A short and pessimistic poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, author of another poem that I quoted in the first week of this blog, goes like this:

Mi vida es un erial:
flor que toco se deshoja;
que en mi camino fatal,
alguien va sembrando el mal
para que yo lo recoja.

If you like, you can hear it recited. And here’s a rough, non-poetic translation into English (note that the number of words it takes to paraphrase the poem stands in inverse relation to how well crafted it is):

My life is a wasteland.
No sooner do I touch a flower than its petals fall off.
It must be the case that on my fatal path
someone is sowing the seeds of misfortune
so that I’ll come along and reap the harvest.

Of all the words in the poem, probably the least common is erial, whose basic meaning is ‘a barren or uncultivated piece of land.’ Erial is based on the less common ería, which seems to have come from Latin area, a term whose meanings included ‘ground for a house; a building spot; a vacant space around or in a house; a playground; a threshing floor; a bed or border in a garden; a burying ground.’ The Romans even used it lightheartedly for ‘a bald spot on someone’s head.’ Spanish and English have borrowed the Latin word (with Spanish writing it área) in the sense ‘a portion of a surface or a place.’ English takes the abstraction further than Spanish: an area can be ‘a subject’ or ‘a type of activity.’ From the original notion of ‘vacant space in a house’ comes the mathematical sense ‘the amount of space a figure encloses.’ One unit for measuring that two-dimensional space is the área/are, which equals 100 square meters; a hectárea/hectare is ‘100 ares’ or ‘10,000 square meters.’

In English, area and are are doublets. Spanish uses área for both of those, but alongside área it has its own doublet era, which preserves the Latin meanings ‘a threshing floor’ and ‘a plot of earth used for growing flowers or vegetables.’

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joseph Snow
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 05:34:09

    Erial is not uncommon in agricultural circles in Spain and is still in use (i.e., not so uncommon)


  2. wordconnections
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 11:31:49

    Thanks for letting us know. I’ll confirm that I haven’t been around in agricultural circles in Spain.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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