Magia y Palabras


Full disclosure: I can only find this passage on Twitter. The account’s purported administrator writes that he may modify some passages to be fit for Twitter. To a neophyte at least, my inconclusive search for the source text seems appropriately Borgesian.

Actively learning a foreign language has destabilized a lot of my gut feelings about language. I can still recall some semiotic gymastics from college, and a few years of news consumption has attuned me to public figures’ expansions and modulations of English words, but nothing illustrates language’s arbitrariness quite like learning that lapiz and pencil actually mean the same thing.

With that in mind, I turn to this tweet from an account that seeks to spread Borges awareness:

A humble attempt at translation (no guarantees on accuracy, here):

A magic that was not within the words themselves, but in that which the words left to be divined, in that which one surmised behind these words.

The above translation hinges on two words that I don’t fully understand. The first one is adivinar (which corresponds to ‘divined’ in my translation), a multilayered word that can mean:

  1. predict the future or discover the hidden, by means of omens or spells
  2. discover something hidden through conjecture
  3. correctly solve a puzzle/riddle
  4. correctly guess something by luck
  5. distinguish hazily; distinguish from a distance

The verb “divine” seems horribly antiquated, perhaps because divination itself seems like an antiquated practice. In contemporary use, I’m fairly sure I have only seen it used to attack or discredit (“and what has he divined from the quarterly stats?”). Nonetheless, it’s the best word I can think of for the job.

The second tough word is traslucir. This one can mean:

  1. Surmise or infer something based on some antecedent or sign
  2. Said of an object: be translucent

In this novice’s judgement, inferances via traslucir seem more scientific than inferences via adivinar (traslucir has antecedents, for Pete’s sake!). Perhaps @BorgesJorgeL used these two terms as complements. The mystical adivinar and more logical traslucir combine to get at the weird, structured haziness of language comprehension.