y e i

Yesterday’s column mentioned that the Russian cognate of Spanish y is И, which has the same pronunciation and meaning. Much closer to the Spanish-speaking world is Catalan i, which also means ‘and.’ Spanish has taken its share of words from Catalan, including a couple of picturesque phrases with i in them. One is Catalan canta i plora, which translates as canta y llora ‘it sings and it cries.’ Spanish has converted that to cantimplora, a noun that means ‘a siphon, water bottle, canteen, flask.’ The phrase originated as a clever description—we might say an imaginative and poetic one—of the sounds that people imagine they hear when a liquid gurgles its way through any of those containers. The other Catalan phrase that has flowed into Spanish is cap-i-cua, which corresponds to cabeza y cola ‘head and tail.’ Spanish has rewritten that as capicúa ‘a numeral that reads the same from “head” to “tail,” i.e from left to right, as it does from “tail” to “head,” i.e. from right to left.’ In other words, a capicúa is ‘a palindromic numeral’ like 14641. The arithmetically adept will recognize 14641 as the square of the likewise palindromic 121, which is itself the square of the palindromic 11. An impressed English speaker can reply in kind, which is to say palindromically, with “Wow!” or “Yay!” or “Aha!” Any Spanish speaker who would like to add an appropriate response in that language is welcome to post it as a comment.

©2010 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: vaivén « Spanish-English Word Connections
  2. Trackback: cola | Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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