A few weeks ago I learned the art term contrapposto. The contra at the beginning of that word reminds me of an English nursery rhyme I grew up with. There have been various versions, but the one I seem remember goes like this:
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
The word contrary, which Spanish similarly renders contrario, is an adjective that describes someone whose behavior is contra/counter what is expected or called for; the word can apply to things as well as people. The Spanish phrase al contrario corresponds to English on the contrary and also to French au contraire, which English speakers sometimes use humorously. The condition of being contrario/contrary is contrariedad/contrariety, and using the uncommon English version will gain you some notoriety. Spanish contrariedad, which is more familiar, also means ‘a setback.’
Contrary to what English has done in this case, Spanish has turned contrario into a verb; contrariar means ‘to contradict, go against,’ and by extension ‘to annoy, displease, upset.’ In contrast, English but not Spanish has the noun contrarian, though the Spanish expression llevar la contraria [which stays uniformly in the feminine] means ‘to be a contrarian.’
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman