I studied Spanish in school and one day I was trying to construct the correct sentence for ‘I play the guitar’. I said ‘Yo juego la guitarra’. Juego is the Spanish for ‘I play’ but is not the right verb to use in this context. I was corrected and told that just because in English we use play to mean playing a game as well as playing a musical instrument doesn’t mean the Spanish do too. I learned the verb ‘tocar’ as meaning to play a musical instrument and never looked back.
Today I discovered that ‘tocar’ actually has different roots. Rather than being a verb specifically for playing a musical instruments it is more literally translated as meaning ‘to touch’. This gives the act of playing an instrument very different, poetic flavours in these two separate languages. In English the use of ‘play’ imbues the act of playing a musical instrument with a sense of whimsy and fun. It is child-like, interactive, joyful and gleeful. The use of ‘touch’ in Spanish gives playing a musical instrument a very different quality. It is tactile and sensual. Touch brings with it a sense of physicality. I find it fascinating that two different languages can have such different flavours for the same thing. They both describe the same act, and probably these sub-textual definitions get forgotten as these words have such common usage. Probably without learning a little Spanish I would never have considered the double use of ‘play’ and never had the pleasure of discovering another poetic way of considering the act of playing the guitar.
It reminded me of a group of jugglers I met who insisted that you must never practice juggling, only ever play, which I think is a lovely idea. It also reminds me that jugglers have the best of all the collective nouns that I have ever heard. A neverthriving.
Aren’t words brilliant?