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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Ajedrez – Chess

Ajedrez (Spanish for “chess”) sounds nothing like the English chess, so they can’t be first cousins… right?

Wrong. The Spanish “j” sound — pronounced with an Arabic-ish throat-clearing sound — was originally pronounced with a “sh” or “ch” sound. The arabic influence changed the pronunciation to be closer to the arabic: see sherry/jerez, for example.

Ajedrez and Chess are another example of this same interesting pattern. Try to imagine the “j” in ajedrez with a ch- sound and you almost get chess.

Both, curiously, come from the same Sanskrit word for the game: chaturanga (so the English ch- is thus preserved closer to the original sound — English didn’t have the arabic influence that Spanish did). And these came to both languages via the Persian, chatrang. The traders and travelers, after all, are the ones who change languages.

Quejar and Quash, Squash

Quejar, Spanish for “to complain” doesn’t seem related to any English equivalent.

But upon closer look, it is a first cousin of both quash and squash.

How so?

All come from the Latin quassare, meaning, “to shatter.”

The relationship is easy to see if we remember that the Spanish -j- sound used to be the Latin -s- sound (and many variants, like -ss-, -si-, -sy-, -sh-, -ch-, etc).

Thus, the qu-j for quejar maps to the qu-sh of quash and the sq-sh of squash.

Complaining, it seems, is a form of quashing (squashing?) your opponent!

Gastar and Waste

Gastar (Spanish for “to spend”) has an interesting first cousin: waste.

Both come from Latin vastare (“to lay to waste”) which in turn comes from vastus (“empty.”)

The v- sound of vastare turned into a gu- sound as Latin turned into Spanish. But in English, this French word took on the more Germanic w- sound. Thus, although not directly descended from German, it does follow the common g-/w- pattern (guerra/war).

We can thus see the g-st map to the w-st clearly.

After all: spending money is wasting money!

Tamaño and Magnificent

Tamaño (Spanish for “size,” in the size of, “what is your pants size?”) comes from the Latin tammagno, that is, “so – great” (“great” in the size of “big”). Tam is the Latin for “so” or “very” from which we get the Spanish tan.

To even measure is thus to imply that… you are big! So great! If you’re small, after all, you don’t even need to measure it!

Magno (Latin for “great” or “big”) gives us the English… magnificent. But, curiously, the –gn– turns into the ñ as Latin evolved into Spanish. Thus tanmagno became tamaño. We see this gn to ñ pattern in many words, such as cognate / cuñado.

Hambre – Famine

Famine hunger spanish english

The Spanish hambre, for “hunger”, makes sense if you know two different patterns.

Firstly, the initial f-to-h pattern: words that began with an f- then a vowel in Latin tended to have the f- turned into an h- when Spanish evolved into Latin. Huir and Fugitive is another example of that pattern.

Secondly, the mn-to-mbr pattern: when the letters in Latin “m” and “n” appear together, often separated by a vowel, they usually became “mbr” as a unit in Spanish.

Thus the f-m-n of famine maps directly to the h-m-b-r of hambre.

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