05 October 2009

The velvet clouds...

I have a favorite song called "Si Nos Dejan" that was written and performed by a famous Guanajuato native named José Alfredo Jiménez. In this song I have a favorite word. The word is "terciopelo" (tehr-see-oh-PAY-loh) which means "velvet". In this song two lovers are seeking to build a love nest close to Heaven and they sing "Hacemos con las nubes terciopelo" or "We'll make it with the velvet clouds". I like singing the word "terciopleo" because it lends itself to great emotion in combination with the music and I can really belt it out. However, I always wondered why the word for velvet in Spanish is so different from the English word "velvet" or the French word "velours". Now I know why and I am going to share it with you.

It is because the word in English and Spanish has a completely different etymology. The English and French "velvet" and "velours" derive from the Old French "veluotte" which in turn comes from the Latin word "villus" which means "tuft or growth of hair". The Spanish word "terciopelo" is a descriptive word relating to the art of weaving. The weaving process for velvet involves weaving two pieces of fabric face to face and then cutting them apart. It is a bit complicated to explain so I won't go into the process in great detail. Nevertheless, in the normal fabric weaving process there is a group of threads called the "warp" that run lengthwise and a group of threads called the "woof" that run crosswise. In the velvet weaving process, two warps and one woof are used. The Spanish word for "woof" is "la trama". It comes from the verb "tramar" meaning "to weave". The trama in weaving terciopelo is called "el primer hilo" or "the first thread". Note that "hilo" is pronounced "EE-loh". The Spanish word for "woof" is "urdimbre" (uhr-DEEM-bray) and for weaving terciopelo it is known as "el hilo segundo" or "the second thread. The third thread which is also a warp thread and forms what we call the "pile" of the velvet in English is called the "tercer pelo" in Spanish or "third fur". The word "pelo" can refer hair on humans or fur on animals but it can also mean the "nap" or "pile" of a fabric or carpet. Finally from "tercer pelo" we get the word "tercioplelo". Amazing, isn't it? I wonder if Bobby Vinton knows that?


YayaOrchid said...

Bob, does the song say "hacemos con las nubes terciopleo" or "hacemos de las nubes terciopelo"? Either way, I understand it to mean "We'll make velvet with (con) or of(de) the clouds. I prefer the second way (of) "hacemos de las nubes terciopelo"...more romantic and poetic, as in reversing the verb and noun to sound more...complex. I've heard it sung both ways.

Yes, I know, I'm nitpicking....sorry.

YayaOrchid said...

And actually, my mistake, the words 'con' or 'de' are not verbs are they? Adverbs? LOL!

Bob Mrotek said...

You may be right. In any case, for me, you are always right:)

I think the original song used "con" and not "de". There are some people, however, who use "haremos" instead of "hacemos". Does that help?

Steve Cotton said...

Sir -- I believe you may have warped my woof.

Great post.

1st Mate said...

Where I always get stuck is placement of the adjective. Sometimes it's before the noun, sometimes it's after. For instance, why is it "el primer hilo" and not "el hilo primero?" Is there some rule that would help me understand? My maestra hasn't come up with one yet, she just instinctively knows which way it goes.

So they weave these two layers together and then cut them apart? I can see how they'd get even cutting with a machine, but I wonder how they did it by hand? No wonder velvet was tanto caro.

Bob Mrotek said...

Generally the words bueno, malo, primero, tercero, alguno, ninguno, and uno lose the "o" in front of singular masculine nouns :)

All I can say is "woof, woof" :)

Carlos Guerrero said...

This is just my interpretation of the lyrics but i believe what they are saying with the lyrics (in other words, not taking literally what they are saying, but rather using those words to create meaning that goes beyond words) is that in that little corner in the sky they will make "terciopelo" out of the clouds. In other words, they will be soooo close that it would be like weaving a cloud between them. I could be alone in this thought, but i do believe this is the point that the words are attempting to make. I am a native speaker and know a decent amount of vocabulary, but by no means do i believe im an authority in this matter. Im simply submitting my opinion. Hope it helps. 1 <3

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.