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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Perejil and Parsley

Perejil and its English version parsley sound very different. But they are, actually, etymologically the same word.

They sound different because often the -s- and -sh- sounds in Spanish turned into the letter -j- with the Arabic throat clearing sound as a pronunciation. Thus, the p-r-j-l of perejil maps exactly to the p-r-s-l of parsley.

Llave – Clef

Key llave spanish english

The Latin words that began with “cl” changed, pretty consistently, to “ll” as Latin changed into Spanish.

Today’s example of this: the Latin word for “key” was clavis. This became the modern Spanish word for “key”, llave.

There are, however, a few interesting other descendants of clavis, and thus distant relatives of llave. They include:

  • the Spanish clavo, meaning, “nail”. It’s a more educated word, coming to Spanish via Latin scholars later on, so it didn’t lose the natural cl- sound the way the traditional words did.
  • English words like clef and enclave. Yes, in music you talk about the “key” and the “clef” and they come from the same word originally!

Fondo, Hondo and Profound

From the Latin fundus (“bottom”), we get the Spanish fondo (“background”) and hondo (“deep”) — as well as the English profound. After all, when someone says something profound, well, that’s deep.

The mapping of the Spanish f-n-d (or h-n-d) to the English (pro)-f-n-d is straightforward. However, it’s curious that, in hondo, the initial F transformed from Latin into Spanish to an initial H. This is a common pattern, unique to Spanish, that we see in many Latin words as they transformed into Spanish, such as hijo and filial, refuse and rehusar, and higado and fig.

Gales and Wales

Wales, that ancient province of Great Britain from which all the Jones emerge and which conjures up images of Tolkien, is known as Gales in Spanish.

Why? Because the Germanic w- words consistently became g- words when they entered late Latin and Spanish. Take war and guerra, for example. Or William and Guillermo.

Thus, the w-l-s of Wales maps exactly to the g-l-s of Gales.

Hablar and Fable

hablar spanish talk
The Spanish “hablar” (“to talk”) comes from the vulgar Latin “fabulari”, also meaning, “to talk” – hence the English, “fable”.

This gets very interesting very quickly, so note:

  • This is an example of the “f” to “h” conversion, in which the initial “f” sound was lost as Latin turned into Spanish
  • There was a fascinating parallel process as vulgar Latin, a bit to the north, turned into French: another Latin word for “talking”, “parabolari” turned into the French for the same, “parlere”, so “parler” (as in, “parlez-vous francias?”) is related to the English word “parables”
  • And isn’t there a conceptual similarity between “parable” and “fable”? Both meant, “to tell stories”: so, in both languages, an exaggerated form of talking, story-telling, over time turned into the common word for talking.
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