When I was reading the definition of conflagration, I found that it was from the latin word, flagare. This word has the word flag in it, and it is cognate with the word flagrant. However, I saw the word flag in it and I don’t know why. Latin and Germanic may have gone through the same sound change (b and p change to f in Germanic and Latin respectively), and maybe they share the same PIE root. Or it’s accidental

This is a very fitting question for what’s happening in the WH.

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    The etymology of flag seems to be uncertain, but really I have no idea why you'd relate them: the meanings seem different, even when going back to the respective verbs, and if anything, the fact that there's a part of the word that's identical points against the possibility of them being cognate from PIE: as you said yourself, the sound changes that occurred in the relevant branches are different, and you'd typically expect different outcomes. Then I don't know what you mean by WH in the last sentence...
    – LjL
    Dec 24, 2019 at 19:43
  • I presume the WH is the White House, but I have no idea why this is relevant.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 24, 2019 at 19:46
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    Why do cat, catastrophe, and concatenate all have cat in them? Answer: coincidence.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 24, 2019 at 19:48
  • @ColinFine, I also wonder about catsup, catafalque and catheter.
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 26, 2019 at 19:04
  • Why do people have to try to vote-close questions that aren't actually offtopic, with the usual bogus reasons, instead of, you know, just voting them down, which is what should happen with questions that aren't offtopic but are just kinda bad?
    – LjL
    Dec 27, 2019 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Short answer, it's a coincidence. There are only so many ways to put sounds together; it's inevitable that some of them will show up multiple times across languages.

In fact, since languages have such an enormous number of words, it's almost certain that you can find pairs that look similar and have similar meanings! One example is German haben and Latin habēre, which both mean "have". But it is indeed a coincidence—the Latin cognate to haben is capere. The coincidence only seems striking since we're not looking at the thousands upon thousands of words that look nothing alike.

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    Agree. There are only so many sounds to make. Dec 24, 2019 at 23:45
  • Well, I still find it pretty striking considering they're also verbs used in very similar way, i.e. not just with related meanings of having, possessing, owning, etc, but also in the very specialized tense/aspect construction many European verbs show. I think this is sometimes said to be due to the fact that once the verbs looked so similar, the Sprachbund effect ended up equating them... but in any case, not your vanilla pair of non-cognates, IMO.
    – LjL
    Dec 26, 2019 at 1:35

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