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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » W to GU »

Guerra and War

The Spanish for “war” guerra doesn’t sound like it would actually be the same word. But it is!

The Latin words beginning with the harsh gu- sound generally have the same root and are parallel with the English w- words. Think, William and Guillermo, for example. The gu- and w- sounds do sound alike, if you say both in a thick way.

Guerra and War are another great example of this pattern. The English war comes from the French guerre, which in turn comes from the old German verwirren — meaning “to confuse people.” War is confusing indeed and confusing people is indeed a form of warfare.

Sanguche and Sandwich

The Spanish for sandwich is sánguche — just the English word, as it is pronounced in Spanish. That one is easy!

However, what is noteworthy is that the -w- becomes a -g-. At first, that seems odd. But then, we remember the -w- to -g- transformation: that in a lot of Germanic words, when they’re brought into Spanish, the -w- sound becomes a -g- sound. Think war/guerra, for a great example.

Suddenly, the weird letter change makes sense!

Gastar and Waste

Gastar (Spanish for “to spend”) has an interesting first cousin: waste.

Both come from Latin vastare (“to lay to waste”) which in turn comes from vastus (“empty.”)

The v- sound of vastare turned into a gu- sound as Latin turned into Spanish. But in English, this French word took on the more Germanic w- sound. Thus, although not directly descended from German, it does follow the common g-/w- pattern (guerra/war).

We can thus see the g-st map to the w-st clearly.

After all: spending money is wasting money!

Guillermo – William

The “W” sound is a classic Germanic and Anglo-saxon sound. Harsh, it is.

Interestingly, the Germanic and English words with the w- become the gu- sound as these words evolved into Spanish. Yes, in this case, the Germanic and English words — centuries ago — made its way back into Spanish rather than the more common pattern of vice-versa!

One example: the name William maps to the Spanish name… Guillermo. I first discovered this because I was once in a bookstore in Buenos Aires and there was a book “Enrique IV” by “Guillermo Shakespeare”. I needed about a minute to figure out what was happening (Enrique is Spanish for Henry).

Gales and Wales

Wales, that ancient province of Great Britain from which all the Jones emerge and which conjures up images of Tolkien, is known as Gales in Spanish.

Why? Because the Germanic w- words consistently became g- words when they entered late Latin and Spanish. Take war and guerra, for example. Or William and Guillermo.

Thus, the w-l-s of Wales maps exactly to the g-l-s of Gales.

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