The verb regalar ‘to give as a gift’ is in fact a regalo ‘gift’ to Spanish from French. The French verb that Spanish borrowed is régaler, which also gifted English with its verb regale. The 1913 Webster’s Dictionary defined regale this way: ‘To entertain in a regal or sumptuous manner; to entertain with something that delights; to gratify; to refresh; as, to regale the taste, the eye, or the ear.’ The inclusion of the word regal in that definition is misleading because a reader may be tempted to assume that regale is related to regal, which it isn’t. And so we have one more example to illustrate a theme that threads itself through this blog: Not all that glitters is gold.
French régaler came from the Old French noun regal ‘a feast,’ though, as often happens, the later development of the word’s meaning was influenced by a similar-sounding but unrelated word. In this case the unrelated word was the French reflexive verb se rigoler ‘to amuse oneself, have a good time.’ Old French regal, with its reinforcing prefix re-, had been based on galer ‘to make merry,’ which has given English the gala that means ‘a festive occasion, a lavish performance.’
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman