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

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!

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.

Es­puma and Foam

The Span­ish for “foam”, es­puma, comes from the Latin for the same: spuma. And this Latin comes from the Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root *(s)poi-moi from which we al­so get the Eng­lish… foam.

How so? Be­cause the PIE root p- very con­sis­tent­ly be­came an f- as it evolved in­to Ger­man then Eng­lish, but this trans­for­ma­tion nev­er hap­pened when it be­came Latin and then Span­ish. Note words like foot/pie and fa­ther/padre.

Thus the f‑m of foam maps to the (s)-p‑m of es­puma very clear­ly!

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.

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!

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