A commenter on a recent post at the blog “the human picture” brought up the Spanish word querencia, whose meanings relate to different historical senses of the verb it’s derived from, querer. Let’s start by going even further back, to the Latin word that gave rise to querer; that was quaerere, whose basic sense was ‘to search for, to seek,’ as we see in derivatives like disquisicion/disquisicion, inquirir/inquire, inquisición/inquisition, as well as English inquest and Spanish encuesta ‘survey, opinion poll’ and pesquisa ‘inquiry.’ As Latin quaerere evolved into Spanish (and Portuguese) querer, the meaning shifted from ‘search’ to want,’ and from there to ‘desire’ and ‘love,’ the last three of which are current.
Joan Corominas reports that the derived noun querencia, which appeared in the 1200s, started out as a synonym of (the etymologically unrelated) cariño ‘affection.’ By the mid-1500s it reincorporated some of its Latin heritage and came to mean ‘a tendency or longing to return to the place where one was brought up; a homing instinct.’ That meaning survives, and the word can also designate the destination itself, i.e. ‘the familiar place that someone is drawn back to.’ For that reason, the developers of an upscale retirement home that opened in Austin some years ago called the place Querencia. A search of the Internet shows that various inns, resorts, and other entities in the United States have chosen the same name.
In its ‘homing instinct’ sense, querencia applies to people and animals. In particular, with respect to bullfighting, querencia is ‘the tendency of a bull to go to a certain part of the ring.’ Based on one of the primary modern meanings of querer, querencia can also be simply and most generically ‘the action of loving.’
© 2014 Steven Schwartzman