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

Cabeza and Head

The Indo-European root kaput, meaning “head”, led to words for the head in almost every western language, with no change.

The kaput turned into the almost-identical caput in Latin; and then that evolved, through very minor changes, to the almost-the-same cabeza in Spanish. The main sound shift is the p to b, but those are very clearly aligned signs that often swap.

Kaput, however, evolved into the German kopf — which then became the English head. How so?

The Germanic sound “k-“, as German evolved into English, generally became the “h-” sound in English. Take century/hundred or horn/cornudo or, my favorite, hemp/cannabis as other examples.

Thus, the c-b(-z) of cabeza maps to the h-d of head. In the English pattern of short, powerful words, the final sound was lost as well, to give us the simple, straightforward head.

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.

Cannabis – Hemp

Today is time for what is perhaps my all-time favorite example of how sound patterns change over time. Here we go, no more delays:

The Proto-Indo-European sound k- changed into the h- sound into German (then English) — but it remained the k- sound (often spelled with c-) into Latin then Spanish. Thus we get many great parallels we’ve discussed before, such as head/cabeza. Another example of the same pattern:

The English hemp, for everyone’s favorite weed to smoke. The Spanish for the same, which we also say in English, is cannabis.

Now look closely: if we remember that the h- in the Germanic/English words maps to the c- in Latinate/Spanish words, then it becomes very clear that the h-m-p of hemp maps the c-n-b of cannabis. The m/n and p/b cross and change very easily between each other, so those sound changes are much more obvious.

Who would’ve thunk!

Hembra and Feminine

The Spanish hembra, for “female” (usually in regards to animals) sounds nothing like the English feminine. But it turns out that they are etymologically identical.

Both come from the Latin for female, feminina. Hembra sounds so different because the f-m-n root is changed to h-mbr via two different patterns:

  • The f-to-h pattern, where words beginning in the Latin f- change to an h- in Spanish, such as filial and hijo, or hacer and fact — changing the initial h- of feminina to h-.
  • The m-n to -mbr- pattern, where Latin words with the m-n together usually changed to an -mbr- in Spanish, like illuminate and alumbrar — changing the m-n of feminina to the -mbr- of hembra.

These two, taken together, show a clear mapping of f-m-n to h-mbr.

Cuerno and Cornucopia

We’ve previously discussed cuerno (Spanish for horn) and its related Spanish words–and here’s another: cornucopia, which literally means… the “horn of plenty.” We see the h-r-n map to the c-r-n again here!

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