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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.


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