Allá en el rancho grande

Allá en el rancho grande,
allá donde vivía,
había una rancherita
que alegre me decía,
que alegre me decía:
“Te voy a hacer tus calzones
como los que usan los rancheros.
Los comienzo de lana
y los acabo de cuero.”

(Out there on the big ranch,
out there where I was living,
there was a little rancher gal
who used to say to me cheerfully,
who used to say to me cheerfully:
“I’m going to turn your shorts [or pants]
into the kind that the rancher men wear.
I’ll start them out in wool
and finish them up in leather.”)

El rancho, los rancheros, la rancherita: we can picture the romantic scene described in that popular song, and what could be more quintessentially Spanish or Mexican? But there’s a surprise in store allá en el rancho: in terms of word origins, rancho should conjure up images of quiche rather than quesadillas, of pâté and not paella, of tartelettes rather than tortillas or tacos. Mais oui, Spanish rancho comes from French! And, à vrai dire, to tell the truth, the word actually traces even farther back, to Germanic. From Frankish, a Germanic language that gave France its name, Old French had borrowed ranc, a relative of native English ring, and a word that later became English rank. The borrowed noun ranc led to the modern French verb ranger, whose meaning is clear from the borrowed English verb arrange. The French reflexive verb se ranger took on the sense, with respect to troops, ‘to arrange themselves on a campground’ and more generally ‘to set up camp.’ Spanish carried that reflexive verb over as ranchearse, and the derived noun rancho came to mean ‘an encampment.’ Spanish speakers in the New World eventually extended the meaning to what we now think of as a rancho/ranch. English originally used the Spanish form rancho, but by the early part of the 20th century the Anglicized ranch won out.

We began with the first part of a song in Spanish, so let’s give equal time to English and conclude with the refrain of another song:

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Note that English range, borrowed from French, is etymologically the same as Spanish rancho, though the meanings of the two words, like the buffalo that once inhabited the plains, have roamed.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 16:09:30

    Oh, this is a rich post, even with no more than the song lyrics to go on. Now I know that Cuero, Texas, was a stop on the Chisholm Trail, and it got its name because of the trade in hides and leather that went on there. And, the next time I order huevos rancheros, I’ll know the meaning of the words.

    Speaking of food, one of my Italian favorites, calzones, shows up here, too. With all of the French/Spanish interconnections, I’m not surprised.

    But now – I just can’t help myself. I have my own little snippet of song, which I happened to write some years ago. Hang with me – you’ll find yet another meaning for one of the words you’ve mentioned.

    “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
    and I’ll show you a house full of dirt,
    where seldom is seen a good cleaning machine,
    and the housekeeper’s feelings are hurt.

    Bones, bones on the range
    where the cook let the antelope lay.
    The mice came along, first they burst into song,
    then they carted the carcass away.”

    Blame it on the heat. 😉


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 16:43:44

      I don’t mind agreeing with you that this is a rich post, and incidentally one that went through a two-year incubation. There’s still much more to say, so maybe a sequel is in order.

      It’s good of you to have written that parody, which does indeed show another sense of range. When it comes to temperature and blame, though, I’d say the range is proof that you could stand the heat and didn’t get out of the kitchen.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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