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

Cuatro and Quarantine

The English word quarantine is related to the Spanish word cuatro (“four”). How so? A quarantine was historically… forty days. Think about Jesus’ forty days in the desert, or the Jews’ 40 years wandering. Ahhhhh!

Reírse and Ridiculous

Both the Spanish reírse (“to laugh”) and the English ridiculous come from the same Latin root: ridere (also “to laugh”).

Thus, the r‑vowel-d-vowel of ridiculous maps to the r‑vowel-disappeared-vowel of reírse. Note that the middle ‑d- disappeared in the Spanish version, probably as the word was shortened since the Spaniards spent so much time laughing, it became natural to say it shorter and quicker!

Autopista and Pizza

Autopista (Spanish for “highway”) comes from the words auto- (you can guess what that one means!) and pista, which is Spanish for “track” (think, train tracks, or the track that runners run on).

But where does pista come from? The Latin pistus (“to pound” — think of the motion of pounding something into dust as being a bit like the running around the track! Pounding the pavement!). From this Latin pistus, we get a few English words including… pizza (via Italian, of course! Think of the pounding needed to make the pizza dough!) and piston (the piston engine going in circles is a bit like running as well!).

Thus, we can see the p‑st of autopista maps to the p‑zz of pizza and the p‑st of piston.

Pedir and Petition

The Spanish pedir (“to ask”) comes from the Latin petere, meaning the same.

From that Latin root, we get the English words, petition — which is, after all, merely a formal request.

We can see the mapping in the p‑d of pedir to the p‑t of petition. The t/d are often swapped as languages evolve and are often pronounced similarly as well.

Espalda and Spatula

The Spanish espalda (“back”, meaning the part of your body where your spine is!) comes from the Latin spatula meaning also “back” (same sense) or “short wooden blade.”

It’s hard to predict what English word came from the same root? Spatula! It’s easy to see how this evolved: a short wooden blade can look like your shoulder. (Hence the French word for “shoulder” is épaule!)

The s‑p-t of spatula maps clearly to the s‑p-(l)-d of espalda.

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