Ambiguities and Adages

This is a post about language and life, because the words and styles of speech available to you influence your very ideas and expressions.

Two very notable differences between Spanish and English are:

  1. Spanish is more ambiguous; sentences are in passive voice, and often lack subjects!
  2. Spanish is spoken more frequently in adages, sayings and old-fashioned expressions (which only add to the ambiguity of the language).

Today’s example:

My colleague held up a bag and said, “Me trajeron una funda de chocolates. Quieres uno?”  Literally translated, this means, “They brought me a bag of chocolates. Would you like one?” (but the pronoun is implied more like “chocolates were brought to me”)

After gladly scarfing down a Milky Way mini, I said, “Yum, who brought them to you?”

With a wink, she responded in Spanish, “You can share the miracle but not the Saint.”

Naturally it’s humorous that a typical form of speech omits the subject without deliberately sounding ambiguous (for example by including the word “someone” in english); the language allows for pronouns or implied pronouns, so when you break something you just say “broke itself,” when you miss the bus you say, “went it did,” or when you want to be secretive or modest you just say, “chocolates were brought to me.”

The other interesting part of this conversation was the old-fashioned expression. It’s just one example of the fantastic expressions you hear in Spanish all the time. These seem to keep the culture linked to an old-fashioned wisdom that American’s seem less in touch with.

More examples:

  • “Quien lo herede no lo hurte”: He who inherits it doesn’t steal it.
  • “De tal palo tal astilla”: As is the stick so is the splinter, or, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
  • “Lo que tiene Padrino se bautiza”: Only he who has a godfather gets baptized.
  • “El Diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo”: The devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the Devil, i.e., experience is more valuable than expertise.
  •  “Agua que no has de beber déjala correr”: Water that you don’t plan to drink – let it run; in other words, if it doesn’t concern you, leave it alone.
  • “Árbol que nace torcida nunca endereza”: The tree that is born twisted never straightens.
  • “No hay mal que por bien no venga”: There is nothing bad out of which good does not come. Or every cloud has a silver lining.
  • “Quien con lobos se junta, a aullar aprende”: He who hangs out with wolves learns to howl.

About Katherine

Katherine lived on four different continents before settling in to Washington, D.C., to raise her family. She works at a global think tank during the day and raises twin boys the rest of the time. When she isn't working on a spreadsheet for work, she loves walking in the forest with her family, which invariably involves stomping in puddles and climbing on logs. Though she is less of a world traveler these days, she continues to seek out adventures, from exploring D.C.'s museums and playgrounds to taking road trips to national parks. When it's time to unwind, she can be found snuggling with her husband on the couch. Likes: adventures, sleeping past 7 a.m., being surrounded by forests, the sound of her boys laughing, and locally made ice cream. Dislikes: whining, the patriarchy, and people who judge parents/kids.
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