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

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.

Aliento and Exhale

The Spanish aliento (“breath”) comes from the Latin for anhelitus (“panting; exhalting”) which itself comes from the older Latin anhelo (“difficulty breathing”). Anhelo, in turn, comes from halo (even older Latin for breath), prefixed with the negative an- prefix and from halo which we get (via French) the English inhale and exhale.

But what’s confusing here is the Latin anhelitus transforming into the Spanish aliento . The easy way to see it is to remember that: most solo h- in Latin became silent in Spanish and then eventually, disappeared. (When ‘h’ does remain in Spanish, it is still silent!). So, (h)-l of aliento maps to the (in)-h-l of inhale and similarly (ex)-h-l of exhale.

Suelo, Subsuelo and Sole, Soil

Suelo is Spanish for “floor” although it is not too common (piso is the more common word). But, very common is subsuelo — the sub-floor, that is: the basement.

This is, unexpectedly, related to a few English words.

Suelo comes from the Latin solum, meaning “ground.”

From solum, we get two English words:

First, soil — yes, the soil is what is on the ground below you!

Second, sole — as in the sole of your shoe. This, too, is below you as you walk.

In both, we clearly see the s-l root staying consistent.

Plomo and Plumber

Plumber comes from the Latin plumbum, for “lead.” A plumber originally meant someone who works with (particularly smelts) lead. These men, over time, worked mostly with pipes (made of lead!) and eventually dealt more and more with the pipes that carry water into (or out of) homes and buildings. So leadworkers became plumbers.

Interestingly, the Spanish for “lead” (plomo) comes from the same Latin root. We can see the pl-m root in words in both languages.

Feliz and Felicity

Feliz (Spanish for “Happy”), comes from the Latin for the same, felix. From the Latin felix, we also get everyone’s favorite TV character: Felicity. Someone named Felicity must be a happy person by their very nature! As is someone named Felix!

We can see that the f-l-z of feliz maps to the f-l-c of felicity pretty clearly!

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