a wandering woman writes

Saturday, April 15, 2006

La palabra más bella

A quick stop at Expatica tipped me off to a contest sponsored by the Escuela de Escritores to find the most beautiful word in the Spanish language.

Spanish speaking "notables" have been invited to submit their nominations, along with the general public. All submissions, notable or not, must include a short note defending the intrinsic beauty of the chosen word. I've confessed more than once to being madly in love with the Spanish language; the contest entries remind me how much I also love the way Spanish speakers talk about their native language, the way they identify with, define and explain words, with a three dimensional tenderness I don't often find in English speakers.

I find it amusing to see how people chose their words. Some entries propose words with beautiful meanings: madre, amor, amante. The politicians were big on meaning, and acted like....well..... politicians as they prepared their entries. Zapatero, the president of the Spanish government, chose generosidad, because "it makes us more human". Rajoy, the opposition leader, chose palabra (word), because a man's word is his most important asset, according to Mr. Rajoy. Other political figures chose verdad, and libertad, and república. Words as ideas.

Writers, on the other hand, and many of the non-notable entrants, wrote about the feel of the word, the acrobatic demands on the tongue, the percussive explosion as the word leaves the mouth. My favorite non-notable entry is the following:


(A berberecho is a tiny, tasty litle clam I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago in a Salamanca pulpería. I can highly recommend both the word and the ración.)

Berberecho. Said the Madrileño who nominated it: "It has a CH and 2 B's. What more do you want?"

My kind of wordsmith.

I haven't voted yet, although most of my favorite Spanish words do already appear on the ballot:

azahar orange blossom
albahaca basil. Just say it, it's gorgeous.
libélula firefly
almohada pillow, another Arab-derived beauty

I've long loved calabacín , as well, and berenjena. Zucchini and eggplant, in English, but oh! how the sound of them in Spanish. It's enough to make you eat your vegetables.

Cucuruchu is another favorite, a delightful word I kicked myself for not sharing with you here. Happily, I've been given a second chance. It means?

Ice cream cone.

Ojalá is high on my list, though I am never happy with translations. "If God wills", shall we say, Spaniards? Another Arab-born Spanish beauty.

And my favorite Spanish word? It's already there, and I suspect in the end it'll earn my vote. Perspicaz. It means clever, astute, shrewdly intelligent. Perspicaz. A beautiful Spanish mouthful.

What's your favorite word? In Spanish? Or any language?

Postscript: Lila Downs, the Mexican singer/artist, wrote one of my favorite entries, nominating the word camino (road, path, route). Her reason?

Porque es donde siempre he andado y me hace pensar en tomarlo sin tener que imaginar dónde me lleve, y es mi guía para el presente.

Because it is where I have always walked (been, existed, in a sense), and it makes me think about taking it without having to imagine where it might carry me. It is my guide for the present.

Ah, a wandering word. I knew I liked Lila Downs.



  • My favorite word...?

    for its meaning

    for its connotation to me

    music (said slowly and drawn out across the u - muuuuusic)
    can't explain this one

    By Blogger Kate Winner, at 6:30 PM  

  • Oh, I always like your choices when I ask you these things, Kate. Love muuuuuusic...

    Funny thing, I had to make a list of favorite words for a writing class a few months back, and now that I went back to look at it, after writing this post, it made me laugh. No surprises, I thought I was picking them for sound, but hmmm, meander topped the list, followed by wend, and bliss..

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 6:46 PM  

  • Yes, caminante (rather than camino) is one of my favourites too, and I forgot to mention "libellule" in French when I tried to list mine: http://qaminante.blogspot.com/2006/03/favourite-words.html

    By Blogger qaminante, at 9:55 PM  

  • I voted for 'libertad'. I like both the sound and the meaning behind... not to mention the fact that it includes one of the letters that usually drives crazy to all foreigners trying to learn Spanish... why 'b' and not 'v', if they're pronnounced the same?

    By Anonymous Cristina, at 2:58 AM  

  • Qaminante, I am on my way to check out your list.....

    Cristina, I like the way Libertad sounds, too, apart from its meaning. But you know now once we conquer the b/v things, we stumble over the nuances like -- the "d" at the end of Libertad.....Say it...libertadth--that thud at the end is what makes it a beautiful sounding word I think.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 10:17 AM  

  • I always love the way bella luna rolls out whenever I see a full moon. Not English, or Spanish, but it's a favorite just the same.

    other faves...

    monkey butt (okay, just a family fave)

    By Blogger Laura Young, at 1:48 AM  

  • Laura, you'd fit right in with my RI friends, if you like wicked, but you'll have to learn to say it New England style: "wickit" ....and use it every other word. "That was wickit cool" "I was wickit late", etc...you get the idea.

    Firefly seems to have won the poll here, in 3 languages!

    I don't know what I was thiking limiting us to Spanish and English, so I've changed the post, in case anybody wanders by with a beautiful word in another language...

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 8:55 AM  

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