I just had an aha moment with Spanish in which I realized that a word that I already knew well and loved and used is indeed a cognate of a very familiar English word. Cognates usually hit you right off the bat, but sometimes they’re a little sneaky. If etymology’s not your bag, tough! And if it is, snuggle up with me for a little while here and I’ll share my latest Spanish epiphany.

Esbelto/a is an elegant word for saying that someone is tall and slender, slim, willowy. It goes without saying that they are graceful. I learned it from one of my coworkers at the high school I worked at in Bogotá when I wore my knee-high brown suede boots, the ones that make me about three inches taller than usual and seemingly much leaner. The adjective is usually reserved for women.

Just a minute ago, I chanced upon esbelto, and I then realized its English cognate– svelte! Oh, but of course. How had it not jumped out at me before? V‘s and b‘s sound the same in Spanish, Spanish loathes beginning words with s + consonant (and, thus, always puts an e before this combination–except for foreign loanwords), and most adjectives end in o/a. These words follow those rules to a T, and I’m still sitting here wondering how I didn’t connect the dots. Svelte makes me think of the name Svetlana, but I had yet to link it to its Spanish counterpart. How dense I am at times! I am now donning my virtual dunce cap.

Since tonight’s Oscar night, let’s see what’s being said about esbeltez.

@noticel Glenn Close, nominada por Albert Nobbs, fantástica y esbelta de traje negro #oscars (Glenn Close, nominated for Albert Nobbs, fantastic and svelte in a black dress)

@VariedadesVzla A pesar de no ser muy esbelta, a Maya Rudolph le queda muy bien su traje. ¿A ti te gustó? (Despite not being very svelte, Maya Rudolph’s dress looks very nice on her. Did you like it?)

Both come from the Italian svelto. Again, esbelta is a slightly fancy word, a compliment you don’t pay to just anybody, but it’s not literary. Svelte, however, is rarely heard, which is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorite words to describe bodies, right up there with zaftig. The two being mutually exclusive, you can die happy if you live to receive one of these compliments in your lifetime. Now that I’m in the dictionary, it’s trying to introduce me to sílfide (sylphlike), but that’s another fascinating rabbit hole to go down another day. Only one rabbit hole per post from now on! This little bunny is learning focus.

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this word? Had you heard it before? How have you heard it used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? 

6 responses to “Esbelta

  1. Muy bien explicado, amiga :)


    • Ay, pero amigo, déjame un comentario más interesante! Nunca te ha pasado lo mismo? Que aprendiste una palabra y no hasta mucho después caíste en la cuenta de que era un cognado? Es decir, que era un cognado solapado? :)


  2. ¿Más interesante? :(

    Esbelta no es una palabra que me gusta mucho. Para describir a una mujer “esbelta” yo diría “tiene un lindo cuerpo”. O más informal (y un poquito vulgar) “Esa chicha está re buena” :P

    Eso de los cognados creo que (todavía) no me pasó. Y si me pasó, no me dí cuenta aún :P


  3. Mucho mejor. Ves, no es tan difícil. Soy un poco exigente, lo sé– gracias por aguantarme :)

    Nunca te ha pasado? Ah, es que no tienes a quien contarle tus aventuras con el inglés. Que empieces un blog pues!


  4. I know the word but I’ve never heard it used in speech. Interestingly, though, I once read it in a… book review! The reviewever considered one of Stephen King’s novels (it think it was “Dolores Claiborn”) to be a “svelte masterpiece” :)


    • Wow, I love that. A svelte masterpiece. Una obra maestra esbelta.

      No, you won’t hear it much in speech unless you spend time around people like me :)

      Thanks for dropping by!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s