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

Piedra and Petrify

Piedra, Spanish for “rock,” is a close cousin of the English, petrify: “to be very, very scared”. We see the connection clearly if we map the p-d-r of piedra to the p-t-r of petrify.

What is the connection between them? Well, when you get scared, you often just freeze: you turn to stone! So next time someone is so scared that they stop in the middle of their tracks, just think, they are just, petrified!

It’s interesting to note that, these words have a whiff, just a whiff, of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember the classic scene from Genesis: Lot and his wife are fleeing the city of Sin as they are being destroyed, commanded by God to not look back as they run away. But Lot’s wife is so scared that, she turns back onto it and is thus… turned into a pillar of salt. Her fear turns her into a stone (well, salt, but the same concept!). Literally!

Falta and Fault

Falta (“lack of”) is an interesting word in Spanish because, it is one of those words, along with cornudo that is a grammatical construction that, literally, is less common in the English but rather, in English, the same point is made very commonly in a different way. Falta is very common in Spanish: La casa falta calefacción is literally “the house lacks heating” but the way an English speaker would make that point — since few today says “lacks” in every day speech! — would be, The house doesn’t have heating.

Falta comes from the Latin Fallita, which mean, “a fault.” Indeed, Fault itself comes from the same root — and we can see that with the f-l-t mapping in both. Fallita itself comes from the older Fallere (“to disappoint”) from which we get many English and Spanish words such as fail and fallar.

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.

Mismo and Lorem Ipsum

The Spanish mismo for “same; self” comes from the Latin metipsimus meaning “same”. That word, in turn, comes from the combination of the Latin roots: met (just giving emphasis) and ipse (“himself; itself”) and the suffix -issismus (also adding emphasis; think “-ism” in English).

Here’s where it gets interesting: from that same Latin root, we get… lorem ipsum, the Latin phrase (still used in English!) that we use as the filler text when we don’t know what else to write, before the real wording comes in. Where does lorem ipsum itself come from? Well, Google around, there’s a lot written about that; but the exact phrase itself means “pain onto himself” (with the lorem short for dolorem — thus related to the Spanish dolor for “pain”!). So, we can see how the ipse that turned into mismo also retained without change in lorem ipsum.

Not to mention… ipse dixit!

Faro – Lighthouse

Lighthouse faron spanish english

Lighthouse in Spanish is Faro. Seems totally random, doesn’t it? Well…

The greatest and most famous lighthouse in history was, of course one of the 7 Wonders of the World, the infamous Lighthouse at Alexandria, in ancient Egypt.

And the ancient Latins — knowing all about and in awe of the amazing lighthouse- referred to it by the title of the man who built it which was, of course, the King of Egypt. And they called their Kings, Pharaohs!

Pharaoh — yes, the same Pharaoh featured in the Old Testament who enslaved the Jews and thus of course gave them the holiday of Passover — in Spanish is written faraón. Thus, giving rise to the word faro for lighthouse.

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