Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Bailar and Ballroom

Bailar, Spanish meaning “to dance”, is another one of these Spanish words that sounds random and is difficult until you realize its subtle common origin with a bunch of English words.

Bailar comes from the late Latin ballare, meaning the same, “to dance”, originally from the Greek ballizein, meaning, “to dance or jump around”. From this same root, we get a few English words including:

  • Ballroom — Yes, the room where you go dancing!
  • To Have a Ball — Yes, the “ball” in this phrase is the same “ball” as in bailar and ballroom!
  • Ballad — The love song, unsurprisingly, comes from the same root as dancing: perhaps slow dancing!
  • Ballistics — Directly from the Greek, we get the science of having balls shoot around!

No connection to the English “ball” in the sense of the round object you throw.

Have a ball remembering these!

Trazar and Trace

The Spanish trazar (“to draw up”) comes from the Latin tractus (“drawing.”) From that same root we get a few English words, including, trace. The t‑r-z to t‑r-c mapping is very clear here.

What’s more interesting are the other words that come from the Latin tractus. These include:

  • Trait — A trait, after all, is just an outline of your personality
  • Train — Think of the word “draw,” but in the other sense: the horse draws the carriage.
  • Trattoria — The Italian restaurant draws you in with its awesome food!
  • Tract — When you’ve drawn out your borders over land
  • Treat — When you’ve drawn what you want out of the patient

Empatar and Pact

Empatar (Spanish for “to tie” — in the sense of, both teams scoring equally) comes from the Latin pactum for, well, “pact, deal”.

The connection between teams being tied and a pact is interesting: both imply an equality. A pact is a deal that both teams benefit from equally, because if they didn’t, they just wouldn’t enter into the pact! Without equality between the sides, it’s not a pact; it’s a “treaty”!

The p‑t of empatar maps to the p‑ct of pact, with the ‑ct- sound being simplified into just ‑t-, as often happened.

Suelo, Subsuelo and Sole, Soil

Suelo is Spanish for “floor” although it is not too common (piso is the more common word). But, very common is subsuelo — the sub-floor, that is: the basement.

This is, unexpectedly, related to a few English words.

Suelo comes from the Latin solum, meaning “ground.”

From solum, we get two English words:

First, soil — yes, the soil is what is on the ground below you!

Second, sole — as in the sole of your shoe. This, too, is below you as you walk.

In both, we clearly see the s‑l root staying consistent.

Lazar and Lasso

Lazar (Spanish for “to tie, such as with a ribbon”) comes from the Latin laqueum, meaning “a tie, such as a noose”. From that same root, we get the English… lasso. A lasso, after all, is really a cable that can be used to tie someone or something up…!

The l‑z of lazar clearly maps to the l‑ss of lasso.

Autopista and Pizza

Autopista (Spanish for “highway”) comes from the words auto- (you can guess what that one means!) and pista, which is Spanish for “track” (think, train tracks, or the track that runners run on).

But where does pista come from? The Latin pistus (“to pound” — think of the motion of pounding something into dust as being a bit like the running around the track! Pounding the pavement!). From this Latin pistus, we get a few English words including… pizza (via Italian, of course! Think of the pounding needed to make the pizza dough!) and piston (the piston engine going in circles is a bit like running as well!).

Thus, we can see the p‑st of autopista maps to the p‑zz of pizza and the p‑st of piston.

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

Nerds love to pattern-match, to find commonalities among everything. Our approach to learning languages revolves (the same -volve- that is in "volver", to "return") around connecting the Spanish words to the related English words via their common etymologies - to find the linguistic patterns, because these patterns become easy triggers to remember what words mean. Want to know more? Email us and ask:
[email protected]

patterns to help us learn spanish:

Buy the Book!

For Nerds Learning Spanish via Etymologies