Accepted Paper:

Metaphor derivation in the popular language of leisure: the trajectory of 'vacillare'  


Benjamin Amaya (Mount Saint Vincent University/ Dalhousie University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents an analysis of metaphor derivations in the trajectory of the Latin verb <i>vacillare</i> and the contemporary popular uses of the Spanish <i>vacilar, vacilón, y vaciladera.</i>

Paper long abstract:

The Latin verb <i>vacillare</i>, which denotes a swaying, staggering walk, is the root of the Spanish verbs <i>vacilar</i>, the English <i>vacillate</i>, and the French <i>vaciller</i>. In the three recipient languages the original meaning of <i>vacillare</i> became, through metaphor, the condition of displaying an unsettled will or opinion that sways between different options. A second derivation took place in Caribbean, Mexican and Central American Spanish: through this vast area, <i>vacilar</i> is nowadays a popular term used to denote activities that are intently unserious, as in the teasing, joking, and double entendre that playfully sways meaning during informal conversation. Associated nouns for the verb are are <i>vacilón </i>and <i>vaciladera</i>: these terms can be used in a positive sense (as for expressing "this is fun!"), or scornfully (e.g., for accusing someone of not taking something seriously enough). In Cuba, a musical sub-genre, along with its swaying dance steps, became wildly popular in the 1950s: <i>el vacilón</i>.

A case of semantic derivation illustrates the role of metaphor in linguistic change, and its links to broad cultural practices. The work of Tim Lomas, within the perspective of positive psychology, consists of an inventory of "untranslatable" words related to well-being and pleasure in many languages. This paper proposes introducing a diachronic dimension to his approach by analyzing etymological roots and metaphor derivations in the history of popular speech.

Panel RM-LL03
Metaphor: transfer and the motion of language [LingAnthLing panel]