Estancia en la aceta

The recent postings “Here we go again” and “Límite llama 3 minutos” talked about bilingual signs I’ve seen in Austin in which the Spanish was a garbled translation of the English. Last week in Austin’s Zilker Gardens I came across yet another sign of that type, whose Spanish version was “Estancia en la aceta.” Can you figure out what the intended meaning was? Think about it a moment, then skip the next paragraph, whose only purpose is to temporarily keep you from seeing the explanation, and continue reading.

This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had a little time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had a little time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” Buenos días. This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” How now brown cow. This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” Trigonometry is fun. This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.” My kingdom for a camera. This is a dummy paragraph intended to keep you from seeing the next paragraph before you’ve had time to think about the cryptic sign “Estancia en la aceta.”

Following a pattern evident in the two previous posts, the would-be translator wanted the Spanish equivalent of the imperative form of the English verb stay; apparently the person went to an English-Spanish dictionary, looked up stay, and—paying no attention to parts of speech—chose estancia, the Spanish equivalent for the English noun stay, as in “I enjoyed my three-week stay in Barcelona.” To make sense of the mysterious aceta, we turn to phonetics. The intended Spanish word was acera ‘sidewalk,’ but a Spanish r sounds to an English speaker a lot like an English d. Devoice the d and you get a t. Lo and behold, acera becomes aceta. So the sign was supposed to mean “Stay on the path,” and I suppose we can give a pass to the use of the word for ‘sidewalk’ to mean ‘path.’

And that brings us to Spanish acera, from which we’ll trace a path back in time and see what connection there is to English. Older Spanish spelled the word hacera, which, while pronounced the same, gives a clue to the word’s origin that the modern spelling hides. One of the traits that distinguishes Spanish from the other Romance languages is the frequent transformation of an initial Latin f- to an h-, as when Fernández became Hernández. (That h would originally have been pronounced like an English h, before becoming silent.) So the old hacera was the even older facera. That had developed from Vulgar Latin *faciaria, which originally denoted ‘a façade of a building,’ but the meaning ultimately shifted to the one that acera retains: ‘the sidewalk in front of a building.’

Vulgar Latin *faciaria, like French-derived English façade, was based on the Latin noun facies, originally ‘the way something is done,’ but then ‘the form, shape, figure, or appearance of something.’ Spanish has inherited Latin facies in two versions, faz and haz, while English has the one version that it took from Old French, face. The primary way that people appear to other people is through the expressions on their faces.

In Spanish, then, an initial f became an h, and the “face” of a building, its façade, became the sidewalk facing that façade.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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