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

Com­prar and Com­pare

Both the com­mon Span­ish com­prar (“to buy”) and the sim­i­lar-sound­ing-but-dif­fer­ent-mean­ing com­pare in Eng­lish come from the same Latin root: com­para­re, mean­ing “to make equal with; bring to­geth­er for a con­test.”

How could one word evolve in­to two very sep­a­rate mean­ings? Well, the orig­i­nal Latin com­para­re comes from the root com (“with”) + parare (“pre­pare”); what do you do with a pair of things oth­er than pre­pare to make a choice be­tween them by com­par­ing them to find sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences — these ei­ther turn in­to a con­flict be­tween them, or be­come the same… or both?

So, the Eng­lish com­pare pre­serves the orig­i­nal sense, al­though with less ri­val­ry with­in the pair. But the Span­ish ba­si­cal­ly tells us that shop­ping is just an ex­er­cise in com­par­a­tive shop­pingcom­par­a­tive, lit­er­al­ly! Just com­par­ing ex­ist­ing prod­ucts and choos­ing the best.

And it’s note­wor­thy that the Span­ish com­prar im­plies much more prepa­ra­tion than the Eng­lish does. Those Span­ish are care­ful shop­pers!

So he who buys with­out com­par­ing it to the oth­er al­ter­na­tives re­al­ly is­n’t buy­ing (or at least, com­prar-ing), in the orig­i­nal sense.

Sier­ra and Ser­rat­ed

Sier­ra (Span­ish for “moun­tain range” — think of the Sier­ra moun­tains out west!) comes from the Latin ser­ra, mean­ing “saw” (no, not the verb; the tool you use to cut wood apart!).

From the same root we get the Eng­lish… ser­rat­ed. Think of the ser­rat­ed edges of cut pa­per! It does look a bit like a moun­tain, does­n’t it?

The s‑rr root is clear­ly vis­i­ble in both.

Pie and Pi­o­neer

Pi­o­neer is lit­er­al­ly, one who does some­thing… on foot. Thus it’s re­lat­ed — via the French paonier, from which we get the word — to the Span­ish for “foot”, pie. Thus the p‑i-vow­el open­ing both words!

Hue­vo and Ovu­late

Hue­vo (Span­ish for “egg”) comes from the Latin ovum for the same. From that Latin root, we get the Eng­lish… ovaries. The ue‑v of hue­vo clear­ly maps to the o‑v of ovary! The eggs are both lit­er­al and metaphor­i­cal!

From the same root we al­so get ovu­late and even… oval An egg is oval, is­n’t it?

Gama and Gamut

Gama (Span­ish for “range”) comes from the Greek gam­ma, the third let­ter of the al­pha­bet: al­pha be­ta gam­ma. But it came to mean “range” in an in­ter­est­ing way: mu­sic. The tra­di­tion­al mu­si­cal note gam­ma — which to­day is just ‘g’ — was used, in clas­sic mu­si­cal no­ta­tion, and still to­day — to re­fer to the note that is both just be­low the pri­ma­ry start­ing let­ter ‘a’ (hence, on a pi­ano, the ‘g’ key is im­me­di­ate­ly to the left of the ‘a’ key), as well as the high­est note that ends the oc­tave on the oth­er side. Thus, the gam­ma refers to the whole range of notes!

From the same root, and with the same mu­si­cal his­to­ry, we al­so get the Eng­lish SAT-syn­onym for “range”… gamut.

The g‑m root is clear­ly vis­i­ble in both.


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