Corresponding to Latin vivere, the ancestor of Spanish vivir ‘to live,’ was the noun vita ‘life,’ which has become Spanish vida. My wife, who is from the Philippines, and whose native language of Cebuano absorbed hundreds and hundreds of Spanish words during the centuries when Spain controlled the Philippines, sometimes uses the expression kontrabida. With reference to a story, drama, or movie, it means ‘a bad guy, a person who causes trouble.’ The word is obviously from Spanish contra + vida, yet I don’t find contravida in any of my Spanish dictionaries, including the one published by the Real Academia Española. The word seems to have fallen out of use in Spanish, but if any native Spanish speaker who reads this does use the term or has heard it being used, please let us know. Maybe we can start a campaign to revive this useful expression.

Based on Latin vita, Spanish and English have the adjectives vital and viable ‘capable of sustaining life.’ Most people are surprised to learn that our familiar word vitamina/vitamin goes back no farther than 1920, when Polish biochemist Casimir Funk coin the term based on what proved to be the false assumption that vitamins contain amino acids.

© Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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