“My better half”… the interesting way Spanish expresses this concept

Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Dear reader,

Spanish speakers often say “mi media naranja” (literally: “my half-orange”) to mean “my husband,” “my wife,” etc.

The phrase has an informal, humorously affectionate tone, not unlike “my better half,” which is widely used by English speakers.

La cúpula del Monasterio del Escorial, Madrid. La palabra "cimborio" puede significar el cuerpo cilíndrico que sirve de base para la cúpula, o la cúpula misma, que también puede llamarse "bóveda" o... ¡"media naranja"!

The dome of the Monastery of El Escorial, near Madrid.  The Spanish word “cimborio” can refer to the cylindrical body that forms the base of the dome, or the dome itself, which can also be referred to as “cúpula,” “bóveda” (vault)… or even “media naranja” (literally: half-orange), which happens to be the popular Spanish equivalent of “my better half”!

A common explanation: since no two oranges are identical, each half-orange only has one possible match. In this view, media naranja isn’t just one’s mate, but the perfect match, something like “soul mate.”

Another, similar theory, widespread on the Web, traces the term to Plato’s Symposium, where Aristophanes speaks of (the already then) ancient notion that originally humans were double (man-woman, woman-woman, and man-man). Then, one day, Zeus decided to split them in two; since then, we’ve all been presumably searching for the literally missing half we long to be reunited with.

Aristophanes’s theory, despite the prestige of its ancient-Greek origin, tells us nothing about why the Spanish phrase happens to use a citrus fruit, in particular, to express this idea.

The real explanation may lie in architecture, of all places. The dome—as of a church—is known as a cúpula, or cimborio (which can also mean the cylindrical base on which the dome rests) or even as… our old friend, a media naranja, or half-orange! Cimborio itself derives from a Greek word for a certain type of fruit.

It could very well be that the vault of a domed church, which is a symbol and representation of Heaven, gives us a way of referring to the beloved—very much like the popular term of affection in Spanish, “mi cielo”—“my heaven.”

¡Buenas palabras… Good words!

About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: interfluency.com/testimonials.html) The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

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