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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » Initial F to H »

Hi­ga­do — Fig

“Fig” comes from the Latin “Fi­cus” — ob­vi­ous enough!

But, cu­ri­ous­ly, the Span­ish word is “Hi­ga­do”. Huh?

This is just a sim­ple ex­am­ple of the Ini­tial F to H pat­tern. In lots of Latin words, the first F be­came an H when Latin evolved in­to Span­ish. Think fact/hecho or hablar/fable.

An easy way to fig­ure out what an H- word in Span­ish is: change the ini­tial H to an F and see what Eng­lish word sounds sim­i­lar.

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.

Ho­ja and Fo­liage

Hojas leaves

The Ini­tial F, fol­lowed by a vow­el, dis­ap­pears: So, “ho­ja”, mean­ing “leaf” (in all sens­es: the au­tumn trees, the piece of pa­per) is thus, from the same Latin root as “fo­liage”, the green plant leaves!

Hechizo and Fetish

The Span­ish hechizo (“spell”; noth­ing to do with the let­ters in words, but what a witch casts on you!) comes from the Latin fac­ti­cius (“made by art”; “ar­ti­fi­cial” — in­deed, that which is ar­ti­fi­cial is just some­thing not oc­cur­ring nat­u­ral­ly but in­stead made by art!).

But how did ar­ti­fi­cial change to mean “spell”? Think about it this way: cast­ing a spell goes against na­ture — it’s what the wicked, crazy and pro­found­ly un­nat­ur­al woman does! Think of the three weird sis­ters in Mac­beth, and how they un­nat­u­ral­ly stir up all the el­e­ments!

From hechizo (more specif­i­cal­ly, from it’s Por­tuguese twin cog­nate, feitiço), we get the Eng­lish fetish. How? Well, you have a fetish when the re­cip­i­ent casts a spell on you to be­come ob­sessed with the ob­ject of your fetish, right? Enough said!

That root fac­ti­cius turned in­to hechizo by chang­ing via two com­mon pat­terns: the ini­tial F in Latin tend­ed to turn in­to an H as Latin turned in­to Span­ish (com­pare fig and hi­go, or fume and hu­mo!) and the ‑ct- tend­ed to change to a ‑ch- (com­pare noche and noc­tur­al; or ocho and oc­ta­gon). Thus the h‑ch of hechizo maps to the f‑sh of fetish.

Re­husar — Refuse

The Span­ish re­husar — lit­er­al­ly, “refuse” — sounds odd to Eng­lish ears: it’s the same word, but the ‑f- be­came an ‑h-. Huh?

This is ex­plained via the pat­tern of Latin words that be­gan with an f- tend­ed to turn in­to an h- in Span­ish and on­ly in Span­ish. See famine/hambre, and huir/fugitive for ex­am­ple.

Refuse and Re­husar fol­low the same pat­tern. Both come from the Latin re­fun­dere — from which we al­so get the Eng­lish, re­fund. They are all ways of giv­ing back.

This f‑to‑h pat­tern usu­al­ly hap­pens with the first let­ter of the word. But here it is the first let­ter of the sec­ond syl­la­ble — be­cause the re- is of course the stan­dard pre­fix so it did­n’t ef­fect the sound pat­tern change.


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