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.
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!
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.
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!
The Spanish for “shirt”, Camisa, is a distant cousin of the English Heaven. How?
Both come from the same common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European root *kem, meaning, “to cover.” This root evolved, via German, to the English heaven (that which covers us above) and it evolved, via Latin (and even the French chemise), to the Spanish camisa (that which covers our torso!).
But they sound so different. How can that be?
The answer is that the Indo-European sound k- transformed over time into the German and then English h- sound — which remaining the same (albeit with a c- spelling) in Latin and then Spanish. Thus the c- of camisa maps to the h- of heaven.
Other examples of this pattern include cornudo/horn and horse/correr.