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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Ajedrez – Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

Camisa – Heaven

The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?

Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).

But they sound so different. How can that be?

The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.

Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.

Jarabe – Syrup

Syrup jarabe english spanish

The Spanish for syrup, jarabe, comes from the same root as the English: the Persian/Arabic sharab, which means “a drink, or wine”.

The drastically different (at least superficially) words are explained by the sh- and related (such as, sy- ) sounds changing to the Arabic-sounding j- sound in Spanish — but not English.

Thus, the j-r-b of jarabe maps to the sy-r-p of syrup.

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Llenar and Expletive

Llenar comes from the Latin plere (“to fill”), as we’ve previously discussed. But here’s another English word that comes from the same Latin root: expletive, yes, that euphemism for vulgar words!

Expletive literally means to “fill” with the expansive ex– prefix which, taken together, mean, “to fill out your words.” An expletive is literally filling conversation with words when you don’t know what else to say!

Hallar and Flatulence

The Spanish hallar (“to find”) comes from the Latin afflare (“to blow.”) From that same Latin root we get various f-l words involving blowing, including:

  • Flatulence — A fart, after all, is just blowing some air!
  • Souffle — With the French prefix sous– (“under”), a souffle is cooked by blowing hot air under the foot!
  • Conflate — To blow different things together!
  • Inflate — To blow-up the numbers!

All of these share the f-l root. But how did this turn into the Spanish hallar? Well, first remember that the initial F- sound tended to disappear when Latin turned into Spanish; see, fig and higo or fable and hablar. Secondly, note that finding something is just blowing on it, uncovering what was below the dust you blew away!

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