We've seen a number of recent questions asking "Why is X in English different than Y in Spanish?" A couple recent examples:

I see two possible problems with such questions:

  1. They assume that English and Spanish ought to be related in some way. While it's true that English and Spanish do have a number of similarities, in large part due to a shared Latin root, assuming that this root should yield similarities between any two given words with a similar meaning seems misguided.

  2. These are really two questions, disguised as a single question. The two questions are "What is the etymology of X in English?" and "What is the etymology of Y in Spanish?" And only one of these two questions seems directly on-topic on this site. And the other can be easily asked on EL&U.

    Of course etymology questions may often be closed as too-simple, if the answer is easy enough to find, but that's a separate issue, I believe.

How do others feel?

We already have a related (but I think more broad) question in meta.

  • 3
    I'm everyday surprised when reading the questions asked. There are so many questions about etymology. It seems people are more worried why this word exists than its usage or meaning. But asking why a word don't resemble the english "ortography"... I find that senseless.
    – Juanillo
    Feb 14, 2012 at 8:34
  • 1
    You said that English and Spanish share a Latin root. If by that you mean they have a common ancestor... then it's not correct. Spanish comes from Latin, English does not. Only Romance Languages come from Latin, English is a Germanic language.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 21, 2012 at 18:43
  • @Alenanno: Much of English vocabulary has a Latin root.
    – Flimzy
    Feb 21, 2012 at 21:18
  • I think Flimzy is using unclear language here: "They assume that English and Spanish ought to be related in some way" - Well English and Spanish are related in some way: They are both Indo-European. "While it's true that English and Spanish do have a number of similarities, in large part due to a shared Latin root". The languages don't share a Latin root. Many words of English and the majority of words in Spanish have Latin roots, which is a different thing. I think it's hard for people to argue these points until they are clarified. Feb 22, 2012 at 14:11
  • @Flimzy That is true, but that's very different from saying that English comes from Latin. Latin had a great influence on English, I totally agree on this, but it's not its ancestor.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 23, 2012 at 19:41
  • @Alenanno: Fair enough, but in the context of etymology of words, it's the Latin influence that matters.
    – Flimzy
    Feb 23, 2012 at 21:28
  • @Flimzy Partially, yes. But I still find it weird to compare two words from two languages that don't have a common history. You'll obviously find many differences in this case, while if you compare two words having the same ancestor, the differences are different. (I'm not sure how to explain this clearly eheh.)
    – Alenanno
    Feb 23, 2012 at 21:34
  • @Alenanno: We agree at least that it's weird to compare the etymology between the languages then :)
    – Flimzy
    Feb 24, 2012 at 22:25
  • @Flimzy :P I certainly am not aware of all cases, so my judgement might be wrong/inexact in some cases... :D The only point where I'm sure is that they are not cognates, for the rest, I'll keep some reserve. :D
    – Alenanno
    Feb 24, 2012 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


My opinion is that such questions ought to be edited to ask only for the etymology of the Spanish word. Questions on the etymology of English words can be asked over at EL&U, if desired.

Note that I have done this already with this question.

If this is not the opinion of the community, we can easily revert my edit.

  • It's not very helpful to hide a referenced question under an opaquely named link "this question" by the way. We have to actually click on it or open it in a separate tab just to know what you're talking about. See our sister site: Why shouldn't we use the word 'here' in a textlink Feb 22, 2012 at 14:19

I found the discussion on "deporte" very helpful (and upvoted some of the answers).

The answer was that the Spanish version a "pure" derivation from the original Latin word while the English was a "corruption."

That was EXACTLY the kind of answer I wanted.

But perhaps in some other cases, it might be the English version that was a direct derivation, and the Spanish version that's indirect.

But the problem is that I don't know ahead of time which version is closer to the original (Latin in this instance), and which is the "deviant."

So I'm not asking about either the Spanish or the English per se, but rather about their RELATION to each other (and to third languages).

  • 1
    But asking for the etymology of each word would provide the same answer. In fact, that's exactly what the "deporte" question had to do. Would "Why is X in French different than Y in Spanish?" be considered on topic here? I suspect not--you'd need to ask about the etymology here, and on French.SE.
    – Flimzy
    Feb 14, 2012 at 0:11
  • I don't think these are great questions, despite my answer getting lots of unexpected votes. But I don't think they're out of place either. I also don't agree that questions involving other topics that also have SE sites shouldn't be on-topic here. Some happen to be on-topic on two SE's but not every user ought to have an account on every SE. This goes for language SEs and all other SEs in my opinion. Feb 22, 2012 at 14:14

I agree that in most cases, mixing two questions like that is not the best for SL&U. As you said, direct Etymology questions to EL&U (if they are good questions, not every single entry... :D eheh)

Comparisons between some etymologies (better if tendencies rather than single words) might be OK for the Linguistics SE site. Before you decide to migrate, though, please ask the moderators.

I don't find it that obvious to compare English and Spanish, however, since they are not close cognates as Spanish would be with Italian or French. Remember that they don't share a common root (Latin), as English belongs to the Germanic family (along with German, Danish, Swedish, and so on).

  • Well they do share a common root. But the common ancestor of Spanish and English is lost to history. Attempts have been made to reconstruct proto-indo-european which is the common ancestor of Latin, the Romance family, English, the Germanic family, etc. This might be very useful in all cases but it's certainly more accurate that saying they don't share a common root. (Individual words may share Latin or other roots of course.) Feb 22, 2012 at 14:17
  • What you said is only PARTLY true. English has TWO main strains, the Germanic family AND the Latin family. "Germanic" words dominate the most common 1,000-2,000 English words. Beyond that, "Latin" (plus French, Spanish, Italian) words dominate. So this would apply if you are asking about a word beyond the first 2,000.
    – Tom Au
    Feb 22, 2012 at 14:18
  • Hippietrail, If we go that back in history we might find something in common, ok, but the more you go back, the more hypothetical we're talking. Certainly, and I'm talking also to Tom, English doesn't come from Latin, it's been greatly influenced, sure, but it's not its ancestor, there is a great difference.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 23, 2012 at 19:40
  • Yes this is correct but it's better to state all the facts clearly and correctly than to argue against one fuzzy or false premise with another fuzzy or false premise. Feb 24, 2012 at 19:58
  • @hippietrail What are you referring to?
    – Alenanno
    Feb 24, 2012 at 20:04
  • I'm referring to all the half truths and murky statements in the question and the answer as already covered in the comments. Feb 24, 2012 at 20:14

I think etymology questions are interesting. They help me learn Spanish since I can compare with other languages that I already known.
There are good question like this: latin-f-to-spanish-h
Even if English is not a Romance language, there are some words that are common to both English and Spanish. I don't think the comparisons questions should be closed. Don't questions having translation issues face same problem?
Spanish topics may often interfere with other languages or with other domains. For example, we might have a Spanish question about a term in Chemistry. Would you close it because it's also about Chemistry? I propose a new tag to be created for such questions so that those who answer would know what to expect.

  • You're mixing different things. A question about a Spanish term is never off topic, be it about Chemistry, Space, sand, ants, etc. The problem would be when the question is not about the Spanish term, but about those topics. About English/Spanish, you can compare, sure, but there are obviously clear differences as they don't belong to the same family. Comparing two close languages will bring up nuances, comparing two non-cognates languages will bring up differences.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 24, 2012 at 13:54
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    @Alenanno I think you put too much emphasis on the closeness of Romance languages. How many Balkanic words are in Romanian, how many Arabic in Spanish? Many. As for English, 2 examples, rostro is related with English rostrum or bofetada with buffet. Feb 24, 2012 at 14:14
  • let's compare avispa/wasp, haber/have, fecho/fact, fuerte/force, craneo/cranium, partir/part, jeque/sheik, cintura/center, auxilio/auxilliary, etc. Feb 24, 2012 at 14:23
  • There is a great influence, I never denied that, but I wanted to underlines that they are not cognates.
    – Alenanno
    Feb 24, 2012 at 14:24
  • Apart from "sheik" and "have", some of those words come from Latin, that's why they are close/related. By the way, isn't it "fuerte/strong", "partir/leave", "cintura/belt"?
    – Alenanno
    Feb 24, 2012 at 14:39

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