About this blog
Welcome to a continuing series of short articles about the many connections between words in Spanish and English. Sometimes English has borrowed from Spanish; some familiar examples are armadillo, taco, fiesta, chocolate, embargo, guerrilla, tomato, Nevada, rodeo, and ranch. English has increasingly returned the favor, giving Spanish words like test, béisbol, jeans, líder, iceberg, suéter, panqueque, guachimán, and, pertinent to this blog, blog itself.
Even when it’s clear that one language has borrowed from the other, there is often an interesting tale to be told about where the borrowed word came from in the first place. Spanish chocolate, for example, came from two Aztec words meaning ‘bitter water,’ a reflection of the fact that the Aztecs took their chocolate unsweetened and in liquid form.
English test goes back through Old French to Latin testa, which meant ‘an earthenware pot or piece of a pot.’ French workers in gold and silver later used pieces of pots to perform assays on, and from that came the English verb test, meaning ‘to check to determine the quality of something.’ Independently, Latin testa in its ‘pot’ sense became a slang term for ‘head’ in the developing Romance languages, and in time it was accepted as a normal word. That explains Spanish testa ‘head’ and testarudo ‘hard-headed, stubborn.’
We’ve all had the experience of groping for a word or a name but not being able to bring it to mind. We even say “It’s right on the tip of my tongue,” and all it would take is the slightest nudge to push the word into consciousness. In a similar way, many connections between Spanish and English words lie just out of sight, obscured by a change in the form of one or both words. In those cases, this blog will provide the nudge that uncovers the hidden link. For example, Spanish quemar ‘to burn’ doesn’t look like anything in English, but restore the r that disappeared a long time ago from the ancestor of quemar, and suddenly the link to English cremate seems obvious. And no one will incarcerate you for disturbing the peace if you howl with delight when you learn that Spanish jaula ‘a cage’ comes from the same source that produced English jail: a cage is, after all, a jail for animals.
Some of the words I’ll deal with are among the most common in both languages, while others are less familiar or admittedly obscure. But variety is the spice of life, as they say, and English spice and species are historically the same word as Spanish especia and especie, as I say.
So abróchense los cinturones, fasten your seatbelts, and come along each day for this whirlwind ride through the wonderful world of Spanish and English word connections.