Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

Abarcar and Brachial

Abarcar (“to cover, take in, take on”) comes from the Latin brachium for “shoulder.”

From the same Latin root brachium, we get the English brachial: as in your brachial artery, the artery that runs down your shoulder!

The b-r root is clearly visible from both.

Unsurprisingly, from the same root we also get the Spanish for shoulder… brazo as well as the English…. bra.

Lado, Lateral, Latitude

The Spanish lado (“side”) comes from the Latin latus (“wide”).

There are many surprising English words from the same Latin root. “Surprising” largely because the l-t sound was preserved in English but evolved into the similar l-d sound in Spanish–thus making the connection less obvious but still interesting.

Some examples include:

  • Lateral, and its variations such as, unilateral, bilateral and multilateral.
  • Latitude: the latitude is literally the width from one side to the other.
  • Dilate: a dilation is indeed a widening.
  • Relate: literally means, “to go back to the side”; relating to someone is going to their side of the fence!
  • Elation: From the Latin ex-latus (and ex- is, of course, “above”); thus literally, “rising above the sides”.
  • Collateral: From com + latus (com is Latin for “with, together”, like the Spanish con-); thus literally meaning, “side by side”.
  • Translate: Since trans– is Latin for “across”, a translation is literally, “bringing something from one side across to another.”

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-law 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.

Miercoles – Wednesday

Wednesday miercoles spanish english

Miercoles (Spanish for Wednesday) has a fun parallel between both languages.

Miercoles is named after Mercury — the Roman god of speed. Wednesday is named after Woden — the Germanic god of speed!

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.

Saber and Sage

Saber (Spanish for “to know”, in the sense of “knowing a fact”–not “knowing a person”) comes from the Latin sapere, meaning “to taste.” I guess you can taste a fact more easily than a person!

From the same Latin root, we get (via French) the English word… sage. Sagacity is a form of wisdom — which is a form of knowledge.

The s-b to s-g mapping is clear, and the -b- and -g- have similar soft sounds.

Cadena and Concatenate, Chain

Cadena (Spanish for “chain”) is a cousin of chain itself. Both come from the Latin for the same: catena.

The English chain is disfigured from the original for a few reasons. Since the English came to our language via the French, the initial c- changed into a ch-, as so often French does. French additionally has a tendency to drop letters: the middle -d- in this case. Thus, the c-(d)-n of cadena maps to the ch-n of chain!

From the same root, we have a more obvious connection–but a more obscure word. Concatenate, a nerdy word meaning “to add together” that really only software developers remember these days, comes from the same root. We can thus see the c-d-n of cadena very easily in the c-t-n of concatenate, remembering the very common -d- and -t- swapping. Concatenate begins with the con- prefix (“together” in Latin, like the Spanish “con”) — and what is a concatenation, if not just adding together a bunch of nodes in a chain?

Martes – Tuesday

Martes  tuesday  spanish  english

Last time, we saw that Lunes and Monday are from the same God, the moon. Now we will see the same for Martes and Tuesday.

Martes, the Spanish for Tuesday, is named after the Roman God of War, whom we all learned about in middle school mythology classes: Mars.

Tuesday is named after Tiw, who was the Germanic God of War — their equivalent of Mars!

Tuesday is thus, literally, “Tiw’s Day”.

More interestingly, the name “Tiw” comes from the Indo-European Root “Dye-us” (think of the T-iw and D-ye parallel with the final “-us” being lost) — from which we also get the Spanish word dios (for God) and the Sanskrit deva (we all know that that means!).

Incendio and Incendiary

Incendio (Spanish for “fire”) comes from the Latin for the same, incendium. From this same root, we get the English… incendiary. The English variation literally means the same — setting on fire — but now that definition is mostly forgotten, and we use it in a more abstract sense: causing massive problems. A fire is just a massive problem, after all.

Negar and Renegade

Negar (Spanish for “to deny”) comes from the Latin negare (“to say no”), with the re added for emphasis. This then links it to English words like, negate and… renegade. Who is a renegade if not the person who fights what society is trying to impose on him? (Or her!).

We can see the n-g root clearly in both.

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

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