Where Does the Letter Ñ in Spanish Come From?

If there’s a trait that distinguishes Spanish from other languages, it’s definitely the presence of the letter Ñ that we all know and love, right? Well, no. 🙂 While looking into this so-called “typically Spanish” letter, we’ve learned that it’s also part of other languages such as Guarani, Quechua or Tagalog. It’s clear that the Spanish conquistadores had something to do with it…

Exclusivity notwithstanding, what’s clear is that the letter Ñ is an intrinsic part of not only the name of Spain itself, but also numerous terms that, without it, would sound strange to say the least, and even cause confusion (Me rompí una una “I broke a one” vs. Me rompí una uña “I broke a nail”).

According to some scholars, the letter Ñ came into being in the medieval monasteries. As you know, one of the most important responsibilities of the monks was copying books, a task that was quite laborious and, at times, interminable. To save time, whenever they had to write the sequence of letters “nn” (e.g., annus or Hispannia) the busy monks abbreviated and placed a tiny letter “n” right above the first “n”. That small “n” evolved, over time, into the characteristic trait that we all know and love, and which we sorely miss on the computer keyboards from other countries.

To end this article, we wish to share with you some unusual words that are written with the letter Ñ.

Añacal Board on which bread is brought to the oven after kneading.
Pipitaña: Flute made of green barley cane.
Cañameñas Made with hemp thread.
Piñuelo Grain or seed from grapes and some other fruits.
Esmuñir Milk tree branches.
Entuñar Said of a tree or a vine: to fill with fruit.

Would you like to share your favorite word with the letter Ñ with Okodia? Share your comments with us!