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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns »

Puñal and Pu­gna­cious

The Eng­lish for ea­ger-to-fight, pu­gna­cious, con­tains the ‑gn- pat­tern in­side it: a give-away to the pat­tern that ‑gn- words in Latin turned the ‑gn- in­to a ‑ñ- in Span­ish yet re­mained the same in­to Eng­lish.

There­fore, pu­gna­cious maps per­fect­ly to puñal, the Span­ish for… “dag­ger.” It makes sense that “dag­ger” and “ea­ger to fight” come from the same root, af­ter all. And that root, in this case, is the Latin pugnare, mean­ing, “to fight.”

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!

Sueño and In­som­nia

Sueño (Span­ish for “dream”) and in­som­nia come from the same root: the Latin som­nus, mean­ing, “sleep.”

The evo­lu­tion is easy to spot if we re­mem­ber that the ‑mn- sound in Latin usu­al­ly trans­formed in­to the ñ in Span­ish. See damn and daño, for ex­am­ple. Or au­tumn and otoño as well.

Thus, the s‑mn of in­som­nia maps to the s‑ñ of, sueño.

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.

Re­husar — Refuse

The Span­ish re­husar — lit­er­al­ly, “refuse” — sounds odd to Eng­lish ears: it’s the same word, but the ‑f- be­came an ‑h-. Huh?

This is ex­plained via the pat­tern of Latin words that be­gan with an f- tend­ed to turn in­to an h- in Span­ish and on­ly in Span­ish. See famine/hambre, and huir/fugitive for ex­am­ple.

Refuse and Re­husar fol­low the same pat­tern. Both come from the Latin re­fun­dere — from which we al­so get the Eng­lish, re­fund. They are all ways of giv­ing back.

This f‑to‑h pat­tern usu­al­ly hap­pens with the first let­ter of the word. But here it is the first let­ter of the sec­ond syl­la­ble — be­cause the re- is of course the stan­dard pre­fix so it did­n’t ef­fect the sound pat­tern change.


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