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

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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