Fun Spanish Etymologies

One of my favorite parts of studying other languages is finding connections in the meanings and etymologies of different words.  When asked what languages have influenced English, the top responses would likely be German, French, and Latin.  Most people wouldn’t think to include Spanish in this list.  While its linguistic influence is smaller than that of the other languages listed, Spanish is a crucial part of English vocabulary.

A common example of the influence of Spanish in American vocabulary is evident in the terms Americans use for items and activities associated with cowboys and the West.  For instance, corralrodeo, canyon (cañon), buckaroo (vaquero), bonanza, and lariat are all Spanish loan words or derivations.  Words like tobacco, cigar (cigaro), hurricane (huracán), barbecue (barbacoa), and potato (patata) all come from Spanish and are generally terms derived from Latin American indigenous languages.  Now, though, these are everyday words in English, used around the world.

Today, I wanted to share the etymology and linguistic connections of five Spanish words.  Several of the connections are ones I learned through my Spanish classes, but I’ve also researched the etymologies of a couple of the words on my own because I was curious about them.

parasol paintingParasol: This is the Spanish word for sunshade and is a combination of para from the verb parar, which means “to stop,” and sol, which is the word for sun.  Thus, this word literally means “stop-sun.”

Paraguas: This word means umbrella in Spanish and is a combination of par and aguas, literally meaning “stop-waters.”

Jubilarse: I have always been fond of the Spanish word for to retire.  Retirement from a job should be a joyful occasion, and this beautiful Spanish derivative of the Latin word for rejoice perfectly expresses this feeling.

Desayuno: Like in English, the Spanish word for the first meal of the day literally means to break one’s fast.  Des– means to stop doing something and ayuno is the Spanish word for fast, so this word literally means “not-fast.”

Mayonesa: The word we know as mayonnaise has unclear origins, according to articles on the Internet.  But one of my Spanish professors said that mayonnaise was invented on the island of Minorca when there was a shortage of butter and an excess of eggs and that the name comes from the city of Mahón.  Mayonnaise is just a French version of this Spanish word that was introduced into the English language.

Painting credits: The Herd Quitter by C.M. Russell and Morning Walk by John Singer Sargent






Stupid Humans

At his day job, Jason Whitaker was actually known as a pretty social guy. But he had a side hustle that meant he really didn’t like it when anyone watched him for too long. Or, as he was quickly realizing, anything.

He and his buddy were in the alleyway at the back of his house, unloading a TV and speakers they’d swiped from a some place across town, when he first noticed it – just a prickling on the back of his neck that made him pause and glance ‘round. The only light came from the chinks in the blinds, but it was enough to reflect off something a little ways down the fence.

“Hold up,” he said, motioning to his buddy. He jumped down from the truck, pulled out his phone and swiped the flashlight on. Its faint beam illuminated a large tabby cat sitting there on the fence, just staring in his direction.

“Dude, it’s a cat?” his buddy questioned.

Jason put his phone back in his jeans, slightly ashamed of himself. “Yeah, my bad, sorry, thought it was something else.”

He thought nothing of it, until the next week, when he was unloading another TV from another house, with another buddy. This time, his headlights illuminated the animal as he backed up to the garage.

“I swear that stupid cat was there last week,” he murmured.

“I mean, it probably lives around here,” his buddy replied. This guy was a cat person, so he walked up to the fence rubbing his hand and making a “tnt, tnt, tnt,” noise with his tongue. No dice; the cat didn’t budge, but only stared incredulously down.

That was a cat for you. Jason honestly didn’t really think anything of it until the fourth or fifth time he was unloading more stolen goods, and that stupid cat was still there. As soon as Jason got out of the car, he picked up a piece of gravel and flung it at the animal. He missed of course, and since his buddy was that same cat person, all Jason got for his trouble was an admonishment to just chill out. The cat nonchalantly picked itself up and set up shop again a few yards down the fence.

The stupid cat was back to his usual spot the next time. And the next time. And the time after that. It was always there, through every unloading. It got to the point where if Jason could have shot the animal, he would have. But he lived in too nice a neighborhood to get away with that without someone calling the cops, which was a much worse scenario than some random cat watching him.

He was still managing to think of the cat as random, or at least to refer to it as such in his head.

Instead, Jason was just starting to look into whether cat traps were a thing, when he came home from work one day, walked into his living room, and saw that very same, stupid cat sitting in his girlfriend’s lap. He used some very choice words to demand why she had a cat that wasn’t his in own house.

“Yeesh, calm down!” she said, in a voice that was the opposite of calm. “I think it’s just stray, but it was acting like it was hungry, so I was just feeding it and petting it, no big deal.” Her voice and her defensiveness rose with each statement.

Some part of Jason recognized that it was slightly irrational to yell at his girlfriend because a cat he was just sure was following his every move was in the house. So instead, he took a different approach and decided to go off about how she may have a key to his house, but that didn’t mean she could act like she lived there, she was always getting into stuff she didn’t think through…

The fight got bad, like most of their fights did these days, and Jason could have sworn the the cat looked like it was enjoying it.

When his girlfriend ran out crying, the stupid cat darted out as well.

But it was back again a couple days later. It was sitting right there in his driveway when the police came knocking, asking about a string of thefts across town, and with a warrant to search the house. And the cat was still there when the police car drove away, with Jason in the back in handcuffs.

What Jason didn’t see was this: when the car was out of sight, and the police were still tearing up the house, the cat got up and meandered up the street to a car that was parked a little ways away. It leapt onto the hood, darted up the windshield, and jumped through the open moonroof.

“I suppose there’s absolutely no use telling you ‘Good job,’” said the man inside the car.

The cat sat in the passenger seat and began to unceremoniously lick its haunches. “Oh, I know I did an excellent job, Stupid Human. I always do. This may have been one of my masterpieces, of course, seducing the girlfriend. I actually got them to fight over me, have I told you that, Stupid Human?”

“Several times,” the man assured the cat. “But, of course, you’re worth fighting over,” he added, in a completely deadpan voice.

“Yes, indeed, and lucky I am,” replied the cat, without a hint of irony. “Because that’s how I told you the girlfriend might be willing to tattle on her criminal mate. But enough chit-chat. Where’s my reward, Stupid Human?”

The man reached across to the glovebox, and pulled out a tiny, cloth bag. “Two ounces of catnip, as we agreed. You know, if I were a cop, I suppose this would be the same as bribing a source with drugs?”

The cat’s ears had already begun to perk, and its whiskers twitched. “You know you might be the stupidest human of all the Stupid Humans. It’s my understanding that you could go quite far with the stupid human police with such tips as someone like me brings you.”

The man smiled. “Yes, yes, we’ve discussed how stupid I am many times. My mother would say much the same thing – although she wouldn’t tell me I’m stupid so much as impatient. I never did like paperwork. And the private eye gig often pays just as well, although looking into this string of thefts was a personal favor for a friend.”

“Ah, the magnanimous nature of humans,” the cat replied, without a hint of sarcasm. “I often wonder at it. But I am doing you no favors. Stop jawing, Stupid Human, and hand me the bag!”

The cat took the bag in his mouth, then bounded up and out the moonroof.

“Until next time!” the man called.

“Shhhoopid Hwoomun,” he heard the cat mumble, as it disappeared into the night.

Well, the cat might think humans were magnanimous beings, but after his years of experience, the man was quite sure that cats were absolute jerks.


Every day as the tracks were laid you could see him stand

Leaning against an old telegraph pole, harmonica in his hand.

As the hammers fell like rhythmic drums and train whistles blew

He drew from that harmonica a low, mournful tune.

He had followed the railroad as long as anyone could remember

Always watching and playing, in heat of summer and December.

Nobody seemed to know where, if anywhere, he called home,

But on the night breeze they could hear his mournful tune.

Somebody said he was a decorated calvary officer from the war,

Returning home to a burned home and three graves in 1864.

He stood in the sun, hot as wrath, gold glinting on his hand,

As it gently held and caressed the low, mournful tune.

Then came the day when his harmonica fell still,

And leaving his pole, approached three strangers on a hill.

A cry rang out, and glinting steel hinted at dark intent,

A Crack, crack -percussive melody’s staccato tune.

Out of the dust and smoke surrounding this man-made hell,

There remained no sharp silhouette upon the hill.

They found him there with a smoking gun in his hand

And three blackguards silently lying dead in the sand.

Hammers fall like rhythmic drums and train whistles blow,

Telegraph poles extend to the horizon row upon row,

And from time to time, nobody can seem to tell from where,

There comes that mournful tune upon the night air.

Death & Taxis (Cont’d)

The pub was tucked away down a brick alley of Byzantine proportions. The walls of the buildings on either side swung upwards, and an arch stretched over the entrance to the alley with large, block letters reading: “Public houses of the 12th Ward.” Tom led the way at a brisk pace, Kaylen following him.

Kaylen’s demeanor appeared placid, but internally it was as if an orchestra was practicing for a concert, each section practicing its own bits, so that the resulting cacophony made it impossible for a listener to concentrate on any one melody.

What is happening? Thought Kaylen. She reviewed some possibilities in her head:

1. she had been kidnapped and her memory erased. She had only ever known of this happening in movies such as The Bourne Identity, but certainly it was possible; this could be a trafficking plot, and the story so outlandish as to coerce her into going along

2. she was dreaming. Unlikely – she had pinched herself several times to try and wake up; she also had tried slapping herself in the face, but the only thing this accomplished was to cause Tom to cock his head back at her and give her a quizzical glance

3. she was dead. But this could not be the case – death could not be so colorful

4. she was dead but had been reincarnated; this presented itself as an interesting possibility, but it seemed like a fairly unlikely option; and anyway, if she had been reincarnated, hadn’t someone forgotten to wipe her memory? Because if her memory had been wiped, she would not have been able to remember…

Henry. She needed to find out if he was here. Or had come through. If this is purgatory, she thought. He might be here.

Listen to yourself! You sound insane! She thought.

“Can we back up?” she said abruptly, tapping Tom on the shoulder. He turned around, stepping to the side of the alley to allow other pedestrians to pass. In the alley on both sides were pubs and stores of various shapes and with signs that hung from quaint boards with names such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “Gin & Whitaker,” and a repair shop called “Jameson & Sons.”

“Why yes! You have questions I assume? I will answer all the questions you may have –once we get to the pub. I am so thirsty!” Tom turned and continued walking before pointing at a sign reading “Jameson & Sons.” “Never go there, by the way,” he said. “It’s a tourist trap. Should be obvious, but it isn’t; was established last year, but they’re claiming to be a family-owned store. Gives people a fallacious sense of shopping at a place that’s established. The thing is, for there to be both a Jameson and a son working at the same store, they would have first of all both passed away around the same time, and then have to have found each other once the second one arrived.”

“You don’t think there’s a Mrs. Jameson and they just started a family?” said Kaylen, playing along idly with the conversation.

Tom furrowed his brow with a confused expression. “But…nobody has kids here or gets married…it’s not possible.”

Now Kaylen was the one with the surprised look on her face. “What do you MEAN, no one can have kids?”

Tom had an embarrassed look on his face. “I’ll explain when you’re older,” he said.

“I’m 26!” said Kaylen, crossing her arms.

“…In earth years, yes,” said Tom. “In purgatory years, you’re not even one!”

“But here’s the pub,” said Tom, as he disappeared into a door that led downward down a flight of steps. The sign next to the door was small and tacked up with a brace of nails. It read, “No admittance except by invitation.”

To be continued…