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

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.

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!

Hilo and File

The Spanish hilo (cord; thread; string) comes from the Latin for the same, filum. The words sound very different, until we remember that, words in Latin that began with a f- tended to change to h- in Spanish: hijo/filium, and hoja/foliage, for example. Now the hilo/filum make sense!

Interestingly, however, from that same Latin root filum, we get various English words that also quietly show they are descendants of the word for cord or thread. Including:

  • File (as a verb; to file your nails or papers) — what is filing if not using a thread to shorten or separate different items?
  • Profile — With the Latin root pro- (put forth!), what is profiling it not drawing out or dragging out information about someone?

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!

Fondo, Hondo and Profound

From the Latin fundus (“bottom”), we get the Spanish fondo (“background”) and hondo (“deep”) — as well as the English profound. After all, when someone says something profound, well, that’s deep.

The mapping of the Spanish f‑n-d (or h‑n-d) to the English (pro)-f-n‑d is straightforward. However, it’s curious that, in hondo, the initial F transformed from Latin into Spanish to an initial H. This is a common pattern, unique to Spanish, that we see in many Latin words as they transformed into Spanish, such as hijo and filial, refuse and rehusar, and higado and fig.

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