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

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.

Ba­jo — Base

The Span­ish ba­jo, for “low”, sounds un­like the sim­i­lar words in Eng­lish.… ex­cept for base.

Think about base as the core foun­da­tion or sup­port — the low­est thing hold­ing every­thing else up — or even in the old Shake­speare­an sense of “vile”, “the basest weed” —  the con­nec­tion makes much more sense.

Both come from the Latin ba­sis (mean­ing, “foun­da­tion”) — from which we al­so get the same Eng­lish, ba­sis.

And think of the bass cleff in mu­sic, for the low­er notes, as well.

The sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion is ex­plained eas­i­ly when we un­der­stand that a lot of sh- and si- and re­lat­ed sounds in Latin turned in­to j- in Span­ish. Thus, the b‑s maps to b‑j al­most ex­act­ly.

De­jar — Re­lax

The “sh” sound — of­ten rep­re­sent­ed in writ­ing as an “x” — trans­formed in all dif­fer­ent ways to the “j” let­ter (and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing mouth-clear­ing sound, in­flu­enced by Ara­bic) as late Latin turned in­to Span­ish. See lots of ex­am­ples: sherry/jerez, for ex­am­ple.

Here’s an­oth­er: the com­mon Span­ish word, de­jar, mean­ing, “to leave to the side” or “to put down” or to “put away” or to just “let go.”

De­jare comes from the Latin laxare, mean­ing, “to loosen”. From this same root, we get a few Eng­lish words — which did not go through the x‑to‑j trans­for­ma­tion Span­ish did in­clud­ing:

  • Lax –  which ba­si­cal­ly means to loosen up, so it is sim­i­lar con­cep­tu­al­ly!
  • Lax­a­tive — this loosens up the re­mains of your food in­side your body so you can ex­crete, to be eu­phemistic.
  • Re­lax — this is a loos­en­ing of your mus­cles and body and mind as well. Ac­cord­ing to this same pat­tern, we al­so know that re­lax in Span­ish is, re­la­jar.

See more ex­am­ples of this same pat­tern in­clud­ing lejos and leash here.

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.

Celoso and Jeal­ous, Zeal

The Span­ish celoso and the Eng­lish for the same, jeal­ousy, come from the same Greek root: ze­los.

But how did this hap­pen? They should so dif­fer­ent!

The an­swer is that the Latin (and Greek) words with a ‑ch- sound and vari­a­tions (like ‑sh‑, the soft ‑j-, ‑z-, etc) usu­al­ly turned in­to the hard, gut­tur­al, throat-cleaing ‑j- sound in Span­ish. Think about sher­ry and jerez, for ex­am­ple, or quash and que­jar, or soap and jabón.

Thus, the c‑l-s of celoso maps to the j‑l-s of jeal­ous.

Cu­ri­ous­ly, the an­cient Greek form — ze­los — meant jeal­ousy, but in the more pos­i­tive sense of en­thu­si­asm and friend­ly ri­val­ry. In a word: zeal — which al­so comes from the same root!


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