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

Jerez — Sherry

Sherry jerez spanish englishThe Latin sounds for “sh” — and similar variations, like “ch” and “ss” — became a “j” sound in Spanish.

Thus, the English sherry is near identical to the Spanish jerez!

These sh/j sounds were often spelt with a “x” in old Spanish; and sherry itself is named after the town it first came from, Xeres, which is near Cordova.

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!

Flojo and Flush, Fluent

The Spanish flojo means “slack, loose” — but it is a very common word in Spanish, often used to mean “relaxed” in a negative way, in senses like, “They cut themselves some slack.”

Flojo comes from the Latin fluxus, meaning the same as the Spanish. From fluxus, we get a bunch of English words, including: fluent, fluid, fluctuate and even (via fluent) affluent and influence. We also get the more fun flush and the most obvious flux (as in, “to be in flux.”) All of these can be understood in the sense that, that which is loose flows — and all of these words flow in one way or another: liquids are fluid, you speak fluently, flushing water flows, money flows if you are affluent, etc.

The ‑x- in the original Latin tended to disappear into the English (hence leaving the vowels before and after, as in fluent or fluid) or became a ‑sh- sound. This is an example of the common pattern of the ‑sh- sounds mapping to the throat-clearing ‑j- in Spanish, with the fl-sh of flush mapping to the fl‑j of flojo.

Embajada and Embassy

Embassy (and Ambassador) and its Spanish equivalent, Embajada (and Embajador), both come from the same ancestor, the Old French Ambactos.

What is most interesting about these two is that it is an example of the pattern where the ‑j- sound in Spanish maps to the ‑sh- sound (and its cousins, like ‑ss- and ‑ch-) in English. Remember syrup and jarabe, chess and ajedrez, sherry and jerez, and push and empujar for a few examples.

Thus, the m‑b-j of emabajada maps to the m‑b-ss of embassy.

Valija — Valise

In some of the Spanish words, they say maleta to mean “suitcase.” But in other parts, such as Argentina, they say valija.

Valija, although it sounds different from anything English, actually is quite similar to the almost-forgotten – my grandparents still use it!– English word, that also means “suitcase” , of valise.

Although they sound different, the connection becomes clear if we remember the pattern of the sh- to j- conversion: Latin words that had an sh- sound tended to turn into the j- sound in Spanish. Think of sherry/jerez.

In this case, the French valise entered English unchanged but when the French word was borrowed into Spanish, it was Spanish-ified with the s- sound turning into a j- sound. Thus, the v‑l-s maps to the v‑l-j.

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