The famous writer O. Henry (who coincidentally called Austin home for several years) wrote a sad short story called “The Furnished Room,” which begins: “Restless, shifting, fugacious as time itself is a certain vast bulk of the population of the red brick district of the lower West Side.” Many English speakers won’t recognize the fancy word fugacious, but Spanish speakers see the similarity to the fugaz that is their less-hoity-toity cognate. Based on the Latin noun fuga ‘the act of fleeing,’ the Latin adjective fugax, with stem fugac-, is the source of the synonymous  fugaz/fugacious that means ‘of short duration, fleeting, not lasting.’

Classical music has adopted Latin fuga, which French and therefore English have turned into fugue, as the name of ‘a musical form in which a melody appears in one voice and then “flees” successively to other voices.’ From the root of fuga Latin created the verb fugere ‘to flee.’ That became fugīre in Vulgar Latin, and then, given the peculiar transformation of an initial f to h that marked the development of Spanish, evolved to Spanish huir. To replace the original Latin fuga, Spanish has adopted the feminine past participle of huir as the noun huida that means ‘an act of fleeing; flight.’

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman



11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria F.
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 17:15:34

    ‘Fugaz’ is used here often, in adjective form. When used as an adjective, ‘fugaz’ could be “una estrella fugaz”, or “se fue fugazmente”, ‘mente’ here adds an element of speed (he left fleetingly); whereas ‘fuga’ as noun can also be used as “escape” or “flee” or “huida” or “escapada”. Nevertheless, for ‘huida’ there’s no adjective. ‘Fugaz’ can only be used as adjective, verb and noun. ‘Fuga’ and ‘huida’ mean the same.
    Now look what weird requirements ‘fuga’ has:

    “El SE fugó de la carcel” (He fled from prison) -used with pronoun-
    “El huyó de la carcel” (He fled from prison)-used without pronoun-

    So when you use ‘fugarse’, you add a ‘pronoun’, (‘se’ meaning ‘himself’)

    “Ellos SE fugaron” (They fled) -again, the pronoun- Spanish not only has to use pronouns with some verbs but add the feminine and masculine of the noun. This is why I think English may be easier to learn, but I guess it depends.

    I read “The Furnished Room” when in college and I really like O. Henry short stories. “The Furnished Room” is compulsory at college level.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 27, 2015 @ 19:30:54

      One of my early impressions as a learner of Spanish was that every verb was reflexive. Of course that wasn’t literally true, but I was taken aback by how often verbs were used reflexively when I as an English speaker didn’t feel any need for the reflexive pronoun with those verbs. For example, “El fugó de la carcel” sounds just fine to me, even if that’s not what Spanish speakers say.


      • Maria F.
        Mar 27, 2015 @ 20:53:33

        The pronouns are just to specify who did what. For example:
        “El se sirvió su plato”. (He served his dish)
        But then look at this:
        “El sirvió el plato de…..”. (He served someone else’s plate)
        So the first pronoun in this case is just to specify that he did it to himself; the one without the pronoun means that he did it to someone else.

        Or “cambio”: (masculine)
        “El se cambió el pantalón” (He changed his pants)
        “El cambió el pantalón” (He changed ‘the’ pants [for other ones])

        I remember the reason now. It’s because “Fuga” it’s really a singular feminine noun, so it has to be specified by a pronoun.
        However, you can say “La ‘fuga’ de esa señora FUÉ espectacular” (Her escape from prison was spectacular”) and there it is in past tense.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Mar 27, 2015 @ 21:18:21

          With transitive verbs that makes sense. It’s with intransitive verbs that the reflexive pronoun often seems unnecessary to an English speaker, as in the example of fugarse.


          • Maria F.
            Mar 27, 2015 @ 21:46:44

            I found another example similar to “fugarse”. It’s “casarse” (to get married)
            “El SE casó con esa mujer” (He married that woman)
            “El casó a esa mujer” (He ‘wed’ that woman) As a priest, he ‘wed’ them.
            It’s actually quite complicated to explain.


            • Steve Schwartzman
              Mar 28, 2015 @ 09:10:03

              Yes, there are many examples with transitive verbs that make sense to an English speaker. It’s the reflexive use of intransitive verbs that strikes us as strange. Take, for example, “él se salió” rather than just the “él salió” that seems sufficient.


  2. shoreacres
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 20:29:49

    Despite my love for (preludes and) fugues, I didn’t know the etymology of the word. It’s perfectly descriptive, isn’t it? You probably know Wanda Landowska. I’ve always thought her rendering of Bach’s Prelude & Fugue No.1 in C was perfect.

    Less happy is the psychiatric disturbance known as dissociative fugue. According to the Wiki, a fugue state is “characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of individuality. The state is usually short-lived (ranging from hours to days), but can last months or longer. Dissociative fugue usually involves unplanned travel or wandering, and is sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity.”

    In short, a person “flees” their old life. I suppose a watered-down, non-diagnostic version is what people mean when they talk of someone “taking leave of their senses” or “taking leave of themselves.”


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 27, 2015 @ 21:16:08

      Yes, I knew of Wanda Landowska and enjoyed hearing her play at the link you provided. If only we had a recording of Bach himself playing those preludes and fugues.

      The sense of fugue that you also provided (and which I didn’t know) is a good example of how the meaning of has fled from music to psychiatry (without, however, leaving music behind).


  3. Maria F.
    Mar 27, 2015 @ 21:30:56

    Now that you mention ‘Bach’s Prelude & Fugue No.1 in C’, it was Charles-François Gounod who wrote the “Ave Maria”, the melody especially designed to be superimposed over the Prelude No. 1 in C major of J.S. Bach’s ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’, written 137 years earlier.’ Ave Maria was a popular and much-recorded setting of the Latin text Ave Maria, originally published in 1853 by Gounod as ‘Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach’. Then there was Schubert’s Ave Maria (see Maria Callas performing: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE1WoMocTlw) Nevertheless, Schubert used it for “Ellen’s Third Song”, in 1825 as part of his Opus 52, a setting of seven songs from Walter Scott’s popular epic poem “The Lady of the Lake”, loosely translated into German. The opening words and refrain of Ellen’s song, namely “Ave Maria” (Latin for “Hail Mary”), may have led to the idea of adapting Schubert’s melody as a setting for the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer Ave Maria. The Latin version of the Ave Maria is now so frequently used with Schubert’s melody that it has led to the misconception that he originally wrote the melody as a setting for the Ave Maria. Excuse me for this long entry but I was interested in reviewing this.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Mar 27, 2015 @ 22:36:12

      I appreciate learning all those things about the two Ave Marias, Gounod’s and Schubert’s (I like them both but have a hard time remembering which is which).


      • Maria F.
        Mar 27, 2015 @ 22:42:04

        Thanks, I’m glad shoreacres mentioned it, because it made me remember which was which. One instrumental (Bach), one in Latin (Gounod), and the one in German (Schubert).


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