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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » True Spanish Etymology Stories »

Remo and Row

Remo (Spanish for the very common word “oar”) is a cousin of, well, the English row.

Remo comes from the Latin for the same, remus, while the English came from the German ruejen; both of those come from Proto-Indo-European *ere, meaning “to row”.

We can see the r- maps to the r- in each and it does make sense. After all, you do use an oar to row.

Esmero and Mere

Esmero, a Spanish word meaning “done with care” comes from the Latin prefix ex- combined with the Latin merus which meant, “unmixed; pure” (such as, pure wine — not diluted by water). Anything done with care will be pure, right?

From that same Latin root merus, we also get the English… mere. The interesting part is that, over the centuries, mere has gone on to almost take on the opposite of its original meaning: the original, more Latinate sense, was similar to “pure” and its Spanish derivative, done with care. But over time, in English at least, its become degraded and degraded to the point in which today, it means to do “just barely enough.” This is an example of a broader pattern: words tend to degrade over time.

We see the m‑r root clearly in both languages.

Fallar and Flatulent

Today’s etymological comparison is a bit weird, but one I love. Fallar is Spanish for “to fail” and Flatulent is, well, a fancy word for “farting.”

Both come from the Latin Flare, meaning, “to blow.” A fart is definitely a type of blowing; and failing at something being considered a type of blowing is a common image in languages around the world: think about Bart Simpson, in our own language, saying, That Blows!

The f‑l root makes the relationship clear in both words.

Interestingly, from the same Latin root Flare, we also get olfactory (another fancy word for, “the sense of smell”) and blow itself is the anglo-saxon cognate to flare.

Flamante and Flaming

Flamante, Spanish for “great-looking” or “splendid” — perhaps, a more modern version of which would be, “awesome!” — comes from the Latin flamma, meaning, “flame.”

From that same root, we get the English, flame. Completely unsurprisingly.

If you’re wondering how we get from “fire” to “sexy”, then all we need to do is remember one word.… flaming.

Theh fl‑m root is clearly visible in both.

Exito and Exit

The Spanish éxito (“success”) comes from the Latin exitus (“an exit”) — from which we get the English… (surprise, surprise) exit.

But how are “exits” — like the sign you see to leave a building in an emergency! — and “successes” related?

Well, remember that investors and company founders often call a successful sale of a company, an “exit.” It’s leaving… but on a high note.

What is noteworthy is that, over the centuries, in Spanish, the notion of “leaving” has taken on such a positive connotation, that the word for exiting became the word for success!

Suggested by: Paul Murphy

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