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

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.

Jeringa — Syringe

Jeringa, Spanish for Syringe, sounds like it has nothing in common with its English counter-part. But they are literally the same word.

The Latin sh- sound often evolved into the j- sound in Spanish — originally retaining the sh- sound but eventually, under Arabic’s influence, transforming to the throat-clearing sound we know and love.

This explains how both jeringa and syringe derive from the same root: the Latin siringa, itself from the Greek syringa. The sy- sound is a variation of the sh- sound and therefore the sy-r-n‑g of syringe maps to the j‑r-n‑g of jeringa.

Jugo and Suck

One of our favorite patterns of sound change between English and Spanish is the sh/j shift: under the influence of arabic, many words that had a “s” or “sh” or “sy” or “ch” sound in Latin, started to be pronounced with the throat-clearing sound and written with a “j”. See sherry/jerez and chess/ajedrez or syrup/jarabe, for example.

Another example of this pattern is the Spanish word for “juice”, jugo. It comes from the Latin succus meaning, “juice” (particularly sap, or juice from plants).

From this Latin root succus we also get the English… suck.

Yes, if it sucks — it is juicy! Literally!

We can see the mapping in the s‑c to j‑g mapping. The “c” and “g” sounds are similar and often interchanged.

Interestingly, in Spain they do not say jugo to mean “juice”; instead, they say… suco. Suco, funnily enough, also comes from the same root of succus. It is just the variation that never underwent the arabic “j” transformation.

From the same root we also get the English succulent, although we do not get the superficially similar English juice, which comes from the Latin ius, meaning, “sauce.”

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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