Rare trove of heretofore unknown Spanish words

I’ve just learned of a great find made a few months ago in the Spanish Pyrenees near the little village of Pernatir. It’s an occurrence akin to the one that took place in Qumran in 1946–47, when two boys found a series of caves, and in them what have come to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls. This time a shepherd boy and girl were following a lamb that had strayed from their flock in December of 2010. It’s quite cold in the mountains at that time of year, and when the children eventually spotted the lamb, they found it pressed into a cleft between two boulders.

Rosario, the girl, gathered the stray lamb up in her arms, and as she did so she noticed a draft of relatively warm air coming through the opening between the rocks. After clearing away some debris, Simeón, the smaller of the two children, was able to squeeze through the narrow but short passageway. Rosario handed a flashlight through to Siméon, and when he turned it on he could see that he was in the entrance to a small cave. Shining the light in various directions, he soon noticed something on the floor at the back of the cave, which turned out to be a small satchel. He brought the satchel back out into the daylight, and when the two children opened it they found a little handwritten book bound in leather, which looked old but was in surprisingly good condition.

The children took their find to the village priest, who began to look through the book. It was clearly written in Spanish, not Basque, and the handwriting was neat enough that the priest had little trouble reading it, but there were surprisingly many words that he didn’t know the meaning of, even though he was reasonably well educated. When he couldn’t find any of those words in a large dictionary, he sent the strange book to the University of Bilbao, where scholars undertook to study it. After several months of work they were able to figure out what many of the hundreds of previously unknown Spanish words meant.

Before I go into the proposed etymologies of some of the most interesting words in this linguistic trove, let me give you a sample of some of them, along with their apparent meanings, in large part determined by the context in which the writer of the small book used them.

señomentoso – morose, sullen, ill-natured

pinchucha — a type of vase with a deeply circle incised around the middle of it as a form of decoration and to help a person keep a good grip on the vase

lagar — to offer praise, but praise so faint it might be considered an insult (this is a different word from the Spanish noun lagar that means ‘winepress’)

estepaña — a type of makeup used to counteract the glare of the sun (this anticipated the dark smudges that American football players put under their eyes)

sorona — an aunt, but only the sister of one’s father, not one’s mother (compare how some African languages have different words for a maternal aunt and a paternal aunt)

bicorrer — to quarrel

zomilde — meek, but to such an extreme as to be psychologically paralyzing

remunchear — to have a snack akin to a merienda, but typically later in the day

As interesting as all this is, you might wonder why I’m mentioning it in a blog about the connections between words in Spanish and English. Well, despite the seemingly astronomical odds of such a thing, every single one of these words does have a connection to English: I an English speaker, made them all up, just as I made up the whole story about the shepherd children, the lost lamb, and the cave. Happy April Fool’s Day! Stay tuned for more real Spanish-English etymology next time.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. matiserrano
    Apr 03, 2011 @ 13:36:27

    Interesting how the word “bicorrer” reminds me of the word bicker.


  2. wordconnections
    Apr 03, 2011 @ 13:51:10

    Good for you! I did indeed invent the verb bicorrer based on English bicker.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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