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

Exito and Exit

The Spanish éxito (“success”) comes from the Latin exitus (“an exit”) — from which we get the English… (surprise, surprise) exit.

But how are “exits” — like the sign you see to leave a building in an emergency! — and “successes” related?

Well, remember that investors and company founders often call a successful sale of a company, an “exit.” It’s leaving… but on a high note.

What is noteworthy is that, over the centuries, in Spanish, the notion of “leaving” has taken on such a positive connotation, that the word for exiting became the word for success!

Suggested by: Paul Murphy

Estafa and Staff

Estafa, Spanish for “to rip off” in the sense of taking advantage of someone or stealing, comes from the Italian staffa, which means “stirrup”. This change of meaning came about because it was common, back in the day, for people to borrow a horse… and then never return it.

The Italian staffa itself comes from the Proto-Indo-European root stebh, which meant “to fasten, or place firmly” from which we get the English… staff. A staff, after all, is a stick that helps you fasten something into place! At least, it used to.

From the same PIE root, we get other English words including step, stump, stamp and… Stephen.

The st-f root is visible in both estafa and staff.

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?

Yerno and Genus

Yerno (Spanish for “son-in-law”) at first sounds like nothing in English.

But let’s look closer! The g- and y- sounds are often mixed up between languages and even regions that speak the same language; in fact, the Old English g- transformed itself into a y- over time (compare the German gestern with the English yesterday, for example). And the n-r sound not uncommonly swaps to become an r-n sound, the two are easily mixed up, especially in slurred speech.

Thus, the bizarre-sounding y-r-n root of yerno maps to the g-n-r root of generic (Maybe sons-in-laws are more generic in Spanish cultures than English ones?) as well as genus (which lost the final r-) — yes, genus as in Latin and now scientific classification of your spot in the universe! The son-in-law, I guess, is destined to be the son-in-law as his lot-in-life.

Pronto and Prompt

Pronto (Spanish for “soon”) comes from the Latin promptus, from “brought forth”. From the same word is the English…. prompt.

Thus, we can see the pr-n-t mapping to the pr-m-t, since the n/m are often transformed from one to the other, as languages change.

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