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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » F to P »

Pulga and Flea

It is both surprising and funny that in Spanish, a Flea Market is translated to be, literally, exactly the same: Mercado de Pulgas.

But it is even more surprising (although probably less funny) that flea and its Spanish translation, pulga, are close cousins – despite the different sounds.

Both derive from the Indo-European *plou. To understand this transformation, we should remember that the Indo-European p- sounds stayed the same in Latin (and thus Spanish) but became an f- sound in German (and thus English).

Therefore, the f-l of flea maps exactly to the p-l of pulga!

Cinco – Five

The relation between “five” in Spanish (cinco) and English is one of the more surprising relationships: they are indeed direct second cousins!

Both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, *penkwe, meaning the same, five. (The greek for five also comes from the same: think about pentagon, for example).

The interesting part is this: the p- sound in Proto-Indo-European evolved into the Germanic and then English f- sound. Think about father and padre, for example or foot and pie. Five and cinco follow this pattern too, but in a more subtle way.

The Proto-Indo-European for the same, *penkwe, evolved into the Latin word for “five”: quinque. The qu- was pronounced in a hard way like a k- and then, as Latin evolved into Spanish, the k- was softened into the soft c- in cinco. So p- to k- to c-. You can see it through the similar sounds.

Indeed, the pattern is most obvious in the repetition of the sounds in both works cin-co as the c/k sound twice, at the start of each syllable. And the fi-ve as the f- sound (and its closely related, usually identical and often interchangeable sound of v-) at the start of each of its syllables as well.

Pluma and Fleece

Pluma, Spanish for “feather”, sounds nothing like the English feather.

But it is a cousin to the English fleece.

Both come from the same Indo-European root *pleus-, which meant “feather” or to “pluck.”

But they sound so different! That is because the Indo-European p- sound stayed the same into Latin then Spanish, but changed into a f- in the Germanic branch (including English).

Thus the p-l of pluma maps to the f-l of fleece.

Pegar and Pituitary and Fat

The Spanish pegar (“to paste”) comes from the Latin pix, meaning “tar.” That makes sense: “paste” looks like just a more diluated “tar.”

But pix itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European root pei(e), which meant, fat — think of animal fat, for example. It makes sense that this word evolved into a word meaning “tar”: that’s a bit what animal fat looks like.

From this same root pei(e), we get a few notable English words:

  • Fat — Fat itself comes from this root! This is through the PIE p- sound transforming into the f- sound as it evolved into German and English. Think about father/padre, for example.
  • Pituitary — The same root came back in, via an educated Latin, to mean, the pituitary gland. Why? Because the ancients believed that this slimy gland is what produced mucous/snot — the smile of the nose. A bit like tar, isn’t it? We can see the P- root preserved here, too.

Pudrir and Foul

The Spanish pudrir, “to rot,” has a surprising connection to the English, foul, a word meaning the same but sadly very underused these days — although still when quoting Macbeth: fair is foul and foul is fair!

Both come from the same Indo-European root *pu, meaning, “to rot.”

But the English one sounds so different because, in the Germanic branch of Indo-European, the p- sound turned into the f- sound. But now in the Latin branch.

Thus the initial f+vowel of foul maps to the initial f+vowel of pudrir.

From the same root are more fun words including defile, putrid, and pus. What wonderful imagery!

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