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

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.

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).

Guardar — Ward

The Span­ish Guardar, mean­ing “to watch over or care for”, and the sim­i­lar Guardia (the ER! Emer­gency Room) are both cousins of the Eng­lish ward and war­den. Huh?

Both come from the same Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean root, *war­do, al­so mean­ing “to take care of”.

But, as Latin turned in­to Span­ish, the ini­tial W- sound turned in­to a G- sound but re­mained the same in Eng­lish.

There­fore, the Latin-ish G‑R-D maps to the Ger­man­ic W‑R-D. Ah­h­hh!

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.


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