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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Cabeza and Head

The Indo-European root kaput, meaning “head”, led to words for the head in almost every western language, with no change.

The kaput turned into the almost-identical caput in Latin; and then that evolved, through very minor changes, to the almost-the-same cabeza in Spanish. The main sound shift is the p to b, but those are very clearly aligned signs that often swap.

Kaput, however, evolved into the German kopf — which then became the English head. How so?

The Germanic sound “k-“, as German evolved into English, generally became the “h-” sound in English. Take century/hundred or horn/cornudo or, my favorite, hemp/cannabis as other examples.

Thus, the c-b(-z) of cabeza maps to the h-d of head. In the English pattern of short, powerful words, the final sound was lost as well, to give us the simple, straightforward head.

Sospechoso – Suspect

Suspect and the Spanish equivalent, sospechoso, are easy to identify and obviously the same word, both from the same Latin root, suspectus.

That’s not the interesting part. Rather, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the Latin sound -ct- turned into the Spanish -ch- sound. Think lactose/leche or octagon/ocho.

And suspect falls exactly into this pattern: the English s-s-p-ct maps exactly to the Spanish s-s-p-ch.

Noche – Nocturnal

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The Spanish for “night”, noche, is related (via the common Latin ancestor) nocturnal.

Here’s the interesting part: the Latin sound “ct” consistently changed to the “ch” sound in Spanish. Think “lactose” and “leche”, or “octagon” and “ocho”. And this is another example of that pattern: the “ct” in “nocturnal” is the same as the “ch” in “noche”!

Sanguche and Sandwich

The Spanish for sandwich is sánguche — just the English word, as it is pronounced in Spanish. That one is easy!

However, what is noteworthy is that the -w- becomes a -g-. At first, that seems odd. But then, we remember the -w- to -g- transformation: that in a lot of Germanic words, when they’re brought into Spanish, the -w- sound becomes a -g- sound. Think war/guerra, for a great example.

Suddenly, the weird letter change makes sense!

Humo and Fumes

If he is fuming, he is smoking — literally. And it is, subtly, the same word in Spanish.

“To fume” comes from the Latin root fumus (“smoke”) from which we also get the common Spanish word for “smoke”, humo. But they don’t sound alike, so how are they related?

The Spanish humo is a great example of the pattern of the Initial F turning into an H in Spanish, alone among the languages of the world. Many Latin words that began with an F, and come to us in English through the Latinate F form, became the equivalent word but with an H- in Spanish. Take hermano and filial, for example. Or fact and hecho.

Other English words from the same root fumus include fumigation (ahhhh!) and the less common fetid. Fetid is a dirty, Shakespearean word, after all.

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