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Word origins Posted by on Jun 13, 2008 in Literature, Spanish Culture, Spanish Vocabulary

We’re going to start a series today with word origins and history (etymology).

1. cirujano

It was around 1340 that the word “cirujano” (surgeon) was registered in the Spanish language, even though  cirujano had already appeared in Siete Partidas (1251-1265) by Alfonso X el Sabio:

“Y esto que diximos delos orebzes se entiende tanbien delos otros maestros & delos fisicos & de los cirujanos & delos albeytares & de todos los otros que reçiben preçio para fazer alguna obra: o melezinar alguna cosa sy errare en ella por su culpa o por mengua de saber.”

During the 18th and 19th centuries the word “cirugiano” was also used. It comes from Latin chirurgia, which comes from Greek kheirurgia (surgical intervention), although etymologically it means “manual work” and “practice of a job”, whjch derives from kheirurgein (working with your hands), made up of kheir (hand) y érgon (work).

2. dicha

The word dicha, which comes from the verb decir, means “things that were said”, but it also means “happiness”, “good luck”. What does it the verb “decir” have to do with the meaning of “good luck”?

The Romans believed that a person’s happiness depended on words the gods said when someone was born, and their fate was written in the dicta (the thing that was said). This old belief is also in the origin of the word hado (fate), which comes from fatum, passive participle of fari (speak, say).

3. iconoclasta

An iconoclast is basically someone who destroys or ridicules cultural icons or institutions. The first iconoclasts were the members of the Oriental Church in the 8th and 9th centuries of our era. In some cases, the Orthodox Christians destroyed the icons of their Catholic counterparts. The word iconoclasta comes from vulgar Latin and it was made up with the Greek words eikon (icon) and the verb klaein (break, destroy).

If you feel curious about the origin of other words or expressions in Spanish, drop us a line and we’ll answer your questions.

See you next time!

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  1. Avery Ash:

    do you know the origin of “las manos?”
    my spanish teacher said that she would give us extra credit if we could figure it out. =]

  2. david carmona:

    The word “mano” comes from the Latin “manus”. Even though it adopted the final -o in Spanish, it retained its original gender from Latin (feminine), ending up as a rare case in Spanish (most nouns ending in -o are masculine in Spanish).

  3. Bluke:

    I am interested in etymologies of Spanish nouns ending in /-a/ that are masculine in gender. el dia, , el idioma. Any insight out there?

  4. Apple:

    I was wondering where the word “cama” (bed) in spanish came from…
    Because I realized the Hindi word Kama means sexual pleasure…. and I know the spanish language gets SOME of it’s words from arabic… so maybe that’s not THAT far off from hindi, y’know?
    Just wondering… any connection?

  5. david carmona:

    The word “cama” in Spanish has an unknown origin, certainly pre-Latin, and probably Iberian or Celtiberian. The connection with Sanskrit is not too far-fetched, and would make quite a nice hypothesis.

  6. Christopher:

    @david there are some spanish words with sanskrit roots, like ‘naranja’ which comes from the sanskrit ‘naranga’ among others, correct?

  7. david carmona:

    That´s correct. We have words like “ajedrez”, “sándalo”, “carambola”, “jengibre”, etc.
    There are also words from caló (Spanish Roma dialect) that can be traced originally to India, where the gypsies came from: “akai”, “churumbel”, “parné”, etc.

  8. A:

    Hi. I would like to know… What is the correct way to refer to a map.

    Is it ==> El Mapa
    Is it==> La Mapa

    and why, and not why not the other…

    My dear Mother-in-Law and I are debating on the issue… Thanks!

  9. My2Cents:

    …and both words meaning toothless. What is the origin of both

    ==> Chimuelo


    ==> Molacho

    Thanks again.

  10. David Carmona:

    The correct form is “el mapa”. Originally, the word comes from the medieval Latin expression “mappa mundi”, where “mappa” refers to “napkin” or “canvas”, as the material maps were painted on. Even though “mappa” is a feminine noun, “mappa mundi” (map of the world) was lexicalised in Spanish as a masculine noun, and “mapa” is an abbreviation of that expression, retaining the masculine gender.
    “Chimuelo” and “molacho” both relate to the word “muela” (back tooth), derived from the Latin “mola”, which also gives us the English medical term “molar”.

  11. robert:

    Do you know the origin of the word “denuncia”? I’m trying to figure out whether it starts off as a legal term or if it originally had another meaning.

  12. Virgilio sandoval:

    What is the origin of the words fulano y mengano. also the origin of the word zutano ??

    • David Carmona:

      @Virgilio sandoval Fulano and mengano come from Arabic, via Southern Spain. They mean “this man” and “whoever”, respectively.
      Zutano and citano are derived from Latin, meaning “known”.

  13. Jessica:

    I’d like to know the origin of the word ‘bisiesto’, leap year. The dictionary says it comes from bisextus in Latin but can someone deconstruct the word a little more? ‘Bi’ frequently means two. Sextus, six? I’m not seeing the connection, except that February is the 2nd month.


    • David Carmona:

      @Jessica Julius Caesar introduced a lot of modifications to the Roman calendar. To make everything fit in the same way we know now, he added an extra day to the month of February, between the 23rd and the 24th. Those days were known as the sixth and fifth before the Kalendas Martias, (March). The new day was called in Latin ante diem bis sextum Kalendas Martias . “Bisiesto” comes from the “bis sextum” part.

  14. Ray Garcia:

    Why do restaurants use the word “apretalados” for shrimp wrapped bacon? Is that even a word?

  15. Ray Garcia:

    Oops, that was supposed to say bacon wrapped shrimp. Usually called Camarones Acapulco…and i figured if anything else it should be Camarones Apretadas…

  16. sand:

    Does anyone know how to find the origin of medical abbreviations? I found the definitions but not the origin of the abbreviations – HELP – must finish my assignment in 2 days

    • David Carmona:

      @sand Can you share with us the abbreviations you are having problems with?

  17. sand:

    thanks I found the info

  18. Curious:

    Does anyone know the etymology of the word “pinchos”? And do you have a citation for it?

    • David Carmona:

      @Curious It depends… are you referring to an object or food?

    • David Carmona:

      @Curious “Pincho” as an object comes from the verb “pinchar”/”punchar”, from the Latin “punctiare”, which also gives you “puncture” in English.
      “Pincho” as a portion of food comes from the Basque “pintxo”, which is derived from the original Spanish word “pincho”. However, this meaning is particular to the Basque Country, and now used widely in Northern Spain to refer to tapas or small portions of food to be consumed while drinking. They were traditionally served in a skewer or with toothpicks, to be consumed easily.

  19. Curious:

    David, both if you have the info . . . .Thanks.

  20. juancarlos:

    Your exchange of spanish word etymologies really caught my attention. Would anyone have the origins of the word ‘lastima’? Am doing an in-depth research on the spanish words and its origins. Would be grateful for any inputs from you guys. Thanks.

  21. movie trailer updated:

    Very nice post and straight to the point. I am not sure if this is truly the best place to ask but do you people have any ideea where to hire some professional writers? Thanks 🙂

  22. quietthinker:

    What’s the origin of the term “darse cuenta de”?

    • David Carmona:

      @quietthinker It doesn’t have an origin. It’s not an idiom.

  23. quietthinker:

    But there’s no known source for the word itself?

  24. bt:

    What is the origin of the word ‘derecho’ as in “Usted tiene derechos” and what is it’s connection to it’s English counterpart, right?

    • David Carmona:

      @bt It comes from the latin “directum”, meaning something that’s right, straight or rigid. In English, it comes from the Old High German “reht”, which also meant straight, correct, or moving in a straight line. The connection is that there is a common Indoeuropean stem formed by the letters REG- and slight variations of it in multiple languages, all referring to the same idea.

  25. kokori:

    Your article really helped me thank you i wait for the next

  26. Lil:

    What is the origin or “abur” I know what it means but not where it comes from. Sounds Arabic to me

  27. DeWayne Guyer:

    Can you please tell me the etymology of “hormigón” meaning concrete in Spanish and what connection it may have to “hormiga” meaning ant. Thanks.

  28. Matt:

    can you explain the meaning of Prieto, and why it would be used as a last name?

  29. Patricia Kaiser:

    What are the origins of Spanish words, desayuno, and despertar? It seems that these two words must be related.

    There are so many words in Spanish with the prefix des- , but des- seems to mean many things. Is there a resource you know that will define such and similar prefixes?