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

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.


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