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

Fre­nar and Re­frain

Fre­nar (Span­ish for, “to break”, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the sense of, “to stop” — think of, the breaks on your car!) comes from the Latin frenare, mean­ing, “to re­strain,” which it­self is from the old Latin frenum for “bir­dle” — yes, the mouth­piece you put on a horse to, umm, re­strain it.

From that same root, we get the Eng­lish re­frain. It is the same frenare root, with the re- added for em­pha­sis. But we have the ‑ain spelling be­cause it comes in­to Eng­lish via French, with the re­fraign­er, of course. We can see the f‑r-n maps to the (re)-f-r‑n very clear­ly as well.

The les­son here is: from re­strain­ing some­one from do­ing some­thing (the old sense of the word) to re­frain­ing com­plete­ly from do­ing it (the new sense of the word) is just a mi­nor step. At least lin­guis­ti­cal­ly.

Eta­pa and Sta­ple

Eta­pa (Span­ish for “stage, lev­el”) comes from old Dutch word (re­mem­ber, the whole Span­ish-Nether­lands 80 years war? They did in­flu­ence each oth­er a lot!) stapel mean­ing, “de­posit; store.”

The Eng­lish sta­ple comes from the Old Ger­man stapu­laz (“pil­lar”) — from which we al­so get the Dutch stapel and then the Span­ish eta­pa!

But how did a word mean­ing “pil­lar” be­come “stage” or “sta­ple”? Well, a pil­lar holds up the next lev­el — the next stage! (Think of floors in a build­ing as be­ing stages of de­vel­op­ment. Ul­ti­mate­ly we reach the pent­house!). Or think about the pil­lar — that which holds every­thing else up so it does­n’t fall — is the sta­ple of the build­ing, the most ba­sic build­ing block, to en­sure it does­n’t col­lapse!

We can see the t‑p root in both the Eng­lish and Span­ish words.

Llenar and Ex­ple­tive

Llenar comes from the Latin plere (“to fill”), as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed. But here’s an­oth­er Eng­lish word that comes from the same Latin root: ex­ple­tive, yes, that eu­phemism for vul­gar words!

Ex­ple­tive lit­er­al­ly means to “fill” with the ex­pan­sive ex- pre­fix which, tak­en to­geth­er, mean, “to fill out your words.” An ex­ple­tive is lit­er­al­ly fill­ing con­ver­sa­tion with words when you don’t know what else to say!

Volar and Vol­ley, Volatile

Volar (Span­ish for “to fly”) and its sis­ter vue­lo (“flight”) come from the Latin for the same, volare.

From this Latin root, we get the Eng­lish vol­ley — a vol­ley­ball re­al­ly does fly, does­n’t it? — as well as the Eng­lish volatile, which is some­thing fly­ing in the sense of be­ing fleet­ing: it is fly­ing away, time flies.

The v‑l root is so ob­vi­ous in all, that it’s al­most not worth men­tion­ing!

Miel and Mel­liflu­ous

The Span­ish for “hon­ey,” miel, comes from the Latin mel — al­so mean­ing hon­ey. We can see the m‑l root ob­vi­ous­ly and sim­ply in both!

(The -flu­ous end­ing comes from the Latin fluere, mean­ing “to flow” — and we can al­so see the f‑l root there!)

So, mel­liflu­ous words are… flow­ing like hon­ey.


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