When it comes to learning a new language, there is a concept called “false friends” that tends to confuse beginner speakers. In this case, similarities are not “false friends”. Since I started to teach Spanish and English to different speakers I had never realized some unsuspected resemblances between Spanish vocabulary and English vocab.
This is not the case with the famous “embarrassed” and embarazado whose meaning the difference is the cause of serious misunderstanding, although it is also considered to be funny. Those “false friends” often set the idea -especially in advanced speakers- to avoid any kind of similar words, just to prevent missing the point when communicating with native speakers.
However, chances are that you find wondrous words in Spanish/English that echo each other not only in the pronunciation but also in their meaning.
1.“Sordid” and sórdido
This word is defined by its dark nuance, related to despicable and unpleasant things both in Spanish and in English. For instance, it can refer to a place or situation with an ugly, old, and damaged aspect: “sordid building”. But it also means a moral quality of being indecent, offensive, and/or outrageous: “sordid life”.
2.“Spectrum” and espectro
The first definition in English dictionaries set this word on the side of colors because it describes numerous and varied colors that can be found in a stream because of light reflection. But it also alludes, metaphorically, to the range of opinions and ways of thought amid two different positions. When it comes to the Spanish word, there is a principal meaning that points out a different topic than the English definition. In Spanish espectro first definition is a ghost or a dead person image in a noncorporeal aspect. However, definitions 2, 3 and 4 (in Real Academia Española’s Dictionary) make way to connect with English since it describes the physical phenomenon of colors (light waves), radio waves, and/or notions of temperatures and energy. It is possible then when mentioning the word with the meaning related to colors, to find similarities between Spanish and English words.
3.“Pale” and pálido
In both languages, the word “pale” is an adjective that describes a physical aspect of someone when its skin face is apart from the usual or normal one, and close to being white, in reference to the original skin color the person has. It also relates to the white color at the moment it describes a bright and soft tone in the chromatic spectrum. From this, it is possible to say that they have very close and actually the same meanings.
4.“Stipend” and estipendio
With “stipend”, rarely similar to “pale”, both languages carry close meanings despite their nuances. In English “stipend” means the amount of money that is paid to someone on a regular basis. In Spanish estipendio points out an amount of money paid, but not on a regular basis, and instead, it marks it to be for a service given, which means that it is not connected to regularity and can conclude when service stops to be provided. That is one important nuance since the English “stipend” conveys the notion of payment not based on the value of a service, but rather on the generosity or capacity of the one who pays. There is a second meaning similar in both languages which describes the income of religious authority (a priest). Again, nuances appear and show that in English this referred meaning is used in the UK, whilst in Spanish, the money paid to a priest is 1) based on what the Church itself set as the proper amount and 2) it’s a type of service the priest charges because of a specific Mass he provided.
5.“Subtle” and sutil
Both in Spanish and English “subtle” is an adjective that describes the way something is done or a way something appears: not noticeable or obvious. However, Spanish sutil gives a nuance of physical features of thinness as well as delicacy. The second meaning in both English and Spanish indicates someone’s character when doing something: to be ingenious, insightful, and sharp, and also the way something is achieved.
6.“Morbid” and morbo
In this interesting case, the English “morbid” is an adjective whose definition has a disapproving connotation because of the abnormal interest of someone in unpleasant themes such as death. However, in its second meaning, the subject changes because it is related to the disease. In the Spanish word -a noun and not an adjective- the same first meaning can be found in “morbo”, although this word’s first meaning alludes to disease as well as in English. In meanings 2 and 3, this noun carries the same disapproving tone when describing unhealthy interest in people, stuff or to unutterable events.
7.“Vile” and vil
In English, the word “vile” has a moral tone as well as in Spanish vil. Both indicate the character of a person whose actions can be seen as unacceptable, despicable, and unworthy. In English, “extreme” is a word used to describe a vile behavior or aspect such as smell or physical look. That is one nuance that separates English meaning from Spanish. In vil, another nuance different from “vile” can be found when describing how a person behaves when trust has been given: it fails and betrays that trust.
8.“Ineffable” and inefable
This is considered by many as ones of the most beautiful words in Spanish. It is delightful to find out that in English it has the same meaning: something that can’t be described using words. I have to confess, though, that English meaning and nuance give me more insight into the depth of this word: it is something impossible to describe due to the emotion and pleasure it causes.
As the last word addressed the topic of “the most beautiful words” in Spanish, according to some media on the internet, turns out that some of these words in Spanish have also correspondence in English:
- Serendipia and “serendipity”, as an unexpected, valuable, and interesting findings.
- Melifluo and “melliflous”, as something sweet and pleasant when speaking and/or behaving.
- Etéreo and “ethereal”, as something light, unnatural and delicate.
- Perenne and “perennial”, as something that happens over and over again.
- Soledad and “solitude”, as the state of being alone by choice becomes a harmonious experience.
Many of these words are similar in Spanish and English due to their origin: Latin. However, it makes me think that ultimately languages sometimes share equal ideas that reflect the same concerns or points of view regarding our surroundings and our human condition. It raises one final question to be analyzed: Do we really live in different worlds because of the language we speak? What do you think about it?
Do you know any other similar words in Spanish and English, or in any other language?