Ñ una letra muy cañí
Languages

Ñ, a very cañí letter

There is no better letter that better characterizes the Spanish language than the letter Ñ. This letter is a symbol and appears in more than 17,700 Spanish words. The story behind this letter is quite interesting. Below we have compiled the most important moments in the Ñ history, as well as a list of  20 words that contains this letter. Do you know the meaning of all of them?

Spanish is not the only language that uses this letter, some other languages such as Guaraní, Mapuche, Breton or Filipino also include the Ñ in their alphabets. The origins go back to the Middle Ages  when, for the first time, it was necessary to represent a new sound that didn´t exist in Latin. Until that moment, that sound was made by a combination of two letters, but they shortened it by adding a hyphen  above the Ñ. Some other languages continue to use two letters; Catalan uses ny, Portuguese nh and  French and Italian use gn to get a  sound similar to  the Ñ.

Antonio de Nebrija included it in the Spanish grammar in 1492 but it wasn´t until 1803 when the letter Ñ officially appeared in the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary.

In more  recent times, we can find some problems that this strange letter has experienced.  The EU wanted the Ñ to be excluded from keyboards to make commercial relationships easier between  member countries but, in 1993, the Spanish Government protected the letter thanks to the Maastrich treaty where exceptions of cultural origin are allowed and protected.

On the Internet, the Ñ has also been somewhat marginalized but, from 2007 the registration of domains containing this letter have been allowed in Spain.

 

Having made our acquaintance with a little of the history of the letter Ñ, here we have compiled a selection of 20 words that contain this letter:

  1. Albañil: builder, construction worker. A person whose job is to construct or repair houses.

  2. Aliñar: To dress (for food). You can dress a salad by adding salt, oil or vinegar.

  3. Antaño: In the past, formerly.

  4. Añejo: Word with similar meaning of antaño. We normally use this word in Spanish when talking about wine (mature, old).

  5. Caña: This word has different meanings in Spanish; caña is the stalk of some plants like a sugar cane or also a fishing rod. Talking about beer, a caña is a small glass of beer used in Spain. Una caña is also a type of singing in Flamenco.

  6. Cañí: According with the Spanish dictionary, cañí is an adjective that means gipsy. However, nowadays is associated to something typical Spanish or related to its folklore. The origin of this meaning might come from a famous 1925 pasodoble (lively Spanish music/dance) called “España Cañí”.

  7. Castañuela: In the pasadoble  mentioned  above, you will surely hear  this instrument played with the fingers. Castanets: Small concave pieces of wood, ivory, or plastic, joined in pairs by a cord and clicked together with  the fingers as a rhythmic accompaniment to Spanish dancing.

  8. Cariño: Affection, care. Also used to call someone in a caring way: darling, honey, love.

  9. Ceñido: tight, close-fitting.

  10. Cuñado: brother-in-law.

  11. Engaño: Cheat.

  12. Hazaña: Feat. An achievement that requires great courage, skill, or strength.

  13. Leña: Firewood. A horno de leña would be a wood-fired oven.

  14. Montaña: Mountain. This word is also used in Spanish when referring to a huge pile of work that has to be done.

  15. Muñeca: Word with two different meanings; doll and wrist.

  16. Ñoño: Adjective that describes something dull or someone who is ridiculous or that complains a lot.

  17. Piña: Apart from pineapple, this word has different meanings depending on the country. In Argentina, Bolivia or Cuba it means punch. In Nicaragua it is a bunch of fruit. In the Dominican Republic the word refers to a fight and in Peru a piña is a person who brings  bad luck.

  18. Rebaño: Flock of sheep or a group of people that act in a similar way.

  19. Reseña: Short review (of a book)

  20. Uña: Nail. There is an idiom using this word “Ser uña y carne”: To be like two peas in a pod”.

     

    We are sure you know more words with Ñ so, why don´t you help us to extend this list by adding some more in the comments below?

     

    (Definitions taken from the Real Academia Española and Oxford Dictionaries)

Author Info

Adrián Lago

I am a journalist and a Spanish teacher. I am passionate about travelling and learning other languages and I always try to transmit this to my students.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.