Who would’ve thought that Spanish sí and English she, similar in sound but so far apart in their meanings, are etymologically related? In spite of your skepticism, así es, that’s the way it is.
To see the connection, we go back, as is often the case in these articles, to Indo-European. In particular, we start with the Indo-European root *so-, meaning ‘this’ or ‘that’ and serving as the base for nominative-case forms of the demonstrative pronoun. A suffixed variant of that root gave rise to Latin sīc, a little word for which Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary gave a lot of translations: ‘so, thus, in this or that manner, in such a manner, in the same way or manner, in like manner, likewise, to this or that extent or degree, to such a degree, in this or that state or condition, in such a condition .’ As Latin evolved to Spanish, sīc lost its final consonant and became sí, the etymological sense of which is ‘[it’s] so.’ We’ve borrowed the Latin adverb in formal writing to indicate that something we’re quoting that has a mistake in it was that way in the original. For instance, if I were to quote a recent headline from the Austin American-Statesman, I’d write: “Texas has so far failed to elect a Hispanic women [sic] to Congress.”
The Indo-European demonstrative *so- also gave rise to Old English sēo, the source of modern English she, which is therefore indeed a relative of Spanish sí. From that basic Spanish adverb comes the compound así ‘so, thus, in this way,’ which not coincidentally appeared in this article’s second sentence.
© 2016 Steven Schwartzman