Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was a quintessentially Romantic writer from 19th-century Spain. His life was short—he died at 36—and some of the poems in his Rimas are short too. One, as famous as it is brief, goes like this:

Los suspiros son aire, y van al aire.
Las lágrimas son agua, y van al mar.
Dime, mujer: cuando el amor se olvida,
¿Sabes tú adónde va?

Ah, that dismissive use of mujer ‘woman.’ It’s almost as if Bécquer is treating her as a mujerzuela or mujercilla, both of which mean ‘a loose woman.’ Still, we wouldn’t want to accuse him of being a mujeriego ‘womanizer.’ A man so inclined might head for a mujerío ‘a gathering or group of women.’

Spanish mujer evolved from Latin mulier, which English has borrowed in the fancy noun muliebrity ‘the state of being a woman or of possessing full womanly powers; womanhood.’ Here’s to the celebrity of muliebrity.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: erial « Spanish-English Word Connections
  2. carmenferreiroesteban
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 17:03:59

    Not that it really matters but Becquer died at 34.
    “Gustavo Adolfo Domínguez Bastida, better known as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, (Seville February 17, 1836; Madrid (December 22, 1870)” according to the Wikipedia.


    • wordconnections
      Mar 11, 2011 @ 19:02:42

      Yes, he was one of the unfortunately many creative people who died in their 30s back then. That was the fate of some of the greatest composers, including Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Bizet.


  3. carmenferreiroesteban
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 19:14:19

    That is so funny you mention Bizet. I posted a blog today about him. About Carmen more precisely, where I say, “Like Becquer and Lorca, Bizet was another artist who died young (34) and before becoming well known.”

    You can read my post here:


  4. wordconnections
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 20:23:26

    So Carmen wrote about Carmen. When I was in high school and studying French, I read parts of the opera’s lyrics and learned a lot of French in the process. The opera deserves its current popularity, which Bizet, as you pointed out, didn’t live to see.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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