As writers, our craft revolves around words. The ones we choose, the ways we place them, and what do they reflect. Communication shapes our perspective and language offer us the opportunity to build the world around us. And, throughout the globe, there are hundreds if not thousands of words that are unique to one language. I believe that it is useful to know new concepts and cultures through words, so here are two of my favorite words in Spanish that do not have a precise English translation.
This is a common yet powerful short phrase. Literally, it can be translated to “I want you”, but this is not what it truly means in most contexts. It is important to remember that the etymology of the verb “querer” (to want), is derived from Latin quaerere, which means “to search”, “to inquire” or “to ask” for. However, though they are related, none of these terms hold the meaning of saying “te quiero”.
The phrase stands right between an “I like you” and an “I love you”. There are many aspects of this that I believe are beautiful. We can use it both platonically and romantically with the same frequency. We can use it with family, friends, and partners, but a “te quiero” will retain its same, full value every time. And, even though it stands in the middle ground, it is still a powerful emotion. I believe that having such a phrase also gives a new perspective to the words “I love you”. It makes such words much more rooted and could change people’s point of view when deciding to say “I love you”. It might make them ask themselves if they truly mean what they say.
“Te quiero” is about people expressing admiration, connection and sharing that they want what is best for others.
This word comes from the Arabic expression لَوْ شَاءَ اللّٰ (if God would want). However, I will focus on its meaning in Spanish, as the complete meaning of the Arabic phrase is different.
We can define this word as a strong desire for something to happen, even if the odds are low. Ojalá is often translated to “I wish” or “I hope”, but these are not precise translations. Technically speaking, ojalá is an interjection, not a verb. It can also be considered a doubt adverb, which means it expresses a possibility or insecurity about a topic. Plus, it can be used on its own, without a subject. For example, if someone asks me if I will finish writing my book this year, I could answer “¡ojalá!” (I’m currently starting my first draft).
Note: When followed by a “que” (that), we can also use this word in a clause. Using the same example: “Ojalá que termine de escribir mi libro,” in which case the clause would include I finish writing my book.
Probably the most accurate translation would be “hopefully”, but I personally believe that this Spanish word holds much more meaning. Ojalá is covered in longing, in an aspiration to defy opposition and go forward despite the odds. One of my favorite examples of how we use this word is the song “Ojalá”, by Silvio Rodriguez. It expresses the singer’s yearning to forget a first love that has marked him. Even if he knows that this mark will probably remain with him forever.
If you know Spanish, do you agree with my definition of these terms? What are some of your favorite “untranslatable” words in any language? Feel free to share them with us in the comments.
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.
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