Posted by: janecronin | May 26, 2019


“Respirar” means “to breathe” and although these two words are completely different from each other, we will almost certainly recognise the meaning of the Spanish word from “respiratory” problems in English.  This is yet another example of the many we have seen in these articles, of a more technical or, in this case, medical word being closer to the Spanish, on account of its Latin origin.  You may have been instructed to “respira hondo” (breathe deeply) by a Spanish doctor as he or she listens to your chest through a stethoscope.  We also have the word “respiración” (breathing) “respiratorio” (respiratory) and a “respirador” which is actually an inhaler.

“Respirar” shares a root with a whole series of other verbs, all with similar or inter-connected meanings and with many echoes in English.  First in the list is “inspirar”.  As you can deduce from the prefix “in-“ the basic meaning of this verb is “to breathe in”.  However, in Spanish it also has the same meaning as in English; that is “to inspire”.  I think that gives a wonderful graphic image of what inspiration really is: something one receives from some outside metaphysical or spiritual source.  From this of course we also have the noun “inspiración” which means the same as “inspiration” in English.

If “inspirar” is to breathe in, then logic should lead us to the verb meaning “to breathe out”, which is in fact “expirar”.  This is interesting in that the English false friend “expire” means “to die” (to breathe one´s last, perhaps) and by extension “to run out” in the sense of passing one´s validity or “sell-by date”.  The Spanish have a much better, single verb for this as well which is “caducar”.

You might be forgiven for thinking that that is the end of all the “–spirar” verbs, but in fact, there are at least three more.  Next comes “aspirar” which has two main meanings: one is to “breathe in” or “inhale” in the same way as “inspirar”.  From this verb we get the word for a “vacuum cleaner” which is “aspiradora” (the breather-inner!)   However, “aspirar” also means the same as its counterpart in English “to aspire”.  “Aspiro a ser una actriz famosa, algún día” (I aspire to be a famous actress one day).

Still on the theme of breathing, we have “suspirar” which means “to sigh”.  The prefix “sus” is sometimes used to mean something that is low or hidden, so “suspirar” literally means to breathe in a quiet, hidden way, which is what sighs often are.  The noun of this verb is “suspiro” (a sigh) which is also the name of a very nice small cake made of meringue.

Finally, we have a surprising addition to our list: “conspirar”.  This means exactly the same as the English “to conspire” which begs the question as to how this verb came about, as it looks as though it means “to breathe together”.  I suppose that is what a real conspiracy is like.

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