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

Hue­so and Oys­ter

Hue­so (Span­ish for “bone”) comes from the Latin for the same, os. The con­nec­tion is par­tic­u­lar­ly easy to see when we re­mem­ber that the H- is per­fect­ly silent in Span­ish.

From the same root we get the Eng­lish os­si­fy — lit­er­al­ly, to turn in­to bone! — but, con­sid­er­ing about 4 peo­ple know this word, it is easy to re­mem­ber hue­so if we con­nect it to an­oth­er word it is re­lat­ed to, al­beit more dis­tant­ly: oys­ter.

Oys­ter comes from the Latin for the same, Os­treum, which it­self comes from the Latin word os, “bone.” What is an oys­ter de­fined by, if not, its hard, bony shell?

The o‑s root is clear­ly vis­i­ble in all vari­a­tions!

Lá­gri­ma and Lacrimal Sac

The Span­ish lá­gri­ma (“tear”) comes from the Latin Lacrima, mean­ing the same.

From the same root we get the Eng­lish… lacrimal sac. In case you for­got our high school bi­ol­o­gy class, that’s the bit by your eye that cre­ates… tears.

The l‑c-r of lacrimal sac maps to the l‑g-r of lá­gri­ma.

Pre­gun­ta and Count

Pre­gun­ta (Span­ish for “ques­tion”) comes from the Latin per- (“through”) and con­tus (“pole”).

From the Latin root con­tus, we al­so get the Eng­lish… count. But how do we get from “pole” to “count­ing”? Well, re­mem­ber the Ro­man style of count­ing that you prob­a­bly learned in el­e­men­tary school, or at least I did back in the day — make a lit­tle pole on the pa­per for each num­ber, and when you hit the fifth one, cross it through; then re­peat — and we then re­mem­ber that count­ing is re­al­ly just lin­ing up sticks to rep­re­sent the to­tal num­bers!

We can see that the g‑n-t of pre­gun­ta maps to the c‑n-t of count.

Buitre and Vul­ture

The Span­ish buitre does­n’t ob­vi­ous­ly look like the Eng­lish word it means: “vul­ture,” both of which are from the Latin vul­turis.

But look­ing be­low the sur­face, we see the sim­i­lar­i­ty: the b‑t-r of buitre maps to the v-(l)-t‑r of “vul­ture.”

This is­n’t ob­vi­ous at first for two rea­sons. First, the b- to v- tran­si­tion: the sounds are iden­ti­cal in Span­ish and of­ten in­ter­changed with each oth­er, so it makes sense that they swap here.

But more sub­tly, the ‑l- be­tween the vow­els dis­ap­peared in the Span­ish ver­sion, with the ulu be­com­ing u‑i. The van­ish­ing of the ‑l- be­tween the vow­els is much more char­ac­ter­is­tic of Por­tuguese than Span­ish (see al­most every ex­am­ple in Por­tuguese, like com­par­ing the Span­ish vue­lo with the Por­tuguese voo — an ob­ser­va­tion I first made in the Rio de Janeiro air­port years ago!).

Volver and Vul­va

It might seem ob­vi­ous in ret­ro­spect but it was­n’t at the time. Vul­va (yes, that word!) and the Span­ish for “to re­turn”, volver, all come from the same root: the Latin vol­vere al­so mean­ing “to re­turn.” Yes, the words are al­most iden­ti­cal and the v‑l-v in both maps ex­act­ly to the oth­er. It should have been glar­ing­ly ob­vi­ous, I just nev­er re­al­ized it! The vul­va, af­ter all, does roll back and forth! (Sor­ry, I could­n’t re­sist the com­ment!).

Lots of oth­er su­per-in­ter­est­ing words come from the same root: valve, etc. Over the next weeks we’ll post them too! Volver is a par­tic­u­lar­ly rich root; peo­ple have been go­ing back and forth since time im­memo­r­i­al!

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