Windows and Chill

How a small amount of Spanish can greatly improve your life

This morning I ate breakfast. And it wasn't easy.

Before me sat one of the most perplexing issues I was destined to face. Now I’m quite adept at eating; so the conjunction of empty, growling stomach, a shiny fork and freshly scrambled eggs (they were fleeing the authorities) aroused no such questions in me.

Eggs on fork. Fork in mouth. Smile on face.

However, yonder lay the superlative peculiarity. It was a box. Inside the box was contained some sort of thin, plastic, window-covering device for preventing scratches and the sort. Handy little doohickies. Yet, still no problems for this guy.

And then I read the box. I nearly recoiled in amazement. In large letters on the side of the box read ‘Película de Ventana.’ Now I’m no Spanish ivory-tower dweller, yet I can translate a few things. In the words with which English-speakers vociferate: ‘Window Film’

Now for the uncritical breakfast consumer no problems arise. Yet my brain never ceases to find philosophy in the mundane so my mind immediately objected (notice how I just equivocated ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ - shots fired Descartes!).

Let’s start with English. In English, ‘film’ has at least two senses. I can watch both, although one is more exciting. And I can apply both to windows, although one is more appropriate. Films are movies. And films are adhered adhesives.

Linguistically this phenomenon is called polysemy. ‘Poly-‘ as in hordes and hordes, and ‘semy’ of the same root from which we get ‘semantics.’ Words have polysemy when they have multiple meanings. Most words have some sort of polysemy. For example, ‘word’ is both a communicative vehicle and a I'm-very-clearly-not-cool greeting.

Polysemy makes translating interesting.

In Spanish ‘película’ means ‘film’ in the sense of a movie. I’m going to see a película tonight. So a reverse translation of our perplexing container results in ‘Window Movie’ or ‘Movie Window’ (depending on whether the genetival relationship is objective or subjective). Clearly the translator took only the gloss ‘film’ into consideration and translated ‘película’ not thinking of the varying meanings. This is the problem of learning vocabulary without any context.

Rather than cancelling our translation friends let’s look at the plate of eggs as half full (I haven’t done much eating with all this thinking). Perhaps they were pleading with us to reorient our mundane use of windows. "Look at you simpletons merely using your windows for 'great natural light'. Windows are glorious little creatures! Don’t protect your windows with adhesive coverings. Rather, protect your happiness with Movie Windows. Look outside! The plot is thickening!"

My bedroom just became a movie theater. Talk about value appreciation.

So, windows are movies. Watch your windows. Polysemy told me so.

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