A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article in The Economist and came across the word nimbyish for the first time. Despite never having seen the word before, I understood that it was an adjective formed from nimby (also Nimby or NIMBY), an acronym for not in my back yard. Merriam-Webster defines nimby as ‘opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable (such as a prison or incinerator) in one’s neighborhood.’ The definition in the Oxford Living Dictionaries is ‘A person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous in their own neighborhood, such as a landfill or hazardous waste facility, especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere.‘ As you can see in those two definitions, some dictionaries apply nimby to the objection and others to the person doing the objecting.

As far as I can tell, Spanish doesn’t have a counterpart to nimby. Span¡shD!ict offers up an explanation rather than a Spanish translation: ‘persona que se opone a la ubicación de cualquier tipo de construcción o proyecto problemático en su vecindario‘ and ‘de oposición a la ubicación de cualquier tipo de construcción o proyecto problemático en un vecindario concreto.’ Given this nimsdy (not in my Spanish dictionary yet) situation, let’s look at each individual word in the original English phrase and see if it has a Spanish cognate.

1) not — Spanish no, from Latin nōn, is obviously a cognate. All three go back to the Indo-European negative, ne.

2) in — This is obviously the cognate of Spanish en, which evolved from the Latin in that had come from Indo-European en. Talk about flip-flopping.

3 my — Here we have a shortened form of mine, from Old English mīn. The obvious Spanish cognate mi evolved from Latin meus. All these words came from Indo-European me-, the form of the first person singular personal pronoun used for cases other than the nominative.

4) back — Spanish has no cognate in this case. English back goes back to Anglo-Saxon bæc.

5) yard — Speakers of Tex-Mex have carried over the English word as yarda, but that’s not standard Spanish. The English word evolved from Anglo-Saxon geard, based on the Indo-European root gher- that meant ‘to enclose, to grasp.’ Another descendant of that root was Old North French gart, which has passed into English as garden. The French cognate is jardin, which Spanish borrowed in Old French times as jardín.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Aug 12, 2018 @ 09:23:28

    The in/en/in/en relationship’s interesting. Another connection is ‘kindergarten,’ adopted into English from German. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the German word sometimes is rendered as ‘kindergarden’ in English, but a look at the Ngram viewer suggests that’s a pretty feeble “sometimes.”


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 12, 2018 @ 10:19:48

      A linguist once said something sarcastic to the effect that etymology is the science in which consonants count for little and vowels for nothing at all. The flip-flopping of the vowel in in ~ en is an example of that.

      The pronunciation of kindergarten that I grew up with (and still use) has the t sounding as a d, as if the word really were kindergarden.


      • shoreacres
        Aug 12, 2018 @ 10:35:59

        I’ve been sitting here pronouncing kindergarten, and it’s really odd. It seems to me that I pronounce that ‘t’ as halfway between a d and a t. It’s as though I’m heading for the t, but then I stop half way, and swallow the second half. Interesting.


        • Steve Schwartzman
          Aug 12, 2018 @ 10:47:15

          As you found in this case, there’s not always a clear distinction. As native speakers, we usually don’t hear the variations in a phoneme. For example, almost no native English speaker hears the difference in pronunciation between the t in tar and the t in star. We hear them both as the phoneme /t/.


  2. Playamart - Zeebra Designs
    Aug 12, 2018 @ 11:31:52

    Very interesting.. one, it’s a fun word! two, I have a new folder, ‘Not in my Backyard’ – with images of the deforestation and fires and chemical damage… three, this was still on the screen to send to you – and today’s post is a perfect spot to plant it!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 12, 2018 @ 11:59:28

      Thanks for that Spanish palindrome, which is also fun and which I don’t recall ever encountering till now. (We have to suspend our disbelief by ignoring the accent when reading from right to left.)

      I hope your new folder doesn’t fill up with sad examples of deforestation and fires and chemical damage. As you’ve heard me say, properties in the Austin area where I’ve taken nature photographs keep disappearing.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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