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

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!

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!

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.

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.
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