amar y querer

My longtime friend Don Levesque—whose family name is the French cognate of Spanish el obispo ‘the bishop’—is curious. He’d like to know why French, which prides itself on being the language of toujours l’amour ‘siempre el amor/always love,’ has only one verb for ‘to love,’ aimer, while Spanish outdoes French with two, amar and querer. Good question. The Latin verb for ‘to love’ was amare, which passed through the centuries to become French aimer and Spanish amar (with the French version also retaining the milder ‘to take pleasure in, to like’ senses that were present in the Latin original).

In contrast, the Latin verb quaerere that evolved to Spanish querer originally meant not ‘to love’ but ‘to seek, to look for,’ as we can still see in the borrowed English query and in Spanish and English cuestión/question. The original Latin senses shifted only a little in giving Spanish querer the meaning ‘to want.’ But the Romans also used quaerere with various extended senses, including ‘to strive, win by effort; to lack, feel the want of; to desire, need, call for.’ As Latin quaerere developed into Spanish querer, all those meanings coalesced into ‘love,’ which at one time or another most people strive for and win by effort, or else lack, feel the want of, desire, need, and call for in their lives.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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