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

Martillo and Malleable

The Spanish martillo (“hammer”) comes from the Latin malleus meaning the same. And from this Latin root malleus we get the English… malleable. So something that is malleable, changeable, is figuratively… hammerable.

We see that the Spanish m-rt-ll maps to the English m-ll.

Suerte and Sort

You wouldn’t think that suerte (Spanish for “luck”) would be related to the English sort. They sound similar — both with an s-r mapping to each other — but the definitions are completely different. How could they be related?

Both come from the Latin sortem meaning, “fate, lot” (“lot” in the sense of “your lot in life”).

The evolution of sortem into the Spanish suerte is straightforward: “luck” is just a less metaphysical version of “fate” — fate without attributing it to The Gods.

But the same evolved into the English sort because, your fate, your lot in life sorted you into a class, a rank. In the hierarchical view of the world (which the Romans had) everything and everyone existed in degrees. So your fate was also your portion: what you were given. Thus, the ranking of everything by degrees is… a sorting.

This, too, explains the other definition of the word lot: not only your fate, but the portion that has been allocated to you.

Seguir and Sequester

Seguir (which we’ve discussed before here!) is also related to another interest word: sequester.

To sequester comes from the Latin sequestrare, which means, “to put in safekeeping”. This, in turn, is from the earlier Latin sequester “trustee, mediator”. The Latin Sequester is from the Latin segui, meaning, “to follow”, from which we also get the Spanish for the same, seguir.

In other words, Sequester went from meaning “to follow” to “being a trusted party” to “the trusted party holding something apart from everything else” to “holding something apart from everything else”. This is interesting because of the surprising implication of trust in the earlier connotations–but not the earliest connotations. Today, when you sequester someone or something, there is often a distinct lack of trust involved!

You can see the connection with seguir because the s-g of seguir maps to the s-qu of sequester easily!

Abrir and Overt, Aperture

Abrir, Spanish for “to open,” comes from the Latin aperire, for the same.

Less obviously, from the same Latin root we get two similar words in English: overt and aperture. Both are openings — and overt is a very metaphorical opening although, etymologically, a literal one!

In overt, we can see the o-v-r map to the a-b-r of abrir, and in aperture the a-p-r map to the a-b-r of abrir.

Zapato and Sabotage

No one quite knows the origin of zapato, Spanish for “shoe.” But the same word — or words from the same root — are still used in Portuguese, French, Italian, and even Arabic and, most shocking of all, Basque (shocking since Basque is unrelated to any other known language).

Most interesting, though, is that from the old French for shoe, savate, which is from the same root as zapato as we can see with the z-p to s-v mapping, do we get the English, sabotage.

Indeed, they say sabotage comes from the word for “shoe” since French workers used to throw their (wooden) shoes into machinery in order to sabotage their factory.

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