We know that Spanish has given us “gringo“, “macho“, and “marijuana”, but it’s also given us the terms for filibuster, concentration camp, and the dollar as well as the $ sign, according to the new book “The Story of Spanish” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.
Here’s a brief “glossary”, not in alphabetical or any other order, from this first biography of Spanish: Porqué?
- Dollar — “Spanish dollars” were used as currency in the 13 colonies starting in the 1690s, the co-authors explain. That became the model for the U.S. dollar, created in 1792, and its $ symbol. In fact, Spanish dollars were “the foundation of the world’s monetary system” until the mid-19th century.
- Filibuster — Filibusteros means “pirates of the West Indies”, or to quote recent film titles, “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Filibusters have become the pirates of the U.S. Congress.
- California — This Spanish name came from an “obscure novel of chivalry written around 1500 about a Queen Calafia, ruler of a king(queen?)dom of black Amazons,” write Nadeau and Barlow.
- Concentration camp — The Spanish army during the Cuban revolutionary war of 1895-1989 confined the island’s population to fortified towns and villages. The Spanish called it reconcentrar (reconcentrate) — the origin of concentration camps.
- Chocolate — Aztec emperor Montezuma offered xocolatl to explorer Hernán Cortés in 1520. “When the Spaniards didn’t have words handy to name the new realities they were encountering, they adopted native terms.” So the Spanish conquistador brought xocolatl (hot chocolate) back to Emperor Charles V, beginning the international addiction to chocolate. That could be another meaning of Montezuma’s revenge.
- Guano — Another native Latin American term, this important fertilizer and gunpowder ingredient is from the Quechua word for wanu. What’s wanu? A “mix of bird, bat, and seal excrement.” Mas importante, it was so important that “Guano prompted Spain to wage war with Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866,” says “The Story of Spanish” (St. Martin’s Press).
- Hoosegow — Slang for jail, slammer, pokey, etc., comes from juzgado, a panel of judges. Smoking a reefer of marijuana, both words from Spanish, has become less likely to land you in the hoosegow in several states and Washington, D.C. where laws have recently changed. Also, note that Cervantes wrote much of “Don Quixote” during five years in a hoosegow in Seville. The great novelist, poet, playwright (and slave, servant, valet, and soldier who lost the use of his left hand) was also a tax collector, and served time for embezzlement.
- Monster of Nature — What Cervantes called his contemporary Lope de Vega, who wrote some 1,800 plays and 3,000 sonnets, and fathered 15 children with two wives and five other women, the co-authors note. Lope de Vega was also a priest and a soldier, if not a gentlemen. It’s unclear whether Cervantes, the “father of the modern novel” was referring to Lope de Vega’s literary or sexual prowess when terming him a Monstruo de la Naturaleza. The playwright is more often termed a father of modern theater, and “Spain’s Shakespeare”.
Naturally, you may think that the terms “mariachi” and certainly “Latin America” were born from Spanish — but they came from French. The co-authors, trilingual Canadians, also wrote the bestsellers “The Story of French” and “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong”.
- Mariachi — From the French word marriage. Romantic mariachi music is played often at weddings.
- Latin America — The French coined the term “to underline their shared heritage with Spanish and Portuguese speakers everywhere.” It appeared early in the 20th century “when many members of the Latin American ruling classes were taking long sojourns in Paris,” Nadeau and Barlow wrote.
What’s in a name? Spain’s name came originally from the Phoenicians, and meant “land of the rabbits (hyraxes)”. That’s the only linguistic trace left by the Phoenicians, despite controlling the Iberian Peninsula for 800 years. The Romans Latinized the name to “Hispania” centuries later, which eventually evolved to España.
All Greek to you? Gringo stems from griego (Greek).
For more info: “The Story of Spanish”, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow (St. Martin’s Press).
Spanish gave us the dollar, the filibuster, chocolate and the concentration camp
“Twenty dollars, this bill entitles the bearer to receive twenty Spanish milled dollars … Sept. 26, 1778”. Woodcut, 1778, Library of Congress Rare Book Division – Colonial Currency Collection
Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp at “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” premiere, Cannes Film Festival
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz at “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” premiere during the 64th Cannes Film Festival May 14.
Portraits of main characters in Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. Engraving by Michael Vander Gucht, published R. Chiswell, 1700, London.
Portraits of main characters from Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. Engraving by
Michael Vander Gucht, frontispiece for “Don Quixote”, published by R. Chiswell, 1700, London.
“The Story of Spanish” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.
“The Story of Spanish” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, is a biography of the language. It’s also a history, travelogue, and collection of anecdotes and fascinating trivia.
Spain’s name came from the Phoenicians, and meant “land of the rabbits (hyraxes)”.
Spain’s name came originally from the Phoenicians, and meant “land of the rabbits (hyraxes)”. Centuries later, the Romans Latinized the name to “Hispania”, which eventually evolved to “España”.