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

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!

Ca­ja — Case, Cash, Cap­sule

The Span­ish ca­ja (“box”) comes from the Latin cap­sa for the same.

This gives us a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion to some Eng­lish words that, on the sur­face, sound very dif­fer­ent than ca­ja:

  • Case — In the sense of, well, a box.
  • Cap­sule — Still re­tains the ‑ps- of the orig­i­nal Latin.
  • Cash — Orig­i­nal­ly meant “mon­ey box”. Fun­ny how the name of the con­tain­er turned in­to the name of the thing it­self.

The Latin turned in­to the Span­ish through an in­ter­est­ing pat­tern: the ‑sh- sound in Latin con­sis­tent­ly turned in­to the ‑j- sound in Span­ish (at first re­tain­ing the orig­i­nal pro­nun­ci­a­tion, but then un­der the in­flu­ence of Ara­bic, grew to the throat-clear­ing sound). With ca­ja, we have a slight vari­a­tion of the pat­tern, where the ‑ps- sound turned in­to the ‑j- sound. Thus, the c‑ps maps ex­act­ly to c‑j.

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.

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!

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.


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