Garbiñe Muguruza and the Spanish language

From “Hispanic Venezuelan or Venezuelan Hispanic?” by Alex Grijelmo, published in El Pais.

Our inferiority complex disappears if we have to share our name of origin with someone else.

Garbiñe Muguruza was born to a Spanish father and Venezuelan mother.  A year ago, she shone at Roland Garros, and with that began a debate about the sporting nationality that she adopted when she began to participate in Fed Cup (the women’s version of Davis Cup), or, later on, in the Olympics.  But this called attention to the fact that, at the time, the Spanish media referred to her as the “Hispanic Venezuelan” tennis player, and rarely “Venezuelan Hispanic” or “Venezuelan Spanish.”  Now, it is still more “Hispanic Venezuelan”—but it’s her decision, not ours.

Good education has led to everyday language placing the speaker at the end of any list, and because of this we say “my sister and I” and not “I and my sister.” When elementary school students make this error of inverting the terms, the teacher often gives them a useful phrase for the situation: “The donkey in front so that it doesn’t frighten.”

We still carry a certain inferiority complex in many areas (that’s why there are so many Anglicisms), but such prejudice is smashed to smithereens if we should share our name of origin with someone: here we put the first name of origin first, so that we don’t get frightened.  The dictionary itself does it when it defines the term “Hispanic” and details two examples of its association with other terms: “Hispanófilo, Hispanic American.”  In the second example, we understand “Hispanic” relates more to language than nationality; but in the first, the option “filohispano” would have fit.  In fact, the term “filo” appears in the dictionary in two places, where one can put in its place (in front or behind): “Filosoviético, anglófilo.”  However, “Hispanic” only appears in front.

We follow this path when describing a meeting between political leaders of Spain and of any other country (“Hispanic French summit” and not “French Hispanic summit”), or when we achieve something with others (“Hispanic Argentine movie,” as it happened in the sensational Relatos salvajes, and not “Argentine Spanish” or “Argentine Hispanic”).

Sometimes the genius of the language forces us, with the slowness and force of a gigantic panda, to order the compositional elements of a word as it desires.  For example, we can express the idea of “the end of a life” through the Spanish element of “kill” or with the Latin “cease” (which comes from caedere, “to kill”).  In the Spanish form, the verb will always go before, while the classic heritage makes us put the Latin element behind, so that there are synonyms and not: “matarratas”, but “raticida”; “matamoscas”, but “insecticida”; “matahombres”, but “homicida.”  And the same altercation between “matacucarachas” and “regicida”, “matahambre” and “genocida”, “matagigantes” and “parricida”, “matasanos” and “herbicida”…

But together with the strictness that stems from the history of the language, the genius of  language does allow certain flexibility with “Hispanic” and “Spanish.” Because of this, we should have sometimes have the courtesy, above all in official language, to invert the terms.  In this way, we would say “Festival of Argentine-Spanish Psychology.”  Because, by the way, in certain cases it’s worth recognizing that the other takes precedence.


Translated by Jared Pine.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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