Utilis - NotMonday, May 12, 2014
Insomnia provides me with plenty of time to reflect on things in the solitude of my bed as my wife Rosemary sleeps beside me. Last night I was doing what I have been doing for some years. This is to compare words in the two languages I speak, English and Spanish; and how their definitions, while the same,can still have a meaning that affects me differently if I think of it in one or the other language.
In English we have useful, of use, and useless. Connected to it is a similar word utility which comes from the Latin root utilis.
It seems that in English utility is a word used for things. We have those necessary utilities, gas, electricity and water. And we might ask, “What is the utility of that object?”
In Spanish the separation between those two words is almost nonexistent even though we can use usar (to use) and utilizar (to use) with no difference.
A person can be útil or inútil and so can animals, plants and objects.
And útil also defines school supplies. Before your first day of school you must gather or buy your útiles. Kitchen appliances are utilidades de cocina.
As I thought about this last night it occurred to me that the idea that a person can be useful or not is much more shocking and damning in Spanish. I am an inútil. Age makes us all, little by little be pushed to the edge of the circle and at some point we fall off into the abyss very much as those who warned Columbus not to go West in his three caravels.
A camera of old, those that I own have a connection called a PC connection. This outlet in most non digital cameras (and in high end digital ones) allows the photographer to connect a wire (which usually has on the other end a two prong connection similar to the one which you use to mate a lamp, or radio to the wall. These PC chords were notoriously unreliable and I always carried more than one with my equipment. Sooner or later the chord’s tip would wear out (deform) and when you connected it to the camera, somehow the flash would not be triggered.
In my scan here you will note the curious brass device on the top left. This handy tool makes the tip of the PC chord round and tight. It is a useful tool that would be useless to the new generation of photographers. I am a walking example, an inútil. Soy un inútil
That last sentence is shocking because of its brevity. In English it would be I am a useless person.