language fun

Hoping, Waiting, Expecting…Wishing

My childhood friends will remember that every day, when my dad dropped me off for school, he would give me a word of the day.  He’d give me the word, the definition, and then some context.  Somehow, the same childhood friends who endured my relentless playing around with the word of the day (every day) are still my friends.  And Dad and I still kick around thoughts about words and language.  Recently, he emailed to ask:

So esperar  can be translated “expect”, as often quoted in English:
Locura es hacer lo mismo y esperar diferentes resultados. [Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.]
(from a Facebook post by Florizul [a very dear family friend from Costa Rica] a couple days ago)
Does Spanish have another word for “expect” in other contexts?


Esperar is your only choice for to expect and to hope.  Interestingly though, the word for expectation is expectativa and the word for hope is esperanza.  So why only one word for the verb and two for the noun?  I’ve been playing around in my mind with using hope and expect interchangeably in English.  What is the difference?  Expect seems more demanding while hope seems softer and sweeter.  Also don’t forget that esperar has a third meaning-to wait.  Just one word for hoping, expecting, and waiting.  Surely there is something there of cultural significance. What do you think?
Hope, wish, wait, await, expect, look forward to – English stole from all over to color the meaning of Latin sperare – to hope, to expect.
English “expect” is a transparent Anglicization of the Latin sperare, but it is generally reserved in English for the more demanding sense, as you put it. (There is also the less demanding sense in which you “expect” simply because of a high probability, rather than because you demand it – and there you have two disparate senses that we seem to manage with one word.)
From Germanic sources, hoffen/hopen/hopia carry the English connotation of hope, as if implicitly praying for an outcome. Old English hopian actually added wish, expect, look forward to (there’s an idiom).
Old English wyscan, connoting the more explicitly prayerful expectation of wish, has Scandinavian origins, though closer Germanic analogs connote to strive for, desire, be satisfied.
Wait is a theft from Old French waitier – to watch, which in Old English came to mean to “watch with hostile intent.” (Modern French guetter – to watch for.) Likewise, awaitier, prefixed from the Latin ad-, suggested “to lie in wait for.”
Which brings me to aguardar (to await, to wait for), a Spanish verb rooted in earlier German wardon, to pay attention.
Finally, ojalá wanders all over the hopeful map, adopted directly from the Moorish occupation, meaning literally “may God will it.”
And with that, I can only hope that you are waiting in breathless expectation for a separate e-mail expressing my further wishes for the season. I look forward to your response.
Love, Dad
I’m sure that many people (probably scholars) have written at length about this stuff.  Like, there are people who’ve probably written theses about this stuff, and our email exchange is super flawed, but it’s not like we’re not submitting an article to a scholarly journal or anything.  I just think it’s cool that this exchange was between me and my dad, a really cool guy who studied chemistry, built a career as a financial analyst, has a passion for service and social justice, and nurtured his only daughter’s passion for language.  I wanted to share it with you.  I know I speak for us both when I say that we’re hoping and wishing for y’all (Dad’s a Texan) to have a beautiful, peaceful holiday season.

Leave a Reply