- Posted by Stephen Whiteley
- On 12/01/2009
Spanish speakers often complain about the influx of English words into modern Spanish. It’s quite common for borrowed words to be gradually replaced by more native words, perhaps over a period of years. Here’s an example.
Computer processors don’t really contain any program code, so when they are powered up there isn’t much they can do. Minimal instructions tell them where to look for the beginnings of their operating system. This was originally called “boot-strapping”, on the analogy of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”, a sort of computer-science joke. This quickly got abbreviated to “boot” and is still widely used, especially in speech, even though Microsoft and others prefer “start”.
I remember using an early Apple II computer back in the late 1970s. In those days there was no consensus Spanish term for booting and so the English term was used with the verb ending -ear stuck onto it: bootear, pronounced “butear”. In fact the regular -ear verb form is the most productive for converting foreign verbs to Spanish, and for making verbs out of other parts of speech. Buzo (frogman) gives bucear (to dive) and buceo (diving); curioso (curious) gives curiosear (to be inquisitive).
After a while, bootear gave way to “botar”, which is related to English “boat” and its Spanish equivalente “bote” and means to “launch”. This was a good metaphor for getting a computer going and was used for some years. Finally, though, the word “arrancar” came to be used, which is used to start up a car, though its literal meaning is to pull hard or even violently. So I suppose it goes right back to the days when cars were started by pulling rather energetically on a starting handle.
Microsoft Windows translates “start” as “iniciar”, but Spaniards still say “arrancar”, just like English speakers won’t give up on “boot”.
So we have the sequence bootear, butear, botar, arrancar, iniciar. It’s a good example of how languages will often start off with an obvious borrowing from another language and then gradually evolve towards a more comfortable feeling native word.