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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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