Sometimes an arrangement of letters happens to form a word in both Spanish and English even though the words have nothing to do with each other. For example, English son means ‘male offspring’ while Spanish son means ‘they are.’ At other times, identically spelled words in the two languages do turn out to be related, even if the semantics might not initially suggest a link.
One night I was watching a travel program about Belgium, and in a segment about a church the narrator used the word nave, which is ‘the long central part of a church where people sit.’ In Spanish, of course, the two-syllable nave is ‘a ship.’ While the Spanish and English versions of n-a-v-e may seem unrelated, they’re actually the same word, with both coming from the Latin word for ‘ship,’ nāvis. The connection is that during the Middle Ages members of the Roman Catholic Church began to use nāvis as a metaphor for the central part of a church because its shape reminded them of a ship. English then borrowed the Latin word as nave.
© 2016 Steven Schwartzman