In the last post I commented on the pseudo-Spanish pseudo-imperative “Límite llama 3 minutos” that I noticed in a hospital waiting room last week. The saga continues: yesterday morning, in a local branch of a nationwide chain of hardware stores, I saw a sign on the wall behind the service desk that said, all in capital letters, AYUDE A LOS DAMAS. Taking that to heart, I’ll help the sign maker, who may or may not have been a lady, by pointing out that the Spanish should have read, without all caps, Ayude a los demás ‘Help other people.’
I’ve already talked in this column about dama and the related adamarse, so this time let’s look at the expression that was intended in the hardware store sign, los demás, which means ‘the others, other people, the rest.’ Spanish demás is clearly a compound of the preposition de and más ‘more,’ but there’s more: the prefixing of another preposition has given Spanish además ‘in addition.’ In addition, putting a second de at the end has produced the phrasal preposition además de ‘in addition to.’
The más ‘more’ that stands on its own and appears in demás and además evolved from Latin magis, which already meant ‘more.’ That Latin original is also the source of the unaccented Spanish doublet mas* that means ‘but.’ For the semantics, consider that a statement like “I wanted the job but I didn’t get it” can be interpreted as “I wanted the job; it’s more a case of my not getting it.” But all this has been about Spanish: stay tuned for more about the connection to English.
* For most Spanish speakers, pero has replaced mas as the normal way to say ‘but,’ but because mas still exists, especially in literature, Spanish puts an accent mark on the más that means ‘more’ to distinguish it in writing from its identically pronounced doublet.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman