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.

33 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TBM
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 07:49:04

    This is a great idea for a blog. I’m glad I found it.

    Reply

  2. Sony Fugaban
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 08:32:13

    I just like to thank you for enlightening me about that species of flower that was posted in John Tugano’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Flower. I never knew that the goat-goat flower is not a native of my country. Nonetheless, I am happy for being educated about it.

    Thank you!

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 29, 2011 @ 11:36:36

      Many of the flowers we grow up with turn out not to be native. In my case, two of the most common wildflowers in New York, where I grew up, are dandelions and clover, but both were introduced from Europe.

      As for kanding-kanding, I still don’t know why Filipinos named it “goat-goat.” Any ideas?

      Reply

  3. chaiselongue1
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 23:44:52

    I’m so glad to have found your fascinating blog through bardessdmdenton’s. I could get lost here in the origins of words and links between them. I speak a little Spanish and find many links between it and Occitan (another Latin language) which is the original language of the area of southern France where I live. Thanks! My own blog about writing is at:
    writeinlanguedoc.wordpress.com

    Reply

  4. Steve Schwartzman
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 05:45:27

    Benvinguda. That’s Catalan, the closest I can come to Occitan. Et bienvenue to you who live in the south of France. I mention French fairly often in this blog, as it’s the source of so many English words.

    While I’m not a gardener, I take a great many photographs of the plants that are native to central Texas; some of those appear in my other blog, which you’re welcome to cultivate as well:

    http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com

    Reply

    • chaiselongue1
      Oct 12, 2011 @ 06:31:01

      Merce plan! (Occitan for thank you very much) In Occitan it’s ‘benvenguda’ – the two languages are very similar. I am very near Montpellier, about 50 kilometres away, and yes, the accent here is very different from northern French and much influenced by Occitan words and pronunciation. It’s a fascinating mix, with the closeness of Spain too. There are many Spanish people in our village so when I go to the market I’m very likely to hear, and haltingly speak, Spanish.

      Thanks for the link to your plant blog which I’ll be very interested to visit. I hope you’ll be interested in my writing blog too, which is more relevant to your subject matter here: http://writeinlanguedoc.wordpress.com

      Reply

  5. Steve Schwartzman
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 07:10:50

    “Merce plan” is certainly understandable. I wonder if people in the south of France ever find themselves saying “Merci plein” in French, rather than the usual “Merci bien.”

    Reply

  6. ceciliag
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 18:25:59

    I have always been fascinated by the origins of words. Though I have spent more time with the Latin, I hope to read more here.. well done.,. a blog that will teach us! c

    Reply

  7. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 20:53:33

    Thank you, Cecilia. As a longtime lover of words and their origins and also a longtime teacher, I’m happy to reveal things to people. I’ll grant, though, that it’s a lot easier to appeal to most people with photographs of wildflowers and nature than with etymologies of words!

    Reply

  8. niasunset
    Dec 15, 2011 @ 11:57:30

    This is wonderful blog and you are doing amazing job with this blog. Languages can be interesting but the origin of the words much more… I love the stories behind the words and I love etymology too. This is my second language and I have been still trying to learn and to improve it… How you made me excited with this blog too 🙂 I am so glad to meet with you dear Steve, Thank you for visiting my blog, you are also so beautiful photographer too, I have visited some of your posts in your wild flowers photographs… I will visit again, I am your new reader and visitor now. With my love, nia

    Reply

  9. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 15, 2011 @ 12:16:48

    Thank you for your twin enthusiasms, Nia. I’m always happy to meet someone who is interested in language, and particularly in etymology. I find the stories behind the origins of words fascinating, and I’m pleased that you feel the same way. Here’s your chance to learn a little about Spanish as well as English. Glad to meet you (twice!).

    Reply

  10. niasunset
    Dec 26, 2011 @ 06:23:34

    http://photographyofnia.com/2011/12/26/it-is-great-honor/
    Dear Steve, you are one of my beautiful blogger friends. A Candle Lighter in my world. Thank you for being YOU and for being There. You are really doing great work with this blog. Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia

    Reply

  11. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 26, 2011 @ 08:28:31

    Congratulations on your award, Nia; I’m pleased to see you getting recognized. Thanks so much, too, for your all appreciation.

    Reply

  12. Sonya Chasey
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 06:58:33

    Your blog is absolutely fascinating – In my family we love etymology & often have conversations about the links between words from different languages.I can see I could learn a lot here (I can also see how if I wasn’t careful I could end up spending too much time when I should be painting too!)

    Thank-you for visiting my blog & please forgive all my French & Spanish errores!

    Reply

  13. psychevida
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 16:14:00

    Wow!! I am loving your blog!! I love English, I love Spanish and I am fascinated by etymology…
    Thank you! A delight!

    Reply

  14. Steve Schwartzman
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 16:46:39

    You’re very welcome—and I see Spanish in the second half of your online name.

    As for this blog, I delight in your delight with it. There’s so much to discover about the river of words that has flowed into the language(s) we use today.

    Reply

  15. imagesbytdashfield
    Apr 30, 2012 @ 15:40:01

    Me gusta! Muy interesante

    Reply

  16. philosophermouseofthehedge
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 08:40:58

    Go cognates!

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 14, 2012 @ 10:11:10

      Yes, and here’s another cheer:

      Cognates, cognates, they’re our guys:
      We’ll find them out despite disguise.
      Cognates, cognates, they’re our gals:
      Seek them out and make them pals.

      Reply

  17. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 08:59:27

    hey oh brilliant one!
    many people follow a lead to my blog with the search for spanish words that start with w.. of all people to address this, you rise to the top of the list! i’m in transit so don’t have time to see if you’ve addressed this in a past post, but wanted to pass that tidbit along!
    hope it’s a good day for you!
    z

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 14, 2013 @ 10:30:39

      Thanks for the epithet of “brilliant one.” Sometimes I think I’d be lucky to make it to “brilliant one-tenth.” Anyhow, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned any Spanish words that begin with w. The few that exist are borrowed from other languages, because Spanish normally spells its version of a /w/ sound (which has velar coloring) with the letter u, as in cuanto /kwanto/. A few Spanish borrowings beginning with w are: web, western, whisk(e)y, wolfram(io), and windsurf.

      Reply

  18. kathryningrid
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 14:56:58

    I just learned the Spanish name for chestnut the other night (castaño) and couldn’t help immediately wondering if castanets were named for their resemblance to chestnuts. I see the Great Sage Wiki says that castanets are made of chestnut wood, but find it hard to believe that the visual resemblance to the fruit of the tree isn’t just as important a factor in the naming as the use of the wood itself. Just an odd little thing that popped up in after-dinner conversation among our international cohort of the night. Never know when it’d be handy to have the Word Doctor among us! 😉

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 29, 2013 @ 17:50:34

      I’m afraid I don’t know whether castanets got their name because they originally resembled chestnuts or because they were made of chestnut wood, or for both reasons. What I can say is that English chestnut used to be chesten before the nut got added. Chesten had come from Old French chastaigne, the cognate of Spanish castaño. Etymologically speaking, then, there is no chest in chestnut, even if carpenters sometimes make chests out of chestnut wood.

      Reply

  19. stressingoutstudent
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 10:46:59

    The word nerd in me just leapt out of her seat. Love this blog 😀

    Reply

  20. The Best English Coach
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 22:17:25

    Hi! I nominated you for the Liebster Award. I hope you enjoy the recognition 🙂 You can read all about the award, and “receive” your recognition here: http://thebestenglishcoach.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/liebster-award/ Thanks for inspiring others. 🙂

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Apr 24, 2014 @ 22:36:39

      Thanks for thinking of me. When the question of blog awards first came up for me a few years ago, I decided that these posts and people’s comments on them would be reward enough. I’ve maintained that position since then, but thanks again for thinking of this blog.

      Reply

  21. The Best English Coach
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 22:42:24

    you’re welcome! 🙂

    Reply

  22. crdieball
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 11:07:26

    Love your blog. I’m just beginning to learn Spanish with a wonderful little app on my smart phone. Your blog has been a great tool in helping me to retain in my memory, the new Spanish word.

    Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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