Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

You say flamenco, I say flamingo. Amazingly, these words turn out to share a history.

NOAD2 on flamenco:

ORIGIN late 19th cent.: Spanish, ‘like a Gypsy,’ literally ‘Fleming,’ from Middle Dutch Vlaminc .

Fleming. Who would have thought?

Then on flamingo:

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Spanish flamengo, earlier form of flamenco …; associated, because of its color, with Latin flamma ‘a flame.’

There’s clearly a lot of cultural history here, which needs explication. But the immediate point is that flamingo became associated with flamma, so that it  quickly came to have more than one “source”. In any case, etymology plays very little role in ordinary people’s understanding of words; they cannot — and should not — be expected to know linguistic history. For them, flamenco and flamingo are simply different words that sound very similar.

One Response to “flamenco”

  1. Alon Says:

    Not for Spanish-speakers: the words are exactly identical in Spanish. The adjectival use (meaning ‘Flemish’) is rare outside historical contexts, but adds a third level of complexity.

    I doubt any speakers associate it with flama without specific etymological training. Although a number of technical or literary terms derive from the Latinate form, the properly Castilian form llama is much more common and productive.

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