jueves, 30 de enero de 2014


The article "Das Galley", which I have recently written, may have appeared racist to some readers.

The intention of said post is not racist or otherwise offensive (leftist, for instance).

The word "negro" was used by Oscar Wilde to refer to the ethnically Sub-Saharan officers on the galley. Thus, Wilde should be the one blamed, if there is any blame. "Negro" is more or less positive (United Negro College Fund), but this Spanish word has given rise to a particularly offensive cognate in the English language (there would never be a United N***er College Fund!)...

Actually, it struck me as a child that Anglophones can tell the difference between "sauce" and "salsa". To them, "salsa" is one specific kind of "sauce" (hyperonymy/hyponymy).
The same observation can be said about "nap" and "siesta". Or, if you're in for something more outré and Carrollian, about "flamingo" and "flamenco" (imagine flamingos dancing flamenco, dressed in Andalusian folk costumes!).

But this Anglo-Spanish relation can be zigzagged as well. The reptile whose scientific name happens to be Alligator mississippiensis and whose Castilian (European Spanish) denomination is "caimán del Misisipí" (or simply "caimán", for short) is known in some parts of the Americas as "lagarto", id est, "lizard". Now this would have surprised me... hadn't I known that the English word that lends itself to the scientific name is actually a metathesis ("ligator" for "lagarto") . Imagine some conquerors, or conquistadores, having come over from Castile (the Spanish heartland, which they call Castilla) to found a new colony, in the days of Charles V. They land in a swampy region in springtime, and the glades are rife with blossoms of all shapes and colours. Thus they decide to call the place "Flowering" (Florida). What kind of strange logs are there, basking on the shores? They have eyes! Back in Castile, we have much smaller lizards (lagartos)! The English arrive after the Spaniards, and they take the word "lagarto" to call those reptiles, since the English have no word themselves (unlike the Castilian conquistadors, who took the croc-like reptiles for lizards, the Britons have at least seen that they're not European lizards). And from "a lagarto" to "a ligator", easier to pronounce for an English speaker ("lagarto" sounds way too cacophonic in English), there is a teeny tiny step.

Un señor lagarto.
NOT "a gentlemanly lizard".
Known in Spanish (even in Castilian!) as
"El lagarto Juancho", i.e. "Jack the Lizard".

Call a spade a spade, and it will prove dull, as in ordinary. Call a spade a pica, and every reader or listener will make an O with his/her lips.
After all, a rose by any foreign name, such as a rosa (with a short O and a final A), will always display a difference to the Tudor rose in scent, shape, colour...

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