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

Aval and Avalanche

The Spanish aval (“guarantee, as in a bank guarantee”) comes from the French aval, meaning “downward”. The French word comes from the Latin vallem, meaning valley — a valley does slope downward, after all. From that same root, we get the English… avalanche, which is an overwhelming amount of the valley tumbling downwards!

But all this leaves the question: how did the word for “downward” turn into the word for a “loan guarantee”? That part is unknown. But we could speculate that the creditor calling upon a guarantor to pay in the case of a default is a low point for the borrower. Or perhaps, you need a guarantor only when you’re at a low point yourself. Or…? Since we don’t know the history, we can create infinite variations that sound like they might make sense, as a fun exercise.

You can see the a‑v-l root in all the variations clearly.

Recruit and Crecer

The English recruit and the Spanish crecer (“to grow”) seem like they have nothing to do with each other. But looks can be deceiving!

“Recruit” comes from, via French, the roots re- (“again”) and theh Latin crescere, meaning “to grow” — from which we get the Spanish for the same.

Therefore, a recruit is literally a “new growth” — it is how the next generation is reborn!

Interestingly, we also get from the same root the English crescent as well.

Sacar and To Sock

Sacar (Spanish for “to take out”) comes from the old German sakan meaning “to fight”, That does, oddly, make sense: in a fight, you do take someone out — we still use that other sense today, in English, in that very phrase!

From the same old German root, we get the English.… to sock. No, not the word for the slip over your toes but in the old-fashioned verb sense my grandpa uses: to punch someone. So we still see that it still retains some of the fighting sense!

Haber and Habit, Prohibit

Haber (“to have”, in the grammatical sense, and the root form of he, has, ha, hemos, etc) comes from the Latin for habere, meaning “to hold.”

From the same root, we get the English word habit. What is a habit if not something you hold so dear that you do it all the time? We also get prohibit (the same root with the prefix pro meaning “away”). What is a prohibition if not a habit that you’re trying to stop?

The h‑b root is so obvious in all, it’s almost not worth mentioning. Almost!

Rezar — Recite

Rezar pray spanish english

The Spanish for “to pray” is rezar. Although not obvious at first, it is from the Latin recitare, from which we get the English — surprise, surprise — recite. The “cit” grouping was conflated into a “z” sound, so the English (and Latin) r‑cit‑r maps to the Spanish r‑z-r.

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