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

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 09:53:44

    The phrase “action of loving” is interesting. It’s quite different from the purely emotional understanding of love that’s common these days.

    It’s amazing how strong the homing instinct can be. During my mother’s last hospitalization, she kept insisting that she needed to go home. One night, the ICU nurses looked up and realized her monitor had gone dark. Panic-stricken, they rushed toward her room, only to meet her at the doorway. She’d neatly removed her own IVs, taken off her monitoring devices, grabbed her Werther’s butterscotch candy and was making tracks. When they said, “What in the world are you doing?” she said, “I’m going home.” She would have made it even farther, had it not been for her catheter.


    Another poignant thought. In this cold: perhaps some of those who refuse to come into homeless shelters refuse because the simple fact of physical shelter doesn’t address the deeper need for famliarity, for being “at home”.

    Of course, many have had the experience of hearing loved ones near the end of life demanding to “go home”. Even when they’re in the same house they’ve lived in for fifty years, and everyone tells them they’re at home, they continue to insist that they be “taken home”. There seems to be some deep longing for that “place” from which they’ve come – but of course that raises questions which remain, in the end, unanswerable – at least in this life.

    And then there’s this, which seems to incorporate every shade of Querencia’s meaning possible.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 04, 2014 @ 11:14:26

      I struggled with ‘action of loving,’ which I translated literally from part of one of the definitions in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española: acción de amar. Both ‘action of loving’ and ‘act of loving’ sound too physical, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

      Your poignant account of your mother reminds me now of the 1985 movie The Trip to Bountiful, partially described on the imdb website this way: “Carrie Watts is living the twilight of her life trapped in an apartment in 1940’s Houston, Texas, with a controlling daughter-in-law and a hen-pecked son. Her fondest wish — just once before she dies — is to revisit Bountiful, the small Texas town of her youth which she still refers to as ‘home.'”

      What a young Paul Simon. He’s someone from the part of the world that is still in some ways home to me, even though I haven’t lived there in 40 years.


  2. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 20:15:01

    When I saw this word I looked it up in the ‘Diccionario panhispanico de dudas”, from the Real Academia also, and didn’t see it there, unless the term is used in Mexico referring to the bullfights , which are legal there. It doesn’t mean that it’s not used in Latin America, I don’t really know. All I know is that ‘Querencia’ is not used in P.R.. I don’t know to what extent the afore mentioned dictionary covers all of the Spanish used in Latin America. Seems to me that Querencia is used in Spain more so than in Latin America. I also read that it meant “a familiar place to which an animal returns”, which could also relate as to how it applied to the horrific bullfights. Thanks for letting me know about this.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 04, 2014 @ 22:48:16

      And here’s the link to the entry for querencia in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española:


      You may well be right that the word is used more in Spain than elsewhere, but unfortunately the DRAE entry doesn’t say in which countries the various meanings are current. I don’t think I ever heard anyone use querencia when I lived in Honduras.

      Wherever it’s used, it’s an interesting word.


  3. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 20:32:02

    I’m sending you a link about this dictionary:


  4. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 23:43:32

    I know it’s in DRAE; I just never heard it being used here; it is a beautiful word. And each country in Latin America is so different. I don’t know how representative P.R. would be being such a small island. These are the synonyms for Querencia: “tendencia, inclinación, costumbre, propensión, atracción, afecto, simpatía”. I’m sure a good writer would use Querencia, but my doubt is in its everyday use since we don’t use it here, even in academic circles.


  5. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 07:53:11

    I don’t doubt it that, as I’ve said, serious well read writers will use it, regardless of nationality. And you have definitely added a new word I didn’t know. I will definitely use it when I write a paper or article, or even speak it. Thanks!


  6. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 09:01:22

    How do you think North American English changed, as compared to the one spoken in the U.K.? Would the words that have changed be considered ‘vulgarizations’ of Old English? Me and my father (who is still alive) looked up some words together and noticed how some words in Spanish used in Latin America were considered a “a vulgar form of Latin”, which means that some Vulgar Latin Spanish dropped some letters here and there. For example, we looked up “Alhelí”, which is a flower; and in Latin America they dropped the “h”, and the accepted word now is “Alelí” without the h, but the dictionaries state it’s a Latin vulgar. Do you think English in the U.S. may have undergone few, or several transformations? Would these be considered “vulgarisations” of the Old English? Also, with the influence of so many indigenous dialects in Latin America, do you think the English in N. America may have been highly influenced by the North American Indians, or just slightly; or not at all?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 05, 2014 @ 12:09:22

      If you click Glossary in the blue band across the top of the page, or if you follow this link:


      you can then scroll down to a paragraph explaining so-called Vulgar Latin.

      As for influences of American Indian languages on English, as far as I know they’re confined exclusively to vocabulary. European settlers adopted (and adapted) many native names for plants, animals, and places.

      When it comes to alhelí, the h is silent, of course, so there’s a tendency to respell the word without the historical h (which came from Arabic). Spanish has reformed its spelling numerous times to make words closer to their actual pronunciation. If you look at a text in Spanish from a couple of centuries ago, you’ll see that a lot of double consonants were still retained, e.g affecto rather than the modern afecto.

      English has changed a lot over the centuries, especially after the Norman conquest. A Spanish text from the Middle Ages is still largely intelligible, but a modern English speaker who tries reading a text in Old English will understand almost nothing.


  7. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 13:07:21

    Yes, and you say “Linguists have inherited Vulgar Latin as a historical term that’s not intended to be pejorative”, is something that is very important to remember, because I used to think it was pejorative; yet it’s in dictionaries, it says “Latin Vulgar” and it’s accepted. I was just wondering if in English, you could say of x word, “that’s a vulgar form of such and such other word”, or is “vulgar” strictly applied to just Latin.


  8. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 14:02:28

    Thanks a lot for clarifying this, because I might have used it in the wrong context. I also thought of “barbarism”. Here, a word that is misspelled or simply invented and written is thought of as a “barbarism”. I thought phrases such as “vulgarism” and “barbarism” were common and applied when someone used the wrong word for something. I guess it’s simply better to say: that’s “incorrect” , and not use these words. My father who is now very sick has many books, considered himself a “purist” with Spanish. My rebellion was, on the other hand, to learn English extremely well, because when young I could not understand how could language be so pure, if the people who spoke it weren’t “pure’ in the first place, simply because they’re human. People will most likely mispronounce, be influenced, or even create new words (such as the neologisms or anglicisms). I consider myself now to be at least 90% fluent in English. The 10% missing is in of course additional words, and most important idiomatic phrases which may put me at a cultural disadvantage. I strive to always learn those.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 05, 2014 @ 14:53:30

      You remind me of an expression that was common in Honduras when I lived there (and probably still is): ¡Qué barbaridad!

      Congratulations on having learned English so well. Even native speakers of a language can keep learning new things.


  9. Tropical Flowering Zone/Maria
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 21:10:02

    Oh you have made me laugh! “Que barbaridad” is still used very often here. It denotes something “unbelievable” or “very disgraceful”.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 07, 2014 @ 23:55:06

      It’s good to hear that you use it in Puerto Rico, too. Having learned in Honduras, I don’t always know whether a word or expression is local there or has a wider distribution in the Spanish-speaking world.


  10. kathryningrid
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 22:28:11

    Somehow your references to ‘love’ and ‘homing instinct’ and ‘ring’ spun around and around in my mind until they fused into a wedding ring. Surely not the original concept, and yet perhaps not entirely off track….


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