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I see in the news that the Spanish word for "sniper" is "francotirador"

Is there some historical connection between this and France/Frenchman?

Literally it means "French shooter", right? Were snipers first used by the French foreign legion, or what?

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The only link is that the word itself is a Gallicism; it comes from the French franc-tireur. But here the prefix franco- doesn't mean French but free, exempt. Francotiradores are called that way because originally they were irregular soldiers (regular armies didn't have snipers).

See franco, third definition.

Another word with the same prefix is francmasón (freemason).

Aside from one or two other words (which I can't remember right now), in all other words starting with franc-, the prefix very likely means French.

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    However, Francia and francés have the same root meaning "frank" = libre (free). The French are, etymologically, the free people. – Rodrigo Jul 8 '16 at 16:01
  • There is an opera les francs juges which has the translation free not French – mdewey Jul 8 '16 at 16:25
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    Other words with the Germanic frank- prefix are franquear (freeing the way), franquicia (free from payment) and even the very common franqueza (speaking freely). – guillem Jul 9 '16 at 7:52
  • In fact, the first definition for francotirador in the Dictionary of the Real Academia Española is "an irregular fighter", which is the actual meaning in French — the meaning as "someone who shoots from a hidden position" comes after that. – JMVanPelt Jul 13 '16 at 6:22
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Francotirador is a loanword from the French, franc-tireur, meaning "free shooter". During the Napoleonic wars, francs-tireurs referred to light infantry, or skirmishers who would have fought out of formation (citation).

The word acquired its meaning of a partisan, or an irregular soldier who is fighting out of uniform (and therefore exempt from rules regarding treatment of prisoners), during the Franco-Prussian War (1870). During that conflict, members of French shooting clubs, who referred to themselves as francs-tireurs, engaged in guerrilla warfare against Prussian troops -- and were summarily executed if captured. During the Second World War, many French Resistance fighters referred to themselves as franc-tireurs.

It appears that the Spanish francotirador has the original meaning of sniper or sharpshooter, probably acquired during the Peninsular War (1807 - 1814), but not the latter meaning of a partisan or guerrilla. (In fact, so long as I'm mentioning the Peninsular War, I'm going to point out that the word guerrilla was popularized in both Spanish and English due to that conflict).

So although there is a connection between the word francotirador and France, it's a historical link -- the word doesn't literally mean "French shooter". At least not originally; I wonder how many native speakers would be aware of that.

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  • To answer your point about how many native know that, I would say not much, native french speakers are a handful few to know that "franc" also means "free". – AsTeR Jul 9 '16 at 10:43

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