Etymology of Spanish word "reloj"

AFAIK, reloj (wristwatch) is sort of a rare bird in the Spanish language – a word that ends in “j”.

A Spanish-speaking friend once told me that reloj derives from the brand name “Rolex”. The story goes that “Rolex” is pronounce “ro-lej” in Spanish (cf the “x” and “j” in forms like Texas/Tejas), and that reloj is something of a play on the pronunciation of “Rolex”.

That explanation smacks of urban legend, though. It seems more likely to me that reloj is a truncation of a longer word.

So what is the etymology of reloj? How is it derived?

According to the Diccionario General de la Lengua Española, it derives from Latin horlogiu, which in turn derives from Greek horologion.

“Reloj” means both clock and watch, and has for longer than Rolex has been around (either 1908 or 1905, depending on who you believe). That story’s not believable enough to be an urban legend. Unfortunately, I don’t know the true etymology.

Horlogiu, assuming it is in the nominative case, is about the strangest-lookng Latin word I’ve ever seen. Is that really, really late Vulgar Latin as spoken in the Iberian Peninsula or something?

Anyhow, so why isn’t the Spanish word reloja or something similar? Why doesn’t it end in a vowel?

Okay, horlogiu appears to be a form of horlogium, from what I’ve been able to Google. That’s better.

Looks like a normal 4th declension noun to me. But it could be vulgar. The classical Latin word according to my sources is “ho^rologium.”


The original Latin is horologium, which became the Catalan word relotge.

Hora (= hour) derives from the same word for hour in Latin. The word “reloj” is centuries old and used to be relox before the great X mutation which is a very strange topic all by itself. Nobody is really sure what the letter X stands for in Spanish any more. It is a letter with an identity crisis.

Few words end in J in Spanish as it is not a comfortable thing to pronounce. Even stranger is that the capital of Spain has a name ending in D which is pretty much unpronounceable in Spanish but very easily pronounced in English. Go figure.

What? No, the capital of Spain is not “Tegucigalpad”. :wink:

Within the usual confines of Spanish (and English) pronunciation, that’s true. Other languages do get by with having a word-final velar fricative, though – German, Russian, Hebrew, et al.

And for those dialects of Spanish that pronounce “j” pretty much as English “h” instead of like German “ch”? There are also languages that have word-final glottal fricatives, such as Finnish.

So perhaps word-final velar/glottal fricatives could have become more common in Spanish, but they did not. It’s very interesting to me that reloj maintained its “awkward” pronunciation instead of going the way of the multitude of Spanish words ending in -ja/-jo.

Interesting comment. Is the final “d” in Madrid not pronounced as the final “d” in usted, ciudad?

Reloj is an obvious homologue of the French horloge, both of which derive from the Latin, as has been said.

As for Rolex, apparently it doesn’t mean anything at all:

From here.

In Spain intervocalic and final d’s often get elided (lost) due to the nature of intervocalic and final d’s (which are like the “th” in the word “bathe”.

So, Madrid gets pronounced more like “Madrí”


What exactly do you mean by “Even stranger is that the capital of Spain has a name ending in D which is pretty much unpronounceable in Spanish but very easily pronounced in English. Go figure.”

In my experience native speakers (Mexican) have no problem proincing final d’s or the capital of Spain.



Maybe you are joshing, but words ending in “d” are not problematic at all. “Madrid” is no more difficult than say “salud”, “juventud”, “virtud”, etc.

As far as “Madrid”, I see everyday Televisa, TVAzteca, and a couple of channels from Spain, I almost never hear anyone saying Madri’.

Well, you say it Madrí when you’re speaking really fast and don’t care about pronunciation. Similar to English. :wink:

Carcaj is another Spanish word that ends in j. It means quiver.

Doing the j sound in the end of words is not really hard to do in Spanish. Heck, Puerto Rican dialect (perhaps Caribbean dialect in general) substitutes s at end of words with h aspirada, which sounds like a soft j. And yes, it is accepted, so long as the next word doesn’t start with a vowel.

One possible reason that the ending j has stuck around is that it allows a reader to know which syllable is stressed. Generally, a Spanish word ending in a vowel, n, or s has the emphasis on the penultimate syllable, while a word ending in any other consonant has the stress on the last syllable. Relo would be pronounced “RRAY-lo”, while reloj is roughly “rray-LOH”.

I tell you this by own experience.

We generally pronounce “reloj” as it has a “g” at the end (relog).

But we pronounce “Rolex” with the x, as “rolecs”.

Doobieous is right. We have not a problem to pronounce the final “d” in Madrid, neither in “ciudad” or “usted” or whatever. Maybe if xicanorex has heard it that way in our infamous television networks is because he hasn’t a trained ear.

Exactly. I’ve heard quite a few native speakers from different regions of Mexico and a lot of them pronounce the final D so weakly that they will often not pronounce it at all, especially talking fast (and i find the Oaxaqueño pronunciation to be the most mumbly of all of the Mexican accents i’ve heard).

Besides the Spanish you hear on Television is broadcasting and acting Spanish. It’s meant to be clear and pronounced well, unless you get a “regional” character on a show who sounds a certain way (such as a Mexican campesina maid or something of that sort). Spanish heard on television shows is a bad example of how Spanish accents are.



Any language spoken fast is not gonna be spoken properly. My comment only was that in Mexico at least we say “Madrid” w/o much problem.

I know that there are accents, etc. Being a native Spanish speaker and having all of my life resided in the Texas-Mexico border, I have heard all types of accents (Southern Mexico, Tamaulipas, Tex-Mex, Monterrey, Fresa, Central American, etc.) So, yes, Raza around here tend to say “torti’a” rather than “tortilla.” But, yes, we can say “Madrid” without any problem. :smiley:

Ok, sorry, I didn’t know you were native spanish speaker. I am, and I always hear the final "d"s.

But in Mexico is, IMHO, the country that has the better diction in the media. Central and South America start to speak faster, and spanish speakers from Spain, well, that’s another story.

I can only tell you that when I see a movie made in Spain in DVD, I better turn on the spanish subtitles.

BTW, reloj is both wristwatch and clock. No difference between names, although you can specify which type.

When you say we, do you mean a local dialect? or we, people from Mexico in general?

I have never pronounced reloj with a hard g in it ever. It’s the same j as in Juarez.