Outside of history class and the rhetoric of war, we don’t hear the word armada too often, but the word is related to a veritable armada, shall we say, of other everyday words. Let’s look into the etymology of armada.
Armada virumque cano
Armada is the Spanish equivalent of the English army. Both words ultimately come from the Latin arma, “weapons,” or, in another derivative, arms. The word begins one of the most famous lines in Latin literature, Virgil’s Aeneid: Arma virumque cano, “I sing of arms and a man.” This plural noun arma inspired a verb, armare, “to arm, equip,” leading to armata, an “armed (force).” Arma could also refer to armor, also descended from the word.
Eventually, Latin’s armata evolved into the French armée, source of the English army by the late 1300s, and the Spanish armada. The Spanish armada is closely associated with the spectacularly thwarted fleet of ships Phillip II of Spain sent to England in 1588 to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, but the word had already been in English since at least the 1530s. Still, the battle helped secure armada’s meaning in English as a “fleet of warships” or other metaphorical “fleets.”
Fitting it all together
Now, arm and arms: Is there any relationship between these two words? We use weapons, at least historically, with our arms, right? Well, if we go back far in time, we find they do have something in common—and it’s art.
Proto-Indo-European scholars reconstructed the root *ar-, “to fit together,” which they think, down the Germanic branch, yielded the English arm (Old English earm) and, down the Italic one, Latin’s arma. The “limb” arm, the thinking goes, fits into the shoulders like weapons and armor are fitted together in their making and suiting up. Art is also from this root *ar-, via the Latin ars, “skill,” calling up the craft of tradesman, or artisan, who fits things together.
There are many other derivatives of *ar–. From Latin we also get articulate (articulare, “to separate into joints,” associated with speaking clearly) and inert (iners, “helpless, incompetent,” literally “lacking skill”). Greeks descendants include aristocracy (aristos, “best of its kind,” literally “most fitting”), arthritis (from arthron, a “joint”), and harmony (from harmos, another Greek word for “joint”).