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In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. A cognate etymon need not be inherited directly from a proto-language; the etymon can be borrowed from some other language, in which evolution produces cognate forms.

Is the Spanish word jamón ("ham") cognate with the English word ham?

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Despite their conceptual and phonetic similarity, no - they come from distinct PIE roots. Their unrelatedness becomes more clear when we consider that the initial /x ~ h/ pronunciation of the 'j' in Spanish only developed in the 17th-18th centuries, and before this jamón was pronounced /ʃa'mon/ (and originally /ʒa'mon/).


  • PIE *kónh₂m (“leg”)
    • Proto-Germanic *hamō, *hammō, *hanmō
      • Old English *hamm (“inner or hind part of the knee, ham”)
        • Mid. English hamme
          • English ham

  • PIE *kamp- (“to bend; crooked”)
    • Ancient Greek κάμπη (kámpē)
      • Late Latin gamba
        • Old French jambe, gambe (“leg”)
          • French jambon, gambon
            • Spanish jamón
            • English gammon

Note however that the synonym gammon is cognate to jamón (both inherited from the French jambon).

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  • Off-topic comment: I think saying gammon and ham are synonyms is a bit strong since there are definitely some use cases where one is right and the other wrong at least in the dialect of English spoken in south eastern England. – mdewey Dec 19 '18 at 13:27
  • @mdewey true, I was using "synonym" in its weak sense. – brazofuerte Dec 19 '18 at 13:31
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The below book about the origin of English words suggests that it does come from Latin. The author states:

The extent to which many Latin-English words have been unjointed from their original form, or de-Latinized, in coming to us through the French, Spanish, or other Romanic languages, is quite remarkable. Two or three examples must suffice. It is through the Sp. jamon (j being pronounced as h), Fr. jambon, that we get ham (Gm: hamme, provincial and obsolete) from the Latin gamba, a leg.

See also this page in the same book.

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  • Thank you for this answer, though I am inclined to doubt the author's credibility on etymology, given that a few sentences later he claims much and mucho are cognates (seemingly implying much is a loanword via mucho), which they are not. – brazofuerte Dec 19 '18 at 13:38

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