Friday, February 19, 2010

We stick to our thirteens, thanks to the shadow pope

Dictionary.com offers a Spanish word of the day via e-mail -- you can sign up on their website. It is unusually well-written and -researched.

A recent favorite, explaining an alternative meaning of trece, which normally just means "thirteen":
trece, adjective, noun
not to budge, to stick to your guns

Seguir or mantenerse en sus trece is an idiomatic phrase which means to refuse to change your position on something, for example:
Los dos líderes se mantienen en sus trece
The two leaders are refusing to budge
But why does thirteen come into this expression? The explanation goes back a long way. For a short period in the fourteenth century there were two Popes, one based in Rome and the other in Avignon, in the South of France. Pedro de Luna, a Spaniard from a noble family, was elected Clement XIII, based in Avignon. However, he later lost support, but despite attempts to negotiate by the rival Pope, based in Rome, Clement XIII refused to stand down, and was eventually excommunicated. He insisted to the end of his life that he was the only true Pope, hence the expression.
I love how history gets mixed in when you learn a language; Spain had one of the longest lasting Roman colonies, and it's very Catholic, so its languages have an especially large number of echoes of Latin, Rome and the Vatican. And then there are words like ojala, an exclamation that descends from Moorish culture and its cries to Allah.

(Side note --I am glad to see that the press has almost completely adopted the practice of calling the Muslim God just "God" and not "Allah". "Allah" is no different then "Jehovah" or "Yahweh".)

Surprisingly, I can't find an entry that addresses this papal controversy on Wikipedia.

I also like this phrase:
If you’re suspicious about a situation, you might say:

Aquí hay gato encerrado.
There’s something fishy going on (word for word, there’s a cat cooped up in here).
But my favorite foreign saying remains the French:

Tu veux la creme, l'argent de la creme, et la cremiere.
You want to have your cake and eat it too (literally, you want the cream, the money for the cream, and the woman that churns the cream!).

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