As I was reading the Sunday magazine from the New York Times this morning (almost a week late), I came across this sentence: “Such embargoes—agreements not to publish information before a set date—are commonplace in journalism.” Embargo is one of those words that English took directly from Spanish. The history of embargo begins with *barra ‘bar,’ a Vulgar Latin word we can trace no further back. From that noun came the verb *imbarricare, literally ‘to put a bar into,’ and then more generally ‘to obstruct.’ The Vulgar Latin verb developed to Spanish embargar, whose meanings are ‘to impede, block, hinder, restrain.’ With respect to an emotion, embargar has the sense ‘to suspend’ and therefore ‘to overcome.’ The verb embargar gave rise to the noun embargo, which English, following Spanish, now uses for ‘a government order that stops trade with another country.’

The Spanish phrase sin embargo means ‘nevertheless, however, notwithstanding,’ but people who know Spanish and English have the luxury of crossing the two languages and interpreting sin embargo as ‘an embargo on sin.’

©2011 Steven Schwartzman


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kami
    Feb 08, 2011 @ 03:01:57

    ¡Muy interesante saber el origen de esta palabra!
    Supongo que el chileno común relaciona ’embargo’ con una orden judicial para retirar tus pertenencias debido a alguna deuda… realmente una palabra que causa bastante miedo… 🙂


    • wordconnections
      Feb 08, 2011 @ 13:10:02

      When I was researching embargo I’d learned (thank you, Diccionario de la lengua española) about the legal sense the word has in Spanish, though I didn’t include it in the posting. From what you say, people in Chile have a visceral reaction to that sense of the word and probably wish they could put an embargo on embargo.


  2. Trackback: A note for subscribers to Spanish-English Word Connections « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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