As you may have noticed by now, I find words themselves fascinating. I am not an expert in the origins of words, (more like an enthusiastic amateur), which means that I simply enjoy looking at words and working out how they are made up, or how they connect with others. If by doing this I can make the language more memorable and useful for others, so much the better. There are different types of language enthusiasts and the ones who I think win hands down are those who are so desperate to communicate that they will get their message over one way or another just through sheer force of personality. However, just enjoying words is a good start!
At the moment we’re looking at prefixes, which are ‘bits’ tacked on to the front of words and there are enough of these to keep us going for a very long time. Sometimes the connections between the ‘prefix’ and the ‘root word’ are quite obvious, but in many cases they have evolved to create a completely new meaning and become more obscure. Today we’re going to look at a few of the more obvious examples; the idea being that if you are interested you can explore and discover other similar connections for yourself.
‘Con’ as you no doubt know means ‘with’ and when it appears at the front of a word it sometimes carries this sense of ‘with’, ‘together’ or ‘joining’. A few fascinating examples spring to mind; the first for some reason, being ‘cónyuge’ which means ‘spouse’. The ‘yuge’ part comes from ‘yugo’ meaning ‘yoke’ (as in oxen, not eggs!) so a ‘cónyuge’ is the one you are yoked together with. Many comments spring to mind, but I will refrain!
A word I like a lot and is quite trendy amongst progressive Spaniards is ‘convivencia’. This comes from ‘vivir’ – ‘to live’, so means ‘living together’. School children are taken away for weekends of ‘convivencia’ and the word is also used when talking about subjects like immigration and integration, which sound a lot more serious.
‘Convocar’ is a frequently used word, amongst other things for calling meetings. Its root ‘voc’ is connected to the word ‘voz’ – ‘voice’ and ‘vocal’ which exists in English and Spanish. ‘Vocal’ actually has the additional meaning of ‘vowel’ in Spanish. However ‘convocar’ can be clearly understood as meaning ‘to call together’; that is, to announce a meeting.
It occurred to me the other day that the grammatical word ‘conjugar’ is a combination of ‘con’ and the word ‘jugar’ meaning to play. As well as meaning the way we have to change the endings of verbs, the dictionary says that ‘conjugar’ means ‘to blend’. I rather like the root idea of ‘playing together’ though and am looking forward to announcing this to the next lot of mystified students which we are tackling verb changes in the present tense!
Similar to ‘con’ but a bit longer is ‘contra’ which means ‘against’. Many of the examples of this are similar in English.
‘decir’ – to say – ‘contradecir’ – to contradict.
‘mandar’ – to order – ‘contramandar’ – to countermand.
‘contranatural’ means ‘against nature’ that is ‘unnatural’
‘contrario’ means ‘opposite’, reminding us of ‘contrary’ in English, which was the problem with ‘Mary, Mary’ as we all know!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.