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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Cuña­do and Cog­nate

Cuña­do, Span­ish for “broth­er-in-law,” comes from the Latin cog­na­tus, from which we get the near-iden­ti­cal Eng­lish cog­nate. How can two words so sim­i­lar mean some­thing so dif­fer­ent?

The Latin root cog­na­tus it­self came from the roots com- (mean­ing “to­geth­er”) and gnasci (mean­ing “to be born”); thus, lit­er­al­ly, “born to­geth­er.” So, two words that are cog­nates are — et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly-speak­ing — words that are born to­geth­er. And broth­ers-in-law are two men who are not broth­ers but were, in ef­fect at least, born to­geth­er as well.

Note al­so that this is an ex­am­ple of the pat­tern where­by Latin words with a ‑gn- gen­er­al­ly be­came an ñ in Span­ish. Thus the c‑gn‑t of cog­nate maps to the c‑ñ-d of cuña­do.

Re­luc­tant and Luchar

Luchar, Span­ish for “to fight”, does­n’t sound like its cousin re­luc­tant — al­though of course every­one is re­luc­tant to fight. But the re­la­tion­ship is clos­er than it seems.

Re­luc­tant comes from the Latin roots re- (“against”) and luc­tari (“to fight”). Re­luc­tance is to fight against what should be done — lit­er­al­ly.

From luc­tari, we al­so get the Span­ish for ex­act­ly the same, “to fight.”

But they don’t sound sim­i­lar. How did luchar evolve?

In­ter­est­ing­ly, in most Latin words that had a ‑ct- sound, this ‑ct- sound evolved in­to ‑ch- as Latin evolved in­to Span­ish. Think about night/noche and eight/oc­ta­gon. The same pat­tern ex­plains luc­tari turn­ing in­to luchar.

We see this re­la­tion­ship clear­ly with the l‑ct to l‑ch map­ping be­tween the two.

Hu­so and Fuse

The Span­ish hu­so (“spin­dle” — what Cin­derel­la us­es to weave!) comes from the Latin for the same: fusus.

The tran­si­tion is clear when we re­mem­ber that the ini­tial F in Latin usu­al­ly turned in­to an “h” in Span­ish: fig vs hi­go, for ex­am­ple. Or herir vs in­ter­fere, for an­oth­er.

From the same Latin root fusus, we al­so get the Eng­lish… fuse. Why? Well, look at the shape: an old-school spin­dle looks like a big fuse!

Thus, we can see the f‑s of fuse map clear­ly to the h‑s of hu­so.

Otoño and Au­tumn

Otoño does­n’t sound much like its Eng­lish trans­la­tion, fall (the sea­son). But if we think of the less com­mon syn­onym, Au­tumn, then the pat­tern be­comes a bit clear­er.

Both come from the Latin for the same, Au­tum­nus. But Latin words with an m‑n sound usu­al­ly be­came an ñ sound in Span­ish. Think of damn and daño, for ex­am­ple. So the a‑t-m‑n of au­tumn maps to the o‑t-ñ of otoño!

Eje and Axle

The Span­ish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, ax­is. The Eng­lish axle comes from the same com­mon an­ces­tor as the Latin ax­is, the pro­to-in­do-eu­ro­pean root *aks- al­so mean­ing the same.

The Span­ish eje is easy to un­der­stand if we re­mem­ber that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the an­cient lan­guages be­came the throat-clear­ing ‑j- sound in Span­ish. Thus, the e‑j of eje maps to the a‑x of axle pret­ty clear­ly.

It’s in­ter­est­ing how such a sim­ple word has re­mained most­ly un­changed for tens of thou­sands of years. Per­haps, the axle is one of the most fun­da­men­tal dis­cov­er­ies in hu­man his­to­ry. It is, af­ter all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civ­i­liza­tion.


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