or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, January 18, 2010

Number Theory

I don't know if you have to be outside of a certain age group to think a nap is a good idea (say, six and fifty), but sometimes it's just what you need to recharge the batteries, or get rid of a headache. The Spanish have the right idea: get out of the midday sun, sleep off lunch, then get back to work. They even gave it a name: siesta.

I don't know enough Spanish to know exactly where the word "siesta" comes from, but I was lying in bed the other night thinking about it, and it seemed to me that it must be related to "six" somehow. It sounds sort of like "Sistine", our translation of Italian "sistino", which is an adjective referring to Pope Sixtus, after whom the chapel was named, and "Sixtus" definitely comes from Latin "sex", the progenitor of "six". All the big European languages have approximately the same word for "six": in addition to the English, there's German "sechs", to which it is obviously related, and French "six", pronounced "seese", Italian "sei" and Spanish "seis".

So if "siesta" is derived from "six", then the question naturally poses itself: six what? That was the thing I couldn't figure out. The answer is ridiculously simple: six hours after sun-up, give or take, is when the sun is highest in the sky, so that's when you take your nap.


A nap is otherwise known as forty winks. Why forty? Why winks?

According to Wikipedia, and I have no reason to doubt their sensible etymology, a wink is the shortest possible sleep--"didn't sleep [even so much as] a wink"--and forty is "an indefinite term for a large number that has almost sacred or magical quality", as attested to by its various uses in the Bible.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as I doubted the origins of siesta, it would appear you are right.

A pretty good resource for this kind of thing is the online dictionary for Real Academia EspaƱola, which has for the most part, been a much more successful venture than its French counterpart. You'll most likely want to use the top search box on the page.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010 2:16:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I know, huh? I checked four sources to make sure that "siesta" actually did come from where I thought it did, and it did. If the OED says it's so, it's probably so.

Thanks for the link to the Spanish dictionary: it will come in handy. I know no Spanish, but I'd like to think I'm smart enough to make use of it anyway; just use Google Translate (with a grain of salt) and some intuition, plus lots of cross-checking.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:48:00 AM  

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