Your Weekly Dose of Spanish by Spaniology: Semana 11

Published in Dungarvan Leader Page 15 on Tuesday 5th of October 2021


Some weeks ago we spoke about cognates, or similar words across languages stemming from a common origin. Latin would be the most usual source of these words between English and Spanish, be it directly as a prestige language, or indirectly as English acquired a vast vocabulary from Old French via the Normans —both Spanish and French stemming from Latin—.

Interestingly, we can also find words of Germanic origin in Spanish, either from Latin due to the contact of this language with Germanic languages in central Europe, or directly introduced by the Visigoths and other Germanic peoples who settled in Spain during the Middle Ages. Since these folks spoke an ancestor of English, most of this vocabulary would be shared by both languages.

A large amount of this lexicon is related to military matters, such as guerra (war), tregua (truce), guante (glove; related to gauntlet), yelmo (helm, helmet), alabarda (halberd), flecha (arrow; related to fletch and flèche), estandarte (standard), bregar (to struggle; related to break), guardia (guard), espía (spy) or espuela (spur), to name but a few. Although the words evidently evolved differently in each language, we can still observe a similarity in their morphology, especially in the consonants.

Now, far be from my intention to perpetuate gratuitous stereotypes, so I have to mention that war was not the only thing these Germanic peoples were interested in. They also left their lexical footprint in other fields like domestic, personal and social life. In this respect we find words like albergar (to harbour), arenque (herring), arpa (harp), banco (bench, bank), burgo (town; related to borough and burgh, also found currently mostly in place names), fresco (fresh, frisk), falda (skirt; related to fold, presumably due to the way of making a skirt with folded drapery), gallardo (gallant, dashing; related to the name Gaylord), ganso (goose), ropa (clothing; related to robe), jardín (garden), rico (rich), blanco (white; related to blank), guisa (manner; related to guise and wise), toalla (towel) or the one we mentioned in our first instalment: tapa (cover, lid; related to tap).

Sometimes the relation might be much more cryptic, as in the case of bigote (moustache), believed to be related to "by god" due to the custom of touching your upper lip when making an oath to symbolise kissing the cross —expression that, oddly enough, resulted in the English false friend "bigot", in a reference to the religious zeal of these individuals—. Or our brindis (toast with a drink), stemming from the Germanic expression bring dir's (bring it to you).

Although Latin and Greek are the main sources of similar vocabulary between English and Spanish, the influence also happened to go the other way about. And we can safely conclude that, in these instances, Spanish is the language resembling English rather than vice versa.

* Here is your weekly dose of Spanish: El espía está sentado en el banco mientras come una tapa de arenque fresco [The spy is sitting on the bench while he eats a tapa of fresh herring]

Sergio Fernández Redondo

Sergio hails from Asturias in northern Spain and has recently relocated to Dungarvan, where he is a Spanish teacher and PR specialist at Spaniology. Having an eclectic background in engineering, translation and linguistics, he is also a keen aficionado of history and languages.


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