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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.

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.

Huir and Fugi­tive

Fugitive huir 3

The Span­ish “Huir” comes from the same Latin root as “fugi­tive”, “fugi­tivus”, mean­ing, “to flee”.

Pat­tern: Latin words that be­gan with an ‘F’ tend­ed to lose that ini­tial ‘F’ sound and be­came silent (yet rep­re­sent­ed in writ­ing with an ‘H’) as vul­gar Latin turned in­to Span­ish.

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.

Horno — Fur­nace

The Span­ish horno, for “oven,” sounds un­re­lat­ed to any Eng­lish coun­ter­part.

But it is in fact a close cousin of fur­nace. Both come from the Latin for­mus, mean­ing “warn”.

How did such dis­sim­i­lar words end up such close cousins?

Be­cause most Latin words that be­gan with an f- fol­lowed by a vow­el end­ed up evolv­ing in Span­ish (alone among the ro­man­tic lan­guages) in­to an h-. Thus the h‑r-n of horno maps al­most ex­act­ly to the f‑r-n of fur­nace. In both cas­es, the orig­i­nal ‑m- evolved in­to an ‑n- in the root. But that is a very com­mon tran­si­tion too, with both sounds be­ing so sim­i­lar.


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