mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

A zarzuela is a blackberry.

Zarzuela is the name of a small river north of Madrid where there are a lot of blackberry brambles.

Zarzuela Palace, the residence of the royal family of Spain, is located in that area. Originally a hunting lodge built for King Felipe IV in the early 1600s, it was later expanded into a palace.

Starting in the 1600s, Spanish playwrights created a kind of musical theater popular with the royal family. Because they were originally performed at the royal palace, they were called zarzuelas.

These musicals became all the rage in the mid-1800s, and Zarzuela Theater in central Madrid was inaugurated in 1856 to represent them. They were often comedies reflecting working-class Madrid of the day. Since then, the genre has continued to develop and is currently enjoying a revival.

“La verbena de la paloma,” is a classic Madrid zarzuela written by Ricardo de la Vega and Tomás Bretón, first performed in 1894. It is set in the La Paloma Fiesta held every August in Madrid, and the zarzuela has now become part of the fiesta celebrations. You can see a 1995 production of it here:

There is also a recipe from Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain, called seafood zarzuela, a mixture of fish and shellfish with sauce named after the musical form, which over the years has become a Catalan lyric theater distinct from the Madrid variety.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Gredos1)
The Spanish word for “mustache” is bigote. The English word for “a person intolerant of those of different religions, race, or politics” is bigot. Obviously there’s some sort of relationship between the two words.

In 1483, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V arrived in Spain with German-speaking Swiss Guards. They were noted for their impressive mustaches and their tendency to say “bei Got!” (“By God!”). Spaniards began to use bigot first as a name for them and later for their memorable upper-lip hair. The word eventually became Hispanicized into bigote, pronounced “bee-GO-tay.”

The English word is about a century younger. The French Beguines, a Catholic lay sisterhood, also had a tendency to say “by God,” but they were noted for their excessive and hypocritical devotion. The word bigot was coined in French with the sense of a foolishly obstinate or opinionated person. The world crossed the Channel and became part of English. Eventually the stress came to fall on the first syllable and the opinion came to be centered on intolerance.

When words migrate from one language to another, they don’t always arrive safely.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (NightFallsOnEurope)
I saw the movie Gravity in “versión original,” which in Spain means in the original language with Spanish subtitles. One subtitle taught an interesting lesson in translation. When Matt asks Ryan where she lives, “Where do you pitch your tent?” the Spanish subtitle read, “Where do you keep your toothbrush?” It was a good idiomatic translation. In Spanish, the word for tent is also the word for store, a usage dating back to medieval times when shopping was done at weekly or annual fairs where itinerant merchants pitched their tents. If that sentence had been translated literally, Matt would have asked her where her store was. So an alternative had to be found, and this sounded just as jocular in Spanish as in the original English.

Translation isn’t always so easy. Here in Spain, if something is very successful, it “leaves by the big gate.” This is a reference to bullfighting, where a matador who has a very successful fight is carried out of the main gate of the bullring on the shoulders of his crew, surrounded by cheering fans. You could translate it as “hits a home run,” but Spaniards don’t play baseball. You could just say “very successful,” but the verve of the expression gets lost in translation.

Similarly, there’s an expression, “They blamed him for everything. He even killed Manolete.” Again, this is a bullfighting reference. Manolete (1917-1947) is generally considered the greatest bullfighter ever. He was killed in the ring by a bull named Islero. To blame someone for Manolete’s death is a way of saying that the person is the culmination of all evil. I can’t think of any translation that would not be another lesson in loss.

I call my LiveJournal blog “Mount Oregano.” That comes from the Spanish saying, “No todo el monte es orégano.” “The mountain isn’t all oregano.” That means that any path up a mountain – that is, any task you undertake – won’t be completely easy and agreeable or even fragrant. Except that monte doesn’t exclusively mean mount or mountain. It can also mean uncultivated land covered with trees, thickets, or scrub. Or it can mean hills, or even the countryside in general – and in some of these senses, the saying makes more sense. Still, I’m sticking with “Mount” because “Scrubland Oregano” sounds like a weak title for a blog to me. “Oregano Hills” sounds okay but seems too far from the original, which can be a genuine concern in translation. This is a judgement call, however, and your opinion is as valid as mine.

One test for a translation is whether it both means the same as the original and has the same effect on the reader: If it had been expressed originally in the target language, how would it have been said? Sometimes this is a test with many right answers, but none of them are perfect.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website:
mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)
Foxes are sly. Hornets are mad. They are in English, at least, but in Spanish, animals can have different characteristics:

besugo: red bream. Also an idiot.

lince: lynx. Also someone especially shrewd or sharp-witted.

zorro: male fox. Also a sly or crafty person.

zorra: female fox. Also a whore.

avispado, avispada: wasp-like. Sharp or bright, as in person who has wised up.

pulpo en un garaje: octopus in a garage. To be lost or disoriented about something.

borrico, borrica: donkey. Also a really stupid person, especially a dumb student.

canguro: kangaroo. Also a babysitter.

— Sue Burke

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