|...something sinful about fish|
On my recent visit to
Spain, aboard the bus from
to Orgiva, a well-dressed and impeccably coiffed lady sat down beside
me. She began a friendly conversation about where she was going for
the weekend, where she lived – look, just over there in that smart neighbourhood,
that very apartment building, a few tens of metres
from the sea. Malaga
And then, fifteen minutes further into our journey, she pointed out of the window and began to talk about sin.
Now this was a surprising turn, given the run-of-the-mill nature of everything thus far. Why the sudden lurch into sin? What would come next? A scouring stare? A toe-curling confession? I coughed and played for time. She pointed again towards the village we were passing through, with its whitewashed houses clustering around the shore.
And then I got it. Fish. She was talking about fish.
The Spanish word for fish is pescado. But drop the “s” – and you are left with pecado, meaning "sin".
But why on earth would anyone want to drop the “s” in the first place? Indeed. This is the constant cry as you travel around Andalucia and come to realise that “s” has been hounded to the verge of extinction. The southern Spaniards have charmingly seen fit to extract “s”s from the middle and ends of their words with the diligence of dentists.
So pescado is pronounced pecado. Buenos días becomes bueno día. Despues (meaning “after”) becomes de-pue. And so on.
(To give you a hint of what it’s like trying to keep abreast of things during a haemorrhage of this vital consonant, try saying the following sentence, as quickly as you can, without any of the "s"s: “Let’s eat goose this Christmas”. And see if anyone can understand you.)
Of course, context becomes vital. It was perhaps idiotic to be travelling through a fishing village assuming my bus companion was prattling on about sin, when clearly the nets and boats should have given the game away. But it is intriguing how dangerously close are sin and fish in a couple of other languages. An Italian fisherman, pescatore, could easily turn, with an injudicious tongue slip, into a sinner, peccatore. A Frenchman who goes fishing, pêcher, is homophonically embracing sin, péché. And, depending on what blots are on his conscience, he may not automatically infer the reel and rod should you waltz up to him and ask bluntly: “Vous êtes pêcheur?”
But just think of the whole new raft of possible images:
a sin market
a shoal of sin
a haul of sin
a sinning net
a sin laid out to dry
Fish. Sin. Now irrevocably entwined.