Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.
A big part of my life in Spain was about filling out forms. When I arrived in 2005, I had to deal with residency issues, nationality issues and ID-issuing issues. It was always frustrating and occasionally traumatic but it did get to the point that I could enter all relevant information into the casillas [: little houses, i.e. empty fields] while half-asleep.
This was not the case the first time. The first time I tried to fill out a form, I had to ask the woman at the counter what my gender was because I wasn’t sure. The options were H or M and I could think of lots of possible words those letters represented.
My initial thought was hombre [man] and mujer [woman] but there was also hembra [female animal] and macho [male animal]. It turned out to be the former, but it felt wrong to mark myself as M when I’d been F my whole life (and therefore, distinctly not M). Languages shouldn’t be so confusing.
EN → woman — an adult human female. ORIGIN Old English wīfmon [wife], related to Dutch wijf and German Weib.
ES → mujer — Persona del sexo femenino. [Person of female gender.] ORIGIN Latin mulĭer, –ēris [mistress, wife, woman].
FR → femme — Être humain du sexe féminin. [Human being of female gender.] ORIGIN Latin femina [female, woman].
CAT → dona — Persona del sexe femení. [Person of the female gender.] ORIGIN Latin dŏmna, contraction of dŏmĭna [lady, wife, lover], feminine of dŏmĭnus [owner, lord, master].
English note: as a person who hopes never to be a wife, this bums me out.
Spanish note: “mistress” is the first definition! All I can say is, “!!!!!!!!!!!”
French note: Femme is a word that many Americans, myself included, regularly pronounce wrong. We say /fem/ in phrases like femme fatale, but in French it’s more /fam/. This is similar to a Catalan annoyance I have. Again, languages shouldn’t be so confusing.
Catalan note: following the previous note, the plural is dones, but /ˈdɔnəs/.
Today’s winner is Catalan since it isn’t overtly sexist and I like it best and I run things around here.