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

Remolino and Mill

Remolino (Spanish for “whirlpool” or “swirl”) comes from the Latino molinum, which means.… mill. This makes sense: a mill just moves around and around in a circular motion — for example, think of a wind-mill. In fact, the English mill comes from the same root! So we can see the m‑l root in both words!

Cuidar and Agitate

Cuidar, Spanish for “to take care of” or “to be careful” and commonly used in the warning cuidado, comes from the Latin cogitare, “to think”: cogito ergo sum, as they say.

The Latin cogitare comes from the Latin prefix com with agitare, “to turn in the mind” which comes from agere, “to move”. From this we get the English… agitate!

So we have an interesting evolution: from moving to thinking (a moving of the mind) to… being careful. Being careful is then the same thing as being thoughtful — at least in Spanish.

Interestingly, the original root has been mostly lost in the modern cuidar, with the c‑a-g‑t root turning into c‑d. But you can still see the outline at the extremes.

Volar and Volley, Volatile

Volar (Spanish for “to fly”) and its sister vuelo (“flight”) come from the Latin for the same, volare.

From this Latin root, we get the English volley — a volleyball really does fly, doesn’t it? — as well as the English volatile, which is something flying in the sense of being fleeting: it is flying away, time flies.

The v‑l root is so obvious in all, that it’s almost not worth mentioning!

Seguir — Persecute, Sequel

Seguir, Spanish meaning “to follow”, sounds like it has nothing to do with anything.

But it does, in a subtle way. It comes from the Latin sequi, which means “to follow.” From the same root we get:

  • Persecute — from the Latin persequi; the per means “through”, and the sequi is the same “follow”.
  • Sequel — directly from the Latin sequi for “follow”, via French.

Helado, Hielo and Gelatin, Jello

It’s easy to forget: the silent “h” can turn into a whole variety of soft, almost silent sounds in different languages.

Case and point: helado, Spanish for “ice cream” (and related words: helar for “to freeze”, and hielo, “ice”). All of these come from the Latin for gelare for… gelatin. And what is sweetened gelatin for mass consumption if not the brand… jello!

We can see the pattern best if we remember that the silent h- is very similar to the barely audible soft g- and soft j- sounds in English. Thus, the h‑l-d of helado maps to the g‑l-t of gelatin!

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