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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

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.

Enojar and Annoy

Enojar, Spanish for “to get angry”, has a fun cousin in the English, annoy.

Both of these (along with the French for “worldly boredom”, ennui) come from the Latin inodiare, meaning, “to hate”. The Latin in- adds emphasis to the odium, Latin for “hate”.

We can see the parallels in all with the open vowel, followed by the ‑n-, followed by a ‑y- sound, although in Spanish the ‑y- sounds (and its corresponding ‑x- and ‑sh- variations) often turned into the ‑j- sounds, as it did here. Thus, the a‑n-y maps to the e‑n-j.

Hatred, then, dissipates and weakens over time. In English, hatred weakens into mere annoyance. In Spanish, hatred weakens into just anger, enojo. And, best of all, hatred in French weakens into a world-weary boredom of ennui.

Eje and Axle

The Spanish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, axis. The English axle comes from the same common ancestor as the Latin axis, the proto-indo-european root *aks- also meaning the same.

The Spanish eje is easy to understand if we remember that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the ancient languages became the throat-clearing ‑j- sound in Spanish. Thus, the e‑j of eje maps to the a‑x of axle pretty clearly.

It’s interesting how such a simple word has remained mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps, the axle is one of the most fundamental discoveries in human history. It is, after all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civilization.

Lejos and Leash

We recently discussed the relationship between dejar and relax, both from the same Latin root, laxare, from the Latin laxus. Other modern words come from these same roots, let’s see…

In Spanish, another interesting word from the same root is lejos, meaning, “far.” This underwent the same sh to j transition documented in the other post. That which is far away, after all, is what we can be relaxed about, what it’s easy to be loose about.

Some additional English words that come from this same root include:

  • Lease — think about it this way, the English say “to let”, that is, to let people do something with your property, to be relaxed and distant about it.
  • Lush — the lush man is someone who is relaxed about his diligence drinking.
  • Leash — a leash is precisely what you use to try to not let anything get relaxed!

Jefe — Chief

Chief jefe spanish english

Chief, and the Spanish for the same, Jefe, both come from the same root: the French chef, which means the same.

But this is odd as they sound so different! How are they related?

It’s not obvious, but it’s easy once you understand the pattern: The Latin sound “sh” and very similar sounds (such as the “ch” and “sy”) almost always became a “j” in Spanish. Like syrup and jarabe. Not obvious!

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