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

Cola and Coward

Cola — Spanish for “tail” and, more informally, “ass” — comes from the Latin for the same: coda.

Coda itself has come into English in two ways. First, coda is a music term meaning… the end! The tail is the end of the animal!

More interestingly, from coda we also get the English, coward. The Latin coda became coe– in French, dropping the -d-; and an -ard is just a person, put negatively (bastard!). Thus, a coward is literally: someone who turns his tail, and runs!

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.

Asqueroso and Scar

Asqueroso is the common Spanish word meaning “disgusting.” ¡Qué asqueroso! is the common Spanish exclamation of disgust, as is its closely-related cousin, ¡Que asco!

Asqueroso (and asco) come from the Latin eschara, meaning, “scab” (which itself is from the Greek eskhara meaning the same).

From the same Latin (and Greek) root, we also get the English… scar.

So, in Spanish, something that is so disgusting literally scars you!

We can see the mapping in the s-qu-r of asqueroso to the s-c-r of scar.

Cumplir and Accomplish, Complete

Cumplir, the common Spanish meaning, “to finish [doing something]” is — in a moment of, “ah! It’s obvious now that you’ve told me!’ — a close cousin of the English, accomplish.

Both come from the Latin meaning “to complete,” accomplere, which comes from the older Latin root complere, meaning, “to fill up” — from which we also get the English complete.

Thus, the c-m-pl of cumplir maps to the c-m-pl of accomplish. Not to mention, the c-m-pl of complete as well.

Lado, Lateral, Latitude

The Spanish lado (“side”) comes from the Latin latus (“wide”).

There are many surprising English words from the same Latin root. “Surprising” largely because the l-t sound was preserved in English, but evolved into the similar l-d sound in Spanish–thus making the connection less obvious and still interesting.

Some examples include:

  • Lateral, and its variations such as, unilateral, bilateral and multilateral.
  • Latitude: the latitude is literally the width from one side to the other.
  • Dilate: a dilation is indeed a widening.
  • Relate: literally means, “to go back to the side”; relating to someone is going to their side of the fence!
  • Elation: From the Latin ex-latus (and ex- is, of course, “above”); thus literally, “rising above the sides”.
  • Collateral: From com + latus (com is Latin for “with, together”, like the Spanish con-); thus literally meaning, “side by side”.
  • Translate: Since trans– is Latin for “across”, a translation is literally, “bringing something from one side across to another.”
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