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Lavar and Lavatory

We’ve already discussed how the Spanish lavar is related to other words in English like deluge.

But there’s a more obvious connection, that we’ll discuss today: lavar, meaning “to wash” is related to the English… lavatory. I guess there’s a reason why the British call it the “wash room”!

Both come from the Latin lavare, similarly meaning, “to wash.” And we can see the l-v root clearly in both.

Vaca and Vaccine

The Spanish for “cow,” vaca, comes from the Latin vacca, meaning the same. From that same root, we get the English…. vaccine/em>.

Huh? How?

Interestingly, the first, umm, vaccine, was to give the cow-pox virus to people with small-pox! Thus, the word for cow turned into the word for vaccine!

We can see the v-c root clearly in both.

Abrir and Aperture

The common Spanish abrir, for “open”, comes from the Latin for the same, aperio.

From the same root — in an “ahhhh!” moment — is the English, aperture, the opening of the camera. The sort of word you learn if you ever try to figure out how to use an analog camera!

The a-b of abrir maps to the a-p of aperture, with the “b” and “p” being often and easiliy exchanged.

Marchitar and Morning

Marchitar (Spanish for “to fade; to wither”) comes from the Latin marcere (“to decay, wither”) which itself comes from the ancient Proto-Indo-European root merk which also means the same, “to decay, wither.”

From the Proto-Indo-European root merk, we get the English… morning (via Old German — just remember the German morgen!).

Morning, after all, is just the end of the decay of the moon!

The m-r root is clearly visible in both!

Despedirse and Repeat

The Spanish despedirse (“to say goodbye; leave”) comes from the Latin petere (“to seek.”) With the des– prefix, despedirse literally means: to seek away from. You say goodbye when you’re looking for something else, away from where you are now.

From the Latin root, we get a few English words including:

  • Petulant. The petulant kid never stops seeking more and more.
  • Perpetual. What is doing something perpetually if not, looking for something and never getting what you want?
  • Repeat. That’s when you keep on looking for something over and over, and never find it.
  • Compete. It’s when you’re looking for something — and so is someone else.

Embajada and Embassy

Embassy (and Ambassador) and its Spanish equivalent, Embajada (and Embajador), both come from the same ancestor, the Old French Ambactos.

What is most interesting about these two is that, it is an example of the pattern where the -j- sound in Spanish maps to the -sh- sound (and its cousins, like -ss- and -ch-) in English. Remember syrup and jarabe; chess and ajedrez; sherry and jerez; and push and empujar, for a few examples.

Thus, the m-b-j of emabajada maps to the m-b-ss of embassy.

Morder – Remorse

The Spanish morder, “to bite”, sounds completely different than anything in English (except for obscure SAT words like mordant – which literally means, biting!).

But who would’ve thunk that it’s related to remorse.

Remorse comes from the Latin remordere, which means, “to bite back” – from the earlier re- (the prefix meaning “back” in this case) and mordere, from which we get, morder.

The remorseful do bite back indeed!

Caja – Case, Cash, Capsule

The Spanish caja (“box”) comes from the Latin capsa for the same.

This gives us a surprising connection to some English words that, on the surface, sound very different than caja:

  • Case — In the sense of, well, a box
  • Capsule — Still retains the -ps- of the original Latin
  • Cash — Originally meant, “money box”: Funny how the name of the container turned into the name of the thing itself.

The Latin turned into the Spanish through an interesting pattern: the -sh- sound in Latin consistently turned into the -j- sound in Spanish (at first retaining the original pronunciation, but then, under the influence of Arabic, grew to the throat-clearing sound). With caja, we have a slight variation of the pattern, where the -ps- sound turned into the -j- sound. Thus the c-ps maps exactly to c-j.

Boda – Vote

Boda, Spanish for “wedding,” comes from the Latin word votum, meaning a “vote, promise.”

This, indeed, makes sense: what is a wedding if not just a vote in the other person, and a promise to be with them? At least in Spanish it is. (The other word for wedding in Spanish, casamiento, is related to the Spanish for “home” — casa.)

This one isn’t obvious, at all, based on the spelling; but it is based on the sound. One lesson is to guess parallel words based on the sounds more than the letters; but pay attention to the letters when they are unexpected or voiced weirdly.

Caro and Whore, Cher

Today’s is a good one!

The Spanish caro (simply, “expensive”) has a fun provenance: from the ancient (pre-Latin) Proto-Indo-European root karo– that meant… whore. Yes, the ancient word karo turned into the almost-as-ancient Latin word carus meaning “expensive,” from which we get the modern Spanish word caro, still meaning “expensive.”

So the prostitutes of the ancient world, apparently, weren’t cheap!

Interestingly, we can even see a linguistic connection between the words. The k- sound in Proto-Indo-European stayed the same sound as it evolved into Latin and then Spanish (although usually written with a c-); but as Proto-Indo-European evolved simultaneously into ancient German and then into English, that k- sound became the silent or almost-silent h- or wh-. Think when and cuando, for example. So, we can see therefore that the c-r of caro maps to the wh-r of whore.

The funniest part, however, is that the ancient Latin carus, for expensive, as Latin evolved into French, turned into the French…. cher, for “dear”: in the sense of, “My dear friend!”. The exact opposite of a whore! Thus, in French, prostitute became expensive which became that which is dear to you!

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