Something to cheer about

Yes, here’s something for lovers of Spanish-English word connections to cheer about: English got the word cheer from Old French chiere, which had developed from Late Latin cara. That’s the same cara that has continued on into Spanish and that means ‘face.’ Just think of cheer as putting on a happy face and you’ve got the idea.

Late Latin, by the way, borrowed cara from Greek kara, which meant ‘head.’ That noun had come from the Indo-European root *ker- that signified both ‘head’ and ‘horn.’ We find that second sense in the native English descendant horn and the native Latin descendant cornū, the predecessor of Spanish cuerno. Now you’ve got one more thing to toot your horn and be cheerful about.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    May 19, 2015 @ 08:00:47

    There’s the explanation for two common names used to describe a traditional Thanksgiving table decoration: cornucopia, and horn of plenty.

    The first thing that came to mind regarding cara was the Caracara. It seems the bird got its name because of its call, but at the bottom of the linked page, I did see another article (interesting, by the way) titled, “Caracara Means More Than Faceface.”

    Just out of curiosity, does Apple translate “Face Time” as Tiempo de la Cara” for its Spanish-speaking customers?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 19, 2015 @ 09:26:43

      The Internet’s a cornucopia, all right, and I noticed in your linked article about caracaras that ” Gonzales County has the highest concentration of these magnificent birds in the entire U.S.” That’s only an hour from Austin, so maybe I’ll see one the next time I’m there.

      As for Apple’s Facetime, I searched a little and found only examples where Spanish used the English expression intact rather than substituting a would-be translation.


  2. Maria F.
    May 19, 2015 @ 15:41:12

    I don’t discard the words kápa (kára) and kápƞ (kári). Greek tragedian Sophocles (496 BC- 406 BC) was already using these words in his play Electra.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 19, 2015 @ 15:50:10

      I noted especially the contribution by Helena at the bottom of the page you linked to.


      • Maria F.
        May 19, 2015 @ 16:22:32

        Yes, those are the ones I mean, I thought about it when I remembered “rostrum”, which is another word in Latin, but means something that is in front or on the upper part of something else (I think it is formally “crown” now) So “rostro” is the other word that can be used for “cara” in Spanish but as a synonym.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          May 19, 2015 @ 16:46:16

          The literal meaning of rōstrum in Latin was ‘the bill or beak of a bird; the snout, muzzle, mouth of animals.’ ‘Pico de ave’ is still the first definition of rostro in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, and then comes ‘Cosa en punta, parecida al pico del ave.’ We can surmise that the nose on a person’s face was one of those things, and from there rostro came to apply to the whole face. As a result, neither of the two Spanish words for ‘face’ started out meaning that. The Classical Latin word for ‘face,’ facies, has become English face (via French) and Spanish faz, which is now mostly figurative and poetic.


  3. Maria F.
    May 19, 2015 @ 16:58:27

    The surviving play by Sophocles still shows it was being used for “face”, as Helena (in the website) also mentions medieval Latin also transformed Greek words. Medieval Latin must be really interesting!


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