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

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.

Camisa — Heav­en

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.

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!

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.

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.


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