In his comment on my last post, Daniel (commenter extraordinaire, though he is always so kind as to comment in Spanish, so you may have missed it) reminded me that gross things are almost always more palatable when we’re talking about them in our second language. Whereas he could read about eye goop/gunk/crust/crud/etc. without any problem, the mere thought of the word lagaña turned his stomach. And vice versa. The word lagaña rolls off me like water off a duck’s back–I believe I may have even described it as “elegant”–but all of its English equivalents are pretty revolting. We just don’t have an ear for our second languages, and it’s unlikely we ever will.
Still, I wasn’t ever trying to say that lagaña sounds pretty or anything. I just like that there is one word for it, and that word doesn’t mean anything else. It’s to-the-point, non-graphic, and just seems more mature somehow.
Another example: cloaca
It means sewer. I don’t remember how I learned this word, but it was in Colombia, and for some reason I also associate this word with the Ninja Turtles, even though I have never been into them. Alcantarilla is a much more common word for sewer, but I remember cloaca catching my attention because . . . wait for it . . . I just found it kind of, well, pretty. It flows so nicely off the tongue, doesn’t it? That beautiful cl sound. It kind of has the same ring to it as my favorite word in English: colloquial. I imagine that any native Spanish speaker would tell me to get my head checked, but maybe that guy would turn around and tell me that sewer sounds like poetry to him. Let’s nobody judge.
I got to thinking about cloacas because yesterday I learned something profound– the word cloaca also exists in English, specifically in the field of zoology. Do you know what a cloaca is? Without going into too many unsavory details, a cloaca is the posterior hole that all amphibians, birds, reptiles, and egg-laying mammals have through which they do their business (both kinds) and have sexual relations. A lot of people find the idea of cloacae disgusting, but I can’t say that I do. I’m not squeamish. It’s just . . . different. And thus, interesting.
Anyway, isn’t it fascinating how the name of that orifice is the same as one of the words for sewer in Spanish? Apparently, the word comes from Latin, and means sewer. This was derived from cluō which meant cleanse. In fact, cloaca also means sewer or privy in English, but good luck finding a layperson who knows that. Another one of cloaca’s meanings in Latin was the stomach of a drunken or voracious woman. Good to know–I d0n’t know what I’d been calling it all these years.
Are there any words in Spanish that, despite their nasty meanings, you can’t help but be drawn to because you think they sound pretty? And, Spanish natives, are there any words in English you think are beautiful despite them meaning something really wretched? I can only think of cloaca at the moment, but I know I have many more. Also, vice versa! Beautiful, lovely things that you think have the most horrid names. I’m sure we could come up with quite a list.