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

Miedo and Meticulous

The Spanish Miedo (“fear”) comes from the Latin metus, for “fear.”

From that same root, we get the English… meticulous. Meticulous literally means, “full of fear”: and who is meticulous about every tiny little detail if not the person who is full of fear of messing up?

We can see the m‑t of meticulous maps to the m‑d of miedo.

Postizo and Posit

Postizo, Spanish for “false, artificial; in particular, a fake hairpiece” comes from the Latin positus, which meant, “put into its place.” If we’re wondering how “put into its place” came to mean “fake”, just think of the most common use of the Spanish word: for a wig. You put your fake hair into place!

From that same root, we also get the English posit — which is, quite literally, putting an idea into its place.

We can see the p‑s-t root clearly in both words.

Lunes and Monday

Monday lunes spanish english

The days of the week in Spanish and English parallel each other in weird, eerie detail.

Lets start with the most obvious: Monday. It was originally the Moon-day — the day to worship the Moon.

The Latins felt the same way — and thus Lunes comes from Luna, the Latin for moon!

Stay tuned for the next installments, where it gets more interesting. A hint: Thursday = Thor’s Day; Jueves = Jove’s Day.

Buitre and Vulture

The Spanish buitre doesn’t obviously look like the English word it means: “vulture,” both of which are from the Latin vulturis.

But looking below the surface, we see the similarity: the b‑t-r of buitre maps to the v-(l)-t‑r of “vulture.”

This isn’t obvious at first for two reasons. First, the b- to v- transition: the sounds are identical in Spanish and often interchanged with each other, so it makes sense that they swap here.

But more subtly, the ‑l- between the vowels disappeared in the Spanish version, with the ulu becoming u‑i. The vanishing of the ‑l- between the vowels is much more characteristic of Portuguese than Spanish (see almost every example in Portuguese, like comparing the Spanish vuelo with the Portuguese voo — an observation I first made in the Rio de Janeiro airport years ago!).

Madrugada and Mature

The Spanish for “the hours before sunrise,” Madrugada, is a cousin of the English word mature. Both come from the same Latin root maturare (surprisingly, “to mature”) and you see this because the m‑d-r of madrugada maps to the m‑t-r of mature.

But what is the connection between the two? To mature, in English and Latin, has various meanings and implications: a fruit matures, a child matures, and in all cases, they just grow really quickly. And those wee hours after the depth of the night, before the sunrise itself (amanecer in Spanish) – those hours always go by really quickly. The nightmare of the night matures – literally! – into the light of the day!

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