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

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.

Hon­go — Fun­gus

The Span­ish hon­go, for “mush­room,” does­n’t sound any­thing like its Eng­lish coun­ter­part “mush­room.” But it does come from the Latin fun­gus from which we get the Eng­lish syn­onym for mush­room… fun­gus.

The re­la­tion be­tween hon­go and fun­gus is easy to re­mem­ber if we re­mem­ber that, as Latin evolved in­to Span­ish, the ini­tial f- (fol­lowed by a vow­el) usu­al­ly trans­formed in­to an h-. Thus, the f‑n-g for fun­gus maps ex­act­ly to the h‑n-g of hon­go.

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.

Hablar and Fa­ble

hablar spanish talk
The Span­ish “hablar” (“to talk”) comes from the vul­gar Latin “fab­u­lari”, al­so mean­ing, “to talk” — hence the Eng­lish, “fa­ble”.

This gets very in­ter­est­ing very quick­ly, so note:

  • This is an ex­am­ple of the “f” to “h” con­ver­sion, in which the ini­tial “f” sound was lost as Latin turned in­to Span­ish
  • There was a fas­ci­nat­ing par­al­lel process as vul­gar Latin, a bit to the north, turned in­to French: an­oth­er Latin word for “talk­ing”, “parabo­lari” turned in­to the French for the same, “par­lere”, so “par­ler” (as in, “par­lez-vous fran­cias?”) is re­lat­ed to the Eng­lish word “para­bles”
  • And is­n’t there a con­cep­tu­al sim­i­lar­i­ty be­tween “para­ble” and “fa­ble”? Both meant, “to tell sto­ries”: so, in both lan­guages, an ex­ag­ger­at­ed form of talk­ing, sto­ry-telling, over time turned in­to the com­mon word for talk­ing.

Hi­jo — Fil­ial, Af­fil­i­ate

The Span­ish for “son”, hi­jo, does­n’t sound like any­thing in Eng­lish. But it is a close cousin of the Eng­lish syn­onym for broth­er­li­ness: fil­ial.

Both come from the Latin for “son,” fil­ius. The trans­for­ma­tion to Span­ish came about through two in­ter­est­ing pat­terns: the ini­tial f- in Latin usu­al­ly turned in­to an h- in Span­ish (such as, hac­er and fact, or hablar and fa­ble). The oth­er pat­tern is less com­mon: the ‑li- sound turned in­to a ‑j- sound — it’s just a less com­mon sound! Thus the f‑li maps to h‑j al­most ex­act­ly.

From the Latin fil­ius, we get a few oth­er Eng­lish words, in­clud­ing: af­fil­i­ate: an af­fil­i­ate is, in a way, a child you rear!

From the same root we al­so get the Eng­lish fe­tus, fe­cund and even fem­i­nine. These come, via the Latin fil­ius, from the Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root *dʰe­h₁y-li-os, mean­ing, “suck­er” — in the lit­er­al sense of, “one who sucks.” Chil­dren, in­deed, are de­fined by their suck­ing their moth­ers; so your hi­jo is lit­er­al­ly, “the one who sucks.” And, some might ar­gue, even af­fil­i­ates them­selves usu­al­ly do suck!


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