The past three posts have dealt with words descended from the root of the Latin verb dolere ‘to feel pain.’ We’ve already noted that the associated Latin noun dolor ‘pain, suffering’ has passed with those meanings into Spanish, but English speakers will probably be surprised to find dolor in many English dictionaries as well, where the word is defined as ‘sorrow, grief, mental suffering or anguish.’ The online Collins English Dictionary marks the word as poetic, and I might add literary: an everyday English word it certainly isn’t. English acquired it, by the way, from Old French dolour, the cognate of Spanish dolor.
In addition to the dolorosa that we recently discussed, which as a noun took on the religious sense of an ‘Imagen de la Virgen María en la acción de dolerse por la muerte de Cristo,’ the phrase María de los dolores ‘Mary of Sorrows’ led to the use in Spanish of Dolores as a female name, and English has followed suit. Not many English-speaking parents are likely to name a daughter Sorrows, so we have to wonder how many of them who pick Dolores know what it means in Spanish. A Dictionary of First Names notes that most English-speaking parents who choose that name are Roman Catholic. In any case, anticipating a trend that has accelerated in recent decades, English speakers have long used the variant spellings Delores and Deloris.
A Dictionary of First Names also notes that Spanish Dolores gave rise to the nursery form Lola, which eventually took on a life of its own apart from its continuing use as a nickname for Dolores. From Lola, of course, came the diminutive Lolita, which Vladimir Nabokov chose as the eponymous title of his 1955 novel. According to the Wikipedia article about the book, its anti-hero Humbert Humbert used Lolita as his private nickname for the 12-year-old Dolores Haze. Those familiar with the book or the movie made from it know that it led to muchos dolores, and not only for the character of Dolores.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman