my threat – I will hurt you!

Although this isn’t directly related to the English mine (the place where you get silver!), they might have the same original root – and it is an easy mnemonic. After all, we mine silver in the mines.

Apoyar and Podium

The Spanish apoyar, to help, has a surprising root: podiare, the Latin meaning “to step on.” Think of the Spanish pie, from the same root.

This came about through an interesting linguistic turn of events: podiare originally meant “to step on” and then it came to mean, “to raise up” — like, to put on a podium. A podium is, after all, a raised platform that you step on!

Helping someone, in Spanish, is thus a form of lifting them up — literally. Or maybe, stepping on them?

This implies a question: what happened to the ‑d-? The p‑y of apoyar maps to the p‑d of podium, but how did the ‑d- turn into a ‑y-? The answer is that, apoyar entered Spanish, from podiare, via Italian — it first turned into appoggiare, the Italian for the same! So the ‑d- turned into a ‑g- which turned into a ‑y-.

Enojar and Annoy

Enojar, Spanish for “to get angry”, has a fun cousin in the English, annoy.

Both of these (along with the French for “worldly boredom”, ennui) come from the Latin inodiare, meaning, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds emphasis to the odium, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the parallels in all with the open vowel, followed by the ‑n-, followed by a ‑y- sound, although in Spanish the ‑y- sounds (and its corresponding ‑x- and ‑sh- variations) often turned into the ‑j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a‑n-y maps to the e‑n-j.

Hatred, then, dissipates and weakens over time. In English, hatred weakens into mere annoyance. In Spanish, hatred weakens into just anger, enojo. And, best of all, hatred in French weakens into a world-weary boredom of ennui.

Disfrutarse and Fruit

The common Spanish word for “to enjoy”, disfrutarse has an unlikely cousin: fruit.

Both come from the same root, the Latin fructus meaning, “something you enjoy.” We do enjoy fruit after all — it is the classical dessert.

In English, we do have the remains of fruit in this sense in the occasional phrases, like, “the fruits of your labor.”

We can see the mapping of both the English and Spanish to each other in the f‑r-t root in both.

Brazo and Bra, Bracelet

The Spanish brazo (“arm”) comes from the Latin bracchium meaning, “upper arm.” The Latin itself comes from the Greek brakhion. From these, we get English words such as bra (more recognizable if we remember the older, and original French, form of the word, brassière) as well as bracelet

We can see the br‑c and its variations (br‑z, br‑s) in all the versions of the word.

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