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

Nieve and Snow

Both the Span­ish nieve and the Eng­lish for the same, snow, come from the same root, al­though via very dif­fer­ent routes.

In Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean, the an­cient an­ces­tor to both Span­ish (PIE turned in­to Latin then Span­ish) and Eng­lish (PIE al­so turned in­to an­cient Ger­man­ic then Eng­lish), the Pro­to-In­do-Eu­ro­pean *snieg­wh for snow gave rise to both the Latin nivis — which turned in­to the Span­ish nieve — and the old Ger­man sneo which be­came the Eng­lish snow.

Thus, the n‑v of nieve maps ex­act­ly to the n‑w of snow. The key sound change, which is what can con­fuse us, is the loss of the ini­tial s- as the word trans­formed from PIE in­to Latin and then Span­ish.

En­con­trar — Ac­quaint

Al­though en­con­trar, the com­mon Span­ish word for “to meet”, does­n’t sound like its Eng­lish coun­ter­part, it does have an un­ex­pect­ed first cousin: ac­quaint.

Both come from the same Latin root for the same (in con­tra), al­though the Eng­lish one comes to us via the French in­flu­ence: acoin­tier.

Thus, we can see that the en-c-n-t‑r maps to a‑c­qu-n‑t some­what close­ly: the fi­nal -r dis­ap­peared as the French word evolved in­to the Eng­lish word, and the open­ing en- (in- in Latin) be­came the sim­pler a-.

Some­one you meet, af­ter all, is in­deed your ac­quain­tance.

There is, how­ev­er, an­oth­er Eng­lish word that is clos­er to en­con­trar al­though per­haps less ob­vi­ous un­til you hear it: en­counter!

Morder — Re­morse

The Span­ish morder, “to bite”, sounds com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than any­thing in Eng­lish (ex­cept for ob­scure SAT words like mor­dant — which lit­er­al­ly means, bit­ing!).

But who would’ve thunk that it’s re­lat­ed to re­morse.

Re­morse comes from the Latin re­mordere, which means, “to bite back” — from the ear­li­er re- (the pre­fix mean­ing “back” in this case) and mordere, from which we get, morder.

The re­morse­ful do bite back in­deed!

Aprovecharse and Prof­it

The Span­ish aprovecharse (“to take ad­van­tage of,” in a good way) comes from the Latin ad- (“to­wards”) and pro­fec­tus (“progress, suc­cess.”)

From the same root pro­fec­tus, we get the Eng­lish… prof­it.

We can see the root pr‑v of aprovecharse map­ping to the pr‑f of prof­it. And how do you make a prof­it if not, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties in front of you?

Fal­lar and Flat­u­lent

To­day’s et­y­mo­log­i­cal com­par­i­son is a bit weird, but one I love. Fal­lar is Span­ish for “to fail” and Flat­u­lent is, well, a fan­cy word for “fart­ing.”

Both come from the Latin Flare, mean­ing, “to blow.” A fart is def­i­nite­ly a type of blow­ing; and fail­ing at some­thing be­ing con­sid­ered a type of blow­ing is a com­mon im­age in lan­guages around the world: think about Bart Simp­son, in our own lan­guage, say­ing, That Blows!

The f‑l root makes the re­la­tion­ship clear in both words.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, from the same Latin root Flare, we al­so get ol­fac­to­ry (an­oth­er fan­cy word for, “the sense of smell”) and blow it­self is the an­glo-sax­on cog­nate to flare.


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