All the best words and phrases in Spanish begin with the letter “A”.
There’s ¡Auxilio!, the over-dramatic scream for help that can be found in every telenovela. And while any high school Spanish student can tell you that ayuda is the more common word for “help”, auxilio is special because it means that help is already on the way, and whoever it is that is coming is definitely going to have sex with the heroine who is figuratively (or literally) tied to the train tracks. That is, if they haven’t already. It’s separate from the quotidian, “Can you help me reach the top shelf?” It’s more urgent and vulnerable and intimate.
Then there’s aunque me lo ruegues, which translates to “even if you beg me”. It’s taking a firm stance. A power trip that shows no mercy. A phrase following whatever it is that is being denied, rejected, or refused. Something clearly important enough to be worth begging for.
There are multiple ways to “find something out” in Spanish.
There’s enterarse which comes from the word entero, meaning whole or entire. A piece of surprise information, something that was missing, brought to you by an outside source, allowing you to see the full picture. Cerciorarse shares a root with certeza and certidumbre, certainty. It’s to assure, to affirm, to make sure. It’s double checking the doorknob. Something you already know but need to verify in order to eliminate that last shred of doubt.
But superior to both of these, in my opinion, is averiguar (I told you all the best words begin with “A”). My dictionary will tell you it means to inquire, to investigate, to find out, which like most translations, is imperfect. It is so much more than that. It’s the most active of the three verbs – a truth, la verdad, that you consciously seek out. Something you’re aware is missing, a question you don’t already have the answer to, but decide to look for anyway. Averiguar is the ugly duckling who goes searching for his true origin. It requires you to acknowledge your own ignorance before receiving the knowledge and wisdom you desire.
There is work involved, there is searching, before arriving at that destination. There is anhelo, longing and yearning. Like averiguar, to yearn for something requires an awareness. A recognizable void. Maybe like the duckling, it is something we are missing, but have never known ourselves, or perhaps the void is a reminder of something very real that used to inhabit that space. It is not antojo, a whim or fancy, a passing caprice or craving, anhelo stays with us. It’s pain can lessen, from sharp flashes to a dull ache, but it’s there for a reason. To tell us there is something we need. To persistently remind us, even if we try to ignore it.
Anhelo starts out as a whispered command, ¡Atrévete! – planting the seed of an idea, pushing us towards whatever it is that we need, and over time building to a repetitive cheer, “Dare yourself to!”. It challenges us at the same time it encourages us. Do we have what it takes? There’s only ever one way to find out. It’s a risk that corresponds to the reward we desire, the void we are looking to fill. Like the duckling, el anhelo nos atreve a averiguar – longing dares us to seek out the answer.
Seeking requires us to look around. To see what is out there. To turn from the void and acknowledge the existence of everything that is. One of my favorite words in Spanish has always been aprovecharse, to take advantage, to make the most of.
It is not a rally for Carpe Diem, a phrase I’ve always resented, one that brings to mind Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, often recognized by its first line, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”. Herrick uses the concept of Carpe Diem to persuade the virgins to have sex now, inferring that the period of time they will be young and desirable is short, and that if they wait too long, no one else will want them. It’s exploitative, only focusing on physical beauty, and Herrick is unaware of the fact that contrary to men, women’s libidos increase with age. He says nothing of a woman’s soul, or alma, or it’s compound phrase, almas gemelas, kindred spirits. In Herrick’s words, a woman is only a piece of meat which must be eaten before it spoils.
Aprovecharse is not this kind of manipulative “fomo”. It’s not about wanting something only because you won’t be able to have it later. It’s about seeing everything that is within reach, what is available and accessible now, in this moment, and enjoying and making use of it. The phrase “Buen provecho” is spoken to those about to eat, as a declaration for them to enjoy the meal. It’s not the first bite of a forbidden apple, or the last meal of a condemned prisoner, but a meal meant to be savored nonetheless, simply because it is the one right in front of us.
I’ve always struggled with the fact that this favorite word bears such a negative connotation as well. Most of all when it’s brought to an interpersonal scenario. To take advantage of someone. I won’t attempt to tackle the concept on a grand scale, systematic oppression is a very real issue our society is facing in its many shapes and forms, but on an individual level, it boils down to expectations. When we are taken advantage of, we expect to receive something in return, maybe for our work, our attention, our abilities or resources, and do not. In the case of monetary compensation or fraud, we can pursue legal recourse, but in other situations we are left with two options: either stop giving entirely or learn to give without asking for anything in return.
Lessons like these are still a way to aprovecharse. When we find ourselves in a negative situation, most of the time unexpectedly, but choose to seek out a lesson, when we actively search for it, to averiguar first-hand, we make the most of it. And sometimes there is no lesson we can neatly tie up in a bow; sometimes it’s just a sliver of truth we become acquainted with ourselves.
Aprovecharse is to take it all in, the good and the bad, as we keep moving towards our goal, what we want to averiguar, what we feel anhelo for. We do not lose sight of that goal by living in the moment, they’re not mutually exclusive. It is not a shift in focus, but rather a dual-focus we continuously maintain. When we savor every step of the journey at the same time we look forward to the destination we are able to learn from and appreciate the experience while enjoying what it is to have something to aspire to.
This balance between having something to work for and finding use for everything around us brings us a feeling of agradecimiento, gratitude and thankfulness that leaves us fulfilled. It’s the duckling that goes looking for his family, but doesn’t forget to make friends along the way, finding an entirely new sense of belonging in and of itself. It’s having something we want to say, a point we want to make, while still appreciating all the different words that get us there exactly for everything they are and understanding what makes them unique.
So, aprovéchate güey – make the most of it asshole.