Yesterday’s posting about Spanish reloj ‘a clock, a watch,’ explained that the word ultimately traces back to Greek horologion, a device that ‘tells the time.’ The Romans borrowed the first element of the Greek compound, which meant ‘time, season,’ as hora; they designated it to be ‘one-twelfth the length of daylight from sunrise to sunset,’ so that the Roman hour varied in length according to the season. We’ve redefined our borrowed hora/hour to give it a constant length of one-twenty-fourth of a day.
The Latin phrase hac hora ‘at this time’ evolved to Old Spanish and Old Portuguese agora ‘now,’ which is still the form of the word in modern Portuguese and in some Spanish dialects. Agora hung on even in printed Spanish at least through the 1700s, as is evident in this passage from Agricultura general, published in Madrid in 1777:
In standard modern Spanish, of course, agora has become ahora, most likely under the influence of hora itself. Spanish ahorita, which has the form of a diminutive, narrows the extent of the nowness, if I can put it that way. (I can put it that way; I just did.) Compare the situation in English: although it gets right to the point with its one-syllable now, many speakers have expanded that to the unnecessarily long right now, which is the equivalent of Spanish ahorita. (Even worse, English speakers of the let’s-make-a-mountain-out-of-every-molehill-we-possibly-can persuasion have replaced now and even right now with the horrid at this point in time, which, for all its five exalted words and syllables, still means nothing more than now.)
Spanish en hora buena, sometimes written together as enhorabuena and occasionally further reduced to horabuena, means ‘congratulations!’ In the opposite direction, en hora mala, enhoramala, en mal hora, and en mala hora all express disgust, annoyance or disapproval. English might translate them idiomatically as ‘good riddance,’ which I assure you aren’t my sentiments as I come to the end of today’s post.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman