Whose hair is that on your head? Whose throbbing molar is making you suffer? Whose aching back has put you out of commission for the weekend? Mastering a new language involves far more than memorizing vocabulary and verb conjugations. It also means adapting to unexpected combinations of words and ideas that can put some very basic notions of how the world works to the test. For example, what is uniquely yours and what is not.
In contrast to my last post (Ya mi niña, Who do YOU belong to? ), which pondered certain possessive idiosyncrasies of spoken Spanish (mi niña, mi reina, mi mamá), today I flip to the polar extreme and wonder why it is that Spanish speakers seem to disown body parts, which could not possibly be more uniquely personal.
For example, want to get your hair cut? Go ahead and tell someone “Necesito cortar mi pelo” (I need to cut my hair)… chuckle, chortle, ha-ha-ha… no you don’t… what you need to say is: “Necesito cortarme el pelo,” or literally: “I need to cut me the hair” (of course the better translation would be “I need to get the hair cut”)… the hair… not my hair… just the hair. I guess it’s just obvious that you wouldn’t be bothering with cutting the hair on anyone else’s head, so specification is just not required.
The same goes with aches and pains. Have a headache? “Me duele la cabeza” (It hurts me the head” or, “the head hurts me”) to which I always want to respond: WHAT head hurts you? But Spanish speakers are a step ahead of me because they know that unless you’re whacking noggins up against someone else’s (it makes me think of those Mexican wrestlers in gaudy face masks), it’s obviously the head attached to “the neck” (which is assumedly also your own) that hurts you.
So when it comes to aches and pains—it’s always THE body part that hurts you, not YOUR body part:
Me duele el oído (the ear hurts me / my ear hurts / I have an ear ache)
Me duele la garganta (the throat hurts me / my throat hurts / I have a sore throat)
Me duele el estómago (the stomach hurts me / my stomach hurts / I have a stomach ache)
Me duele la espalda (the back hurts me / my back hurts / I have a backache)
You get the picture… (or should that be—you get my picture??)
Cachando Chile readers know I’m stubborn about certain things, and I don’t give up without a fight… or without at least trying to convince all the Spanish speakers I know that the parts attached to my body really ARE mine, but alas, to no avail. I know when to surrender, give in, take 2 aspirin and blog about it in the morning… but guess what body part is hurting me now?
I’m sure there are other “disassociated body part” language examples beyond haircuts, aches, and pains that I am missing here… can you think of any?