August 28, 2003
More Gubernatorial Etymologies

Since I wrote about the etymology of 'Schwarzenegger' three weeks ago, perhaps it's time to look at some of the other candidates:

  1. Simon is easy. It's a good Biblical name, the first Pope's name before he was given the nickname Peter ('Rocky'), but also a common Greek name meaning "snub-nosed", etymologically related to 'simian'. Not much help in judging Simon the candidate, even if he were still in the race.
  2. I may be wrong -- my Oxford Superlex dictionary doesn't help here -- but I believe German 'Roth' means the same as 'Rot': "red". If so, 'Ueberroth' or 'Überroth' would mean "super-red" or "excessively red" -- a better name for a raving hardcore Marxist than the bland moderate who actually possesses it. Or maybe it would just be German for 'Carrot Top'.
  3. Best of all is Bustamante. I'm no expert, but the second part certainly looks as if it comes from 'amante', which is either a noun meaning "lover" or an adjective meaning "loving": the latter came first. As for the first half, the only Spanish word beginning with 'bust-' is 'busto', which means "bust". Like the English word, it can refer either to a statue missing all the parts below the shoulders, or to a woman's breasts taken as a singular object. (It does not mean 'bust' as in 'break' or the opposite of 'boom'. A 'busto parlante' is what English-speakers call a talking head.) The Oxford Superlex provides only one illustrative sentence: "¿cuánto mide de busto? what size (bust) are you?, what’s your bust size?" So it looks as if Bustamante should mean something like Bustlover or (more colloquially) either Artlover or Hooterman, depending on what kind of bust is involved. On the other hand, Spanish does not usually stick nouns together like this. English and German can compound two nouns to make a third, but Spanish would not normally make a word like 'bust-lover', rather a phrase like 'lover of bust(s)', "amante del busto" or "amante de los bustos", depending on the number of busts loved.

That last proviso reminds me of an amusing translation error from twenty years ago. One battle in the war over the Falkland Islands was fought at a place called Goose Green. As I recall, the much-lamented magazine Encounter reported that every Spanish-language newspaper in the world except one mistranslated this as 'Ganso Verde', which actually means 'Green Goose': not the same thing at all. The one exception was a newspaper in Spain (La Nación, I think) that gave the correct rendition 'Prado de los Gansos', literally 'Meadow of the Geese'.

It's not surprising that the others got it wrong, since it's a particularly tricky phrase for Spanish speakers, for three reasons:

  1. In contempoary English, 'green' is a hundred times more likely to be an adjective than a noun.
  2. Spanish usually puts the adjective after the noun, which reinforces the presumption.
  3. What reminded me of the story after all these years: English can juxtapose two nouns such as 'goose' and 'green' (when it is a noun) and treat the first as if it were an adjective, but Spanish generally has to use a prepositional phrase.

Of course, a green goose is a rather bizarre concept, so perhaps the various editors should have known to ask a native speaker.

Update: (9/9/03, 11:45 PM)

I'm sure Hoodie Craw and Mary Maloof (1st and 3rd comments) are right and Bustamante means 'sexton, gravedigger'. My own etymology was at least partly tongue-in-cheek, though I did want to believe that it could mean 'Hooterman'. 'Gravedigger' makes sense, since bustum (plural busta) is Latin for "tomb, grave" (originally the place where a body was burned and then buried) and Spanish is of course a direct descendant of Latin. But where does the second half (presumably either 'mante' or 'amante') come from? That still puzzles me.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 28, 2003 11:49 PM

According to my local talk radio station, the name "Bustamente" means "sexton", or as they would have it, "gravedigger". I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this, but since they were not entirely sure what "sexton" meant, I presume they took it from a book?

Posted by: Hoodie Craw on August 29, 2003 02:12 AM

I'm not going to push my knowledge of source material, but a 'green goose' would be a freshly killed goose, which has not been hung to age before cooking.

On the other hand, there is the the following: "A goose for the table should be young not more than a year old.  A 'green goose' is a bird up to the age of 3 to 4 months, a gosling one up to 6 months." (


Posted by: J.M. Heinrichs on August 29, 2003 10:03 PM

Hi there ... As a professional translator, I've been asked about the etymology of "Bustamante," and the translation of it as "bust-lover" doesn't make much sense to me. As Dr. Weevil correctly pointed out, there are no compound nouns in Spanish. It seems as if those who are attempting to translate "Bustamante" as "bust-lover" are just trying to be titillating ... pun intended. ;-) I would go with the translation of "Bustamante" as "sexton" or "gravekeeper," especially since the etymology of this word is listed specifically as such at a web page on 17th-century Mexican genealogy:

Posted by: mary maloof on September 3, 2003 03:39 PM