In Spanish, sierra originally meant “saw,” and still does—as in sierra de mano (handsaw)—though it’s a term also used in a broader sense in both English and Spanish to describe mountains with serrated (sawtoothlike) peaks or ridges, leading to names like Sierra Madre in Mexico and Sierra Nevada in North America. In regional use, either of these ranges (and all the others with Sierra in their names) is often shortened to either la Sierra or the Sierra. Sierra is oftentimes used simply to mean mountains, as in Conquest, by Hugh Thomas: “The Castilians were able to see, from the top of the sierra, much of the valley of Mexico.”

Stephen Graham Jones