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Learning Spanish & Etymology Pattern-Matching for Nerds

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.

Ambos and Ambition, Ambiance

The English Ambition comes from the Latin root ambi– (meaning “around”) plus the Latin verb ire (meaning “to go”): someone who goes around. Someone with ambition was, literally, someone who went around soliciting votes and support.

Ambiance also comes from the same root, ambi-: Ambiance is really what’s going around the place you’re in. That is, the environment.

The best part: the very common Spanish word meaning “both”, ambos, also comes from the same root, “around” — but only when there are two around.

Asiento, Superseer and Sedate, Assiduous

Superseer (Spanish for, “to discontinue; cease”) comes from the Latin supersedere which is a combination of the prefix super- (“above”) and sedere (“to sit”). When you stop doing something — you’re now, literally, sitting on top of it. At least in Spanish.

From the Latin sedere root, we get various English words related to sitting, including:

  • Sedate — when you’re on a sedative, you’re just sitting around!
  • Assiduous — this originally meant “constantly sitting down”, but came to mean, “very busy” (since you sit down when you work) and thus the busy people are the assiduous ones!
  • Obsess — with the ob- prefix (“against”), it’s literally, “someone sitting opposite you” — which is what you do when you’re obsessing over someone, watching their every move closely.
  • Supersede — literally, “to sit on top of” — very similar to, “going over their heads!
  • Sedentary — the lifestyle of sitting down. Sounds familiar!
  • Siege — you sit in your castle when it’s under siege!
  • Reside — what do you do in your residence if not, sit around?

From the same Latin root sedere we also get the Spanish… asiento, the common word for, seat. Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?

The s-n-t/d root is visible in most of these words. Note that in superseer, the middle -n- disappeared: hence the -e- on both sides!

Amar and Mother

The Spanish amar, “to love”, comes from the Latin children’s word amma, meaning, mother.

The m- and m- parallel remains between both.

Interestingly, then, the connection between mothers and love is not only ancient but linguistic as well — as opposed to the ancient connection between fathers and discipline and harshness.

Cuello and Collar, Accolades

Cuello (Spanish for “neck”) comes from the Latin collum, also meaning “neck.” From collum, we get the English… collar. We can see the c-ll mapping in both.

More interesting, though, is from that same root, we also get the English accolades, which is just collum with the classic Latin ad- (“towards”) prefix.

How did we get from “towards the neck” to “giving honors and awards”? Well, accolades was originally used in the sense of, resting the sword on your shoulder–like the King does to you when he turns you into a knight. Being knighted was the ultimate honor you could receive, with the king bestowing it upon you by placing the sword on your shoulder.

Since medieval times, apparently, honors have become increasingly easy to give and receive, since now we get accolades for every little “job well done”!

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.

Quebrar – Discrepancy, Decrepit

The Spanish Quebrar, meaning “to break”, doesn’t obviously sound like any English parallel word. But it is related to many similar ones.

Quebrar comes from the Latin crepare, meaning, “to crack.” Cracking to Breaking is not a far stretch at all — just a natural strengthening of the word.

From the same root crepare, we get many great English words, including:

  • Crevice — yes, that little hole caused by… cracks
  • Craven — cravenness usually comes from being defeated. Defeat is being cracked.
  • Discrepancy — A discrepancy is really just a crack in your argument, isn’t it?
  • Decrepit — Old decrepit people are those whose lives have begun to crack in every way.

Temor and Timothy

Temor (Spanish for “fear”) comes from the Latin for the same, timor.

From this root, we also get the English name… Timothy. The -thy ending comes from the Greek theo-, meaning, “God” — so Timothy is literally, one who is scared of God.

From the same root, we also get the less common… temerity, which just means “boldness”: and what is being bold if not, not having any fear?

Mosca and Mosquito

Everyone’s favorite bug, the Mosquito, comes from–at least etymologically–the Spanish mosca (meaning “fly”) and the Spanish suffix -ito (the diminutive). We only wish that mosquitos were merely harmless little flies!

We can see the m-s-c root in both words.

what is the etymological way to learn spanish?

Nerds love to pattern-match, to find commonalities among everything. Our approach to learning languages revolves (the same -volve- that is in “volver”, to “return”) around connecting the Spanish words to the related English words via their common etymologies – to find the linguistic patterns, because these patterns become easy triggers to remember what words mean. Want to know more? Email us and ask:
morgan@westegg.com

patterns to help us learn spanish:

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