Archive for the ‘words’ Category

Nooooon me deixes …

May 1, 2018

Galician word of the day (week, month? haven’t quite established a regular pattern yet!):


A Portuguese friend informed me that Galician is exactly like her language, only with lots of “x”es thrown in. Which, confusingly, are pronounced “sh” most of the time, but “ks” in some modern words like taxi (although e.g. galaxia doesn’t count as modern in this way).  So what’s with the “x”es that set Galician apart from its close relatives Portuguese and Spanish?

One small part of the answer hit me when I was reading a book about the Catalan language, which is geographically at the opposite end of the Iberian peninsula, so not much at risk of contamination with Galician words. I learned that it, too has “x”es that are pronounced “sh”, to the extent that some words containing one are actually written the same way in Catalan and Galician, although differently (and x-less) in Spanish. For instance (Spanish / English translations in brackets): deixar (dejar / to leave), baixa (baja / low; f.) caixa (caja / chest/bank) – note, however that the standard version of Catalan subsumes the letter i into the “sh” sound, so it is not heard and the pronunciation is different from the Galician one.

I don’t think there is a general rule for how these originated, and I’m slightly held back in my efforts as the big monolingual dictionary of the Real Academia Galega contains zero etymology, so I have to trust my Spanish dictionary and whatever I can find online. In the case of deixar, at least, I found out that the Spanish dejar derives from Latin delaxare, so the “x”es in Catalan and Galician must be ancestral, and the j in Spanish is a modern mutation. (Update: here is an explanation of how Spanish lost half its fricative sounds, including the one in deixar, in Spanish, and in German, thanks to Asun for the hint.)



(The title quote is from the song Lela, of course.)

This has been the fourth instalment of my series Galician word of the day, I think I’ll reproduce the accumulating dictionary at the bottom of each entry, see how far I get:


deixar – dejar – to leave

graciñas – gracias – thanks

estrañar – echar de menos – to miss

maruxiña – mariquita –  ladybird


The Galician Studies Centre in Cork, Ireland, has a Word of the Week feature on its blog, written in Galician and translated into English, which is here.

PS in other Galician language news, I liked this comment about a school project encouraging pupils to live in Galician for 21 days. Incidentally, this is the first article in “La voz de Galicia” that I’ve seen that is entirely written in Galician. A few that I saw were in Spanish with quotes from interviewees left in Galician.



Mil graciñas!

April 10, 2018

Graciñas is the diminutive of grazas (thanks) and the most common form of saying thank you in Galician. Thus it was one of the first Galician words we learned, and one of the first to strike me as odd. In other languages, one tends to big up or multiply one’s gratitude, as in merci beaucoup, muchísimas gracias, many thanks, vielen Dank, so why belittle it with a diminutive (apart from the obvious benefit that it sounds cute)?

Two years on I have a theory about this. You could say moitísimas grazas (very many thanks), which is the one-to-one equivalent to muchísimas gracias in Spanish. But the trouble with that is that it sounds a bit like you were speaking Spanish with a strange accent, and that’s not the impression you want to create.

To linguistically wave the Galician flag (para expresar a nosa galeguidad, as I heard someone say), you want to choose a word that is unmistakably Galician. As there is a massive overlap in vocabulary between Galician and Spanish, there are many cases where such a word isn’t available, but then you can use the diminutive to create one, because the Galician diminutive with – iño sounds completely different from the Spanish one with –ito (as in despacito), so no danger of confusion.

Thus, if un pouco (a bit) sounds too much like un poco, un pouquiño cannot be mistaken for un poquito. If ata logo (see you later) sounds too much like hasta luego, you can say ata loguiño instead.  So my guess is that if Galician uses even more diminutives than Spanish, and often in a context where it clearly doesn’t aim to convey the meaning “a small version of … “, it’s to flag the linguistic difference, para expresar a nosa galeguidad.

Oh, and you can still amplify the little thank yous with a number, and say mil graciñas.


(It was impossible to find a suitable picture for this one, so I had to create this text-image!)

This has been the third instalment of my series Galician word of the day, I’ll reproduce the accumulating dictionary at the bottom of each entry, see how far I get:

graciñas – gracias – thanks

estrañar – echar de menos – to miss

maruxiña – mariquita –  ladybird

Estrañandote tanto

March 18, 2018

In the lyrics of Latin American songs like Shakira’s Moscas en la casa you’ll find the word extrañar in the sense of to miss (somebody), which is only used in Latin American Spanish, not in the Iberian version. In Spain you can only say “echar de menos” which can be a bit awkward in the tight space of a poem or song lyric. (In Iberian Spanish the word extrañar only exists to describe the action of things that surprise you, as you find them strange, which makes sense as the word is obviously related to strange.)

I often wondered how this came to be and how Spaniards survive (and reproduce) without the romantic “extrañandote tanto”. Only now I discovered (in the reliably educational podcast of Un pais mundial) that Galician has the equivalent word estrañar. So I’m guessing Latin American Spanish must have adopted the usage from Galician, as a vast number of Galician migrants came to Latin America in the 19th century. Does anybody know any other interesting words that crossed over from Galician to Latin American Spanish?


PS For the origins of the Spanish “echar de menos”, which also has a Galician equivalent in “botar de menos”, see the link provided in Ana’s comment, below.





This has been the second instalment of my series Galician word of the day, I think I’ll reproduce the accumulating dictionary at the bottom of each entry, see how far I get:


estrañar – echar de menos – to miss

maruxiña – mariquita –  ladybird



Anda Maruxiña

March 2, 2018

In quite a few Galician songs (eg Barciademera, Pasodobre de Sisamo) we find the name Maruxiña, which is, quite obviously, a second derivative of Maria: Maria – Maruxa – Maruxiña. However, I spotted the same word in a novel, where it was written in lower case, so I had to look up its other meaning. Turns out that maruxiña (lower case) is the ladybird (taxonomically, any beetle from the family Coccinellidae), which makes perfect sense if you think about it, as the English word ladybird also refers to the virgin Mary, as does the German Marienkäfer, and the Spanish mariquita.

Wikipedia in English says:” The name “ladybird” originated in Britain where the insects became known as “Our Lady’s bird” or the Lady beetle. Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the spots of the seven-spot ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolise her seven joys and seven sorrows”.

The German version has a slightly different story, it claims that medieval peasants thought the ladybirds, which were helpful to them, to be a magical present from the virgin Mary, thus named them after her. Oh, and the Dutch wikipedia traces it back to Germanic roots, apparently it was associated with the goddess Freya, which would explain that upon Christianisation some languages transferred it to Mary, and some to God, as in Dutch Lieveheersbeestjes and French bête à bon Dieu. The more widely used French word coccinelle, however, as well as the systematic name, derives from the conspicuous colour. Latin coccinus is crimson.

PSA: This has been the first instalment in a new series on Galician words. Watch this space.


Photo: wikipedia