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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » H to C »

Caro and Whore, Cher

To­day’s is a good one!

The Span­ish caro (sim­ply, “ex­pen­sive”) has a fun prove­nance: from the an­cient (pre-Latin) Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root karo- that meant… whore. Yes, the an­cient word karo turned in­to the al­most-as-an­cient Latin word carus mean­ing “ex­pen­sive,” from which we get the mod­ern Span­ish word caro, still mean­ing “ex­pen­sive.”

So the pros­ti­tutes of the an­cient world, ap­par­ent­ly, weren’t cheap!

In­ter­est­ing­ly, we can even see a lin­guis­tic con­nec­tion be­tween the words. The k- sound in Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean stayed the same sound as it evolved in­to Latin and then Span­ish (al­though usu­al­ly writ­ten with a c-); but as Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean evolved si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly in­to an­cient Ger­man and then in­to Eng­lish, that k- sound be­came the silent or al­most-silent h- or wh-. Think when and cuan­do, for ex­am­ple. So, we can see there­fore that the c‑r of caro maps to the wh‑r of whore.

The fun­ni­est part, how­ev­er, is that the an­cient Latin carus, for ex­pen­sive, as Latin evolved in­to French, turned in­to the French… cher, for “dear”: in the sense of, “My dear friend!”. The ex­act op­po­site of a whore! Thus, in French, pros­ti­tute be­came ex­pen­sive which be­came that which is dear to you!

Corazón and Heart

So, this is one of my per­son­al all-time fa­vorite et­y­molo­gies. Just sayin’.

The Span­ish for “heart,” corazón, and the Eng­lish heart it­self, both come from the same orig­i­nal root.

Huh? How? But they’re so dif­fer­ent!

Both come from the Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean *kerd-, mean­ing the same. The key to un­der­stand­ing this one is re­mem­ber­ing the pat­tern that the k- sounds from PIE tend­ed to re­main the same in Latin, but changed to the h- sound as it evolved in­to Ger­man and then Eng­lish. Take, for ex­am­ple, hun­dred/cen­tu­ry, for ex­am­ple.

Thus, the h‑r-t of heart maps to the c‑r-z of corazón.

From the same root is… courage. yup, that c‑r is the same c‑r. So courage is in­deed some­thing that comes from the heart.

Cien­to and Hun­dred

To­day’s link is an­oth­er gem: de­spite sound­ing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, hun­dred and its cien­to are ac­tu­al­ly the same word. Here’s how.

The an­cient Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root *km­tom meant a hun­dred. As PIE evolved in­to Latin, the word stayed ba­si­cal­ly the same pho­net­i­cal­ly, turn­ing in­to cen­tum, and stayed the same (but with a soft‑c pro­nun­ci­a­tion) in­to the Span­ish, cien­to.

But as PIE evolved in­to Ger­man, the k-/c- sounds evolved in­to h- sounds. Think about heart/cora­zon and hemp/cannabis, for ex­am­ple. 100 fol­lowed the same pat­tern, with the ini­tial k-/c- sound turn­ing in­to the h-.

Thus, the c‑n-t of cien­to maps ex­act­ly to the h‑n-d of hun­dred. The t/d were in­ter­changed but that’s a very com­mon, sim­i­lar, and more ob­vi­ous pat­tern.

Cuer­no and Horns

Cuerno horns spanish english

The Span­ish for “horn”, cuer­no (and its vari­a­tions, like the ever-present cor­nudo), and the Eng­lish horn are both orig­i­nal­ly the same word in the an­cient lan­guages.


One of the most in­ter­est­ing sound shifts is the In­do-Eu­ro­pean “k-” sound re­mained the same in­to Latin and then Span­ish (the Latin cor­nu for the same) but be­came an al­most-silent “h-” in the Ger­man­ic lan­guages.

Thus the c‑r-n in Span­ish par­al­lels ex­act­ly the h‑r-n in Eng­lish.

There are lots of awe­some and sub­tle ex­am­ples of this pat­tern, such as Corazon/Heart.

Cor­rer — Horse

The Span­ish cor­rer, “to run” seems com­plete­ly un­re­lat­ed to the Eng­lish horse. Looks can be de­ceiv­ing.

Cor­rer comes from the Latin for the same, cur­rere. Cur­rere, in turn, comes from the Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root *kurs, which al­so means, “to run” — just like horse does! Both have the same com­mon an­ces­tor.

The weird thing is: how did the PIE *kurs turn in­to horse, they sound so dif­fer­ent.

The ex­pla­na­tion is that, in the Ger­man­ic lan­guages like Eng­lish, the k- sound turned in­to the h- sound. But in Span­ish, the orig­i­nal k- sound re­mained, al­though usu­al­ly writ­ten with a c-.

This ex­plains many par­al­lel words that have c- and h- sounds that map to each oth­er be­tween Span­ish and Eng­lish, like heart/cora­zon and head/cabeza.


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