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

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.

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.

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!

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!

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.

Huh?

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.

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