Language is a living entity that evolves with time, and Spanish is no exception. Words that are commonly used today might have had entirely different meanings centuries ago. Thanks to the Royal Spanish Academy we have access to historical dictionaries online, allowing us to trace the fascinating journey of certain Spanish words. In this blog, we will explore ten such words that have undergone significant transformations over the years.
Avión (Aeroplane): From Bird to Modern Aircraft
In the 17th Century, “avión” referred to a bird called “vencejo” or swift. Later, with the invention of aeroplanes, the term shifted to denote modern aircraft. Interestingly, both the bird and the aircraft share the same name but have different etymologies.
Azafata (Stewardess): From Royal Maid to Flight Attendant
Originally, “azafata” described a lady who accompanied the queen, assisting her with a flat basket or tray known as an “azafate.” With the advent of aviation, this term came to refer to people who provided assistance to travellers, and in Latin America, the term “aeromoza” emerged for flight attendants.
Formidable (Formidable): From Fearsome to Great
In the past, “formidable” was used to describe something that instilled fear and wonder. Today, the word is commonly used to mean something great, but its original meaning still persists in modern dictionaries.
Semáforo (Traffic Light): From Fireflies to Urban Sign
Long before the invention of cars, “semáforo” existed in the Spanish language as a zoological term referring to one who collected luminous insects like fireflies. It wasn’t until 1884 that it gained a new meaning, denoting “optical telegraph” used to communicate with ships. The contemporary usage of “semáforo” as a traffic light was introduced much later.
Ordenador (Computer): From “The One in Charge” to Modern Computing Device
In 1706, “ordenador” referred to someone who ordered or organised things. Today, it is synonymous with the modern computing device we all know.
Bombilla (Light Bulb): From Straw to Electric Light
In the 19th Century, “bombilla” was used in Latin America to mean a straw, while in Spain, it is called “pajita.” Later in 1914, the word evolved to represent the electric light bulb we are familiar with today.
Alienígena (Alien): From Foreigner to Extraterrestrial Being
Originally created in the early 19th Century, “alienígena” was used to refer to foreigners, the opposite of indigenous people. In modern times, it has taken on the meaning of extraterrestrial beings.
Enchufar (Plug in): From Joining Pipes to Electrical Cables
In the past, “enchufar” was associated with joining two pipes. With the spread of electricity to homes, it adopted its modern definition of plugging in electrical cables.
Adolescencia (Adolescence): From Up to 25 Years to Modern Adolescence
The word “adolescencia” had a similar meaning in the 18th Century, but surprisingly, it extended up to the age of 25 years, compared with the current definition.
Siesta: From a Period of Time to Nap Time
Originally, “siesta” simply referred to a period of time, during which one could rest, read or play, whether they slept or not. Today, it primarily signifies a short nap taken after the mid-day meal.
The evolution of language is a captivating journey that allows us to understand how words have transformed their meanings over time. From ancient associations with birds and insects to modern concepts of technology, words have adapted to reflect the changing world around us. At Eagle Language Service, we enjoy exploring these historical changes, not only because they enrich our understanding of language but also remind us of the dynamic nature of human communication and expression.