18 November 2009

Heaven only knows...

I am sure that most of us native English speakers who live in Mexico have asked someone a question at one time or another and have received a vague look, a shrug of the shoulders, and an answer, "¿Quién sabe?" (Who knows?). Other times you might ask the same question and receive the answer "Solo Dios Sabe" or Solo Dios lo sabe" (God only knows). Some people actually consider this reply as an example of needlesly using God's name in vain so it is probably better to translate this as "Heaven only knows" to stay on the safe side and be politically correct. There is also another way to say "Heaven only knows" in Spanish and it is "Sabrá Dios" which is in the future tense and literally translates as "God will know". For example, someone might ask a parent where their teenage son is and they will shrug their shoulders, look up at the sky and say "Sabrá Dios". Sometimes the phrase "sabrá Dios" is used in conjunction the relative pronoun "que" as in "que sabrá Dios" (that God will know). An example might be:

Mi hijo regresó de vacaciones cantando una canción que Dios sabrá donde la aprendió.
My son returned from vacation singing a song that Heaven only knows where he learned it.

This brings us to the question of why the verb "saber" (to know) is used in the future tense as in "Sabrá Dios" and not in the present as in "Dios sabe". Well I have a theory about that. Long before the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834) there was an inquisition called the Medieval Inquisition (1184–1230s). There was a major heresy in the Catholic Church at the time that was centered in the South of France and it was called called the Cathar Heresy. To rid itself of this heresy the Catholic Church initiated a 20-year military campaign called the Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade and it lasted from 1209 until 1229. During the first season the Crusaders captured the city of Béziers in Southwest France in the heart of Cathar territory but they had trouble rooting out the heretical Cathars from the general population. It was like the present day coalition troops trying to root out the Taliban from the general population of Afghanistan. Finally, in frustration, they took the problem to the Papal Legate, Arnaud-Amaury, who is reported to have said "Kill them all, God will know his own". In Spanish it would be "Matar a todos, Dios sabrá cuales son los suyos". In Latin it is "Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius" and in French "Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens".

Unfortunately this phrase "Kill them all, God will know his own" became a popular military slogan whenever an army was confronted with a problematic insurgency. The Spanish version, "Matar a todos, Dios sabrá cuales son los suyos", was no doubt used in the quest to rid the Moors from Spain, and also during the various escapades of the Conquistadors in the Americas. It has come down to us to this day in the form "Kill them all and let God sort them out" which became popular during the Vietnam War and among various mercenary groups in the 1970's and 80's. I think this subject would be a good one for a doctoral thesis but "Dios sabrá" if that will ever happen in my case because I haven't been to college yet and I'm getting a little long in the tooth. So...if anyone else wants to tackle this one please be my guest.


Gloria said...

I enjoyed this Bob. I have lived in Spain for the past three years and have found that people use Dios on a regular basis in everyday speak. In England we say it's taking the Lords name in vain but here, I don't think it is offensive.

Learnt a bit of history here that I had not known before. Thanks Bob!!

Rodney said...

Another nice post.

I love how you always blend in a bit of history with your posts.

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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.