Monday, 13 November 2017

From the Angels to the Foothills


A few weeks ago I decided to learn Spanish, for no reason whatsoever (I'd say that it was to talk to Spaniards, but I haven't done that yet). One of the amusing results is that I now understand some place names, especially in the New World.

Everybody, I think, knows that Los Angeles means The Angels, but it's therefore rather fun to read Psalms 8v5, where we are told of God's creation of man:

Le has hecho poco menor que los √°ngeles

Which translates roughly as

Thou hast made him a little lower than Los Angeles

As an English speaker, I just wasn't expecting it, and it made me giggle. Nor was I expecting 2 Chronicles 26v10 where I found:

Porque tuvo muchos ganados, así en la Sefela como en las vegas

Which I puzzled over because I thought, with my limited Spanish, that he has won (ganado) something in Las Vegas, whereas he had, in fact, much livestock in the foothills, which is what las vegas are.

The Bible, by the way, is rather a good way of picking up a language as the vocabulary is quite simple, the story is straightforward and often familiar, and there's lots of repetition. I'm only up to Proverbs, but I can't wait for the Nativity and the shepherds looking up to the sky to see Los Angeles.

Anyhow, here is a brief list of the place names that now make sense to me:

Antigua means old (cognate with antique), because Christopher Columbus named the island after a church in Seville, the Church of Santa Maria Antigua.

Amarillo means yellow, probably because of the colour of the banks of a stream nearby.

La Paz means the peace.

El Paso means the pass, or the way

Paraguay does not mean umbrella, despite the fact that the Spanish for umbrella is paraguas. This is an immense disappointment to me, as I'd love to visit a country called Umbrella.

Rio de la Plata means silver river, which is appropriate as it passes Argentina which comes from the Latin for silver land.

The Alamo is the poplar tree

Los Alamos is/are the poplars. Do Spanish speakers treat it as singular or plural? I do not yet know.

I visited Los Alamos once and my main memory of the place is that you couldn't get a drink anywhere in town on a Sunday afternoon, which is a long way round of reminding you, dear reader, that my new book A Short History of Drunkenness: How why, where and when humankind has got merry from the Stone Age to the present is out and just waiting to be bought.

The Sunday Times had a lovely review that you can read here (though it's behind a paywall). Alternatively you can just buy it from these places.

Amazon
Blackwells
Book Depository
Waterstones

This tree is beautiful, according to poplar opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. A friend has just sent me this post as I study Spanish - for 10 days only - in Valencia. Your research will bring a whole new level of meaning to my efforts.

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