Yesterday’s posting and the one before it, prompted by the fact that November 2 is Día de los Muertos, have dealt with words derived from Latin morire ‘to die’ and mort- ‘dead.’ Another Spanish derivative began its life as Latin mortualia, a plural noun that could mean both ‘clothing in which a dead person is buried’ and ‘clothing worn by a mourner.’ Speakers of Vulgar Latin ended up misconstruing plurals that ended in -a as feminine singulars, which explains why mortaja, which is what mortualia evolved to in Spanish, is a feminine singular; it retains the meaning ‘shroud, grave-clothes, winding sheet.’ Curiously, in American Spanish mortaja has added the sense ‘cigarette paper,’ not because someone who smokes cigarettes is likely to end up dead sooner than someone who doesn’t, but because rolling tobacco in white paper reminded people of wrapping a dead body in a winding-sheet. It may be an exaggeration, but not by much, to say that the power of analogy in language is inmortal/immortal.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: An end to death « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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