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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » GN to Ñ »

Puñal and Pu­gna­cious

The Eng­lish for ea­ger-to-fight, pu­gna­cious, con­tains the ‑gn- pat­tern in­side it: a give-away to the pat­tern that ‑gn- words in Latin turned the ‑gn- in­to a ‑ñ- in Span­ish yet re­mained the same in­to Eng­lish.

There­fore, pu­gna­cious maps per­fect­ly to puñal, the Span­ish for… “dag­ger.” It makes sense that “dag­ger” and “ea­ger to fight” come from the same root, af­ter all. And that root, in this case, is the Latin pugnare, mean­ing, “to fight.”

Tamaño and Mag­nif­i­cent

Tamaño (Span­ish for “size,” in the size of, “what is your pants size?”) comes from the Latin tammag­no, that is, “so — great” (“great” in the size of “big”). Tam is the Latin for “so” or “very” from which we get the Span­ish tan.

To even mea­sure is thus to im­ply that… you are big! So great! If you’re small, af­ter all, you don’t even need to mea­sure it!

Mag­no (Latin for “great” or “big”) gives us the Eng­lish… mag­nif­i­cent. But, cu­ri­ous­ly, the -gn- turns in­to the ñ as Latin evolved in­to Span­ish. Thus tanmag­no be­came tamaño. We see this gn to ñ pat­tern in many words, such as cog­nate / cuña­do.

Cuña­do and Cog­nate

Cuña­do, Span­ish for “broth­er-in-law,” comes from the Latin cog­na­tus, from which we get the near-iden­ti­cal Eng­lish cog­nate. How can two words so sim­i­lar mean some­thing so dif­fer­ent?

The Latin root cog­na­tus it­self came from the roots com- (mean­ing “to­geth­er”) and gnasci (mean­ing “to be born”); thus, lit­er­al­ly, “born to­geth­er.” So, two words that are cog­nates are — et­y­mo­log­i­cal­ly-speak­ing — words that are born to­geth­er. And broth­ers-in-law are two men who are not broth­ers but were, in ef­fect at least, born to­geth­er as well.

Note al­so that this is an ex­am­ple of the pat­tern where­by Latin words with a ‑gn- gen­er­al­ly be­came an ñ in Span­ish. Thus the c‑gn‑t of cog­nate maps to the c‑ñ-d of cuña­do.

En­señar and Sign

The Span­ish for “to teach,” en­señar comes from the Latin insignare (“to mark”). From the same Latin root, we get the Eng­lish to sign — sign­ing, af­ter all, is mak­ing your mark up­on a pa­per!

But how did sign­ing turn in­to teach­ing, in Span­ish? Well, think about the Eng­lish ex­pres­sion… to make a mark on some­one. A great teacher tru­ly leaves a last­ing mark on you — lit­er­al­ly.

The s‑ñ of en­señar maps to the s‑gn of “sign,” with the ñ turn­ing in­to a gn in Eng­lish, as it com­mon­ly does.

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