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Right and Wrong: Musings on Morality in Buenos Aires and Argentina

June 15, 2009

Part I: Right

Since my last post was referred to as having a thesis, which I find somewhat tickling after so many years of hating to write theses, I thought I would be a bit more direct on my thesis for this post: The words “right” and “wrong”, as used in their moral or ethical sense, simply do not have equivalents in Spanish. This thesis I believe to be mostly provable.

My secondary argument is that due to the absence of these words, trust is hard to come by in Argentina (or perhaps, the reverse: due the the lack of trust between people in Argentina, the words for right and wrong as we know them in English, do not exist in Spanish (yes I realize that Spanish is spoken in more places than just Argentina and that this argument implies the inclusion of other countries and cultures)). And perhaps, this secondary argument is cyclical or self-reflexive and, in fact, both.

Back to the first argument…

Definitions/translations of the English word “right” into Spanish (when used in the moral sense): bueno, correcto, exacto, justo, derecho (ignoring more tangential/obscure definitions/translations) (reference).

Looking at the reversal of these translations back into English we have: bueno=good, correcto=correct, exacto=exact, justo=just and derecho=a right, as in, the “right to bear arms”, “inalienable rights”, etc. which is not the word right as defined as the opposite of wrong. Clearly, none of these, in their most common, well taught and well understoond translations mean right as opposed to wrong.

This leaves me with a series of difficult questions: how do Spanish speakers, then, conceive of right it its moral sense in their own heads? How would an English speaker define the word right to a Spanish speaker? How should the translation of right be taught to English speakers learning Spanish? How, ultimately, can this discrepancy be understood as emblematic of culture?

More to follow…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. n a n c y permalink
    June 15, 2009 8:59 pm

    Aha. The question of morality. Interesting. I was once very rudely treated by a male acquaintance. Several days later he was surprised to discover that I was still angry. I told him he needed to apologize to me. He said no apology was necessary because he had not intended to make me angry or hurt. I said, “so sometimes you do intend to make me angry?” He tried to change the subject.

    But to answer your question: I would use bien o mal. No me tratas bien. No eres caballero/ bien educado.

    Is it any wonder the Argentine women are known for their histeria?

    • June 15, 2009 10:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Nancy!

      Interesting that there was an allusion to intentional provoking and no response. I just–30 minutes ago–had an experience at the gym where the aerobics instructor informed me that, even though there was no class in the aerobics room, that I was not allowed to be in there. I had to get management involved and it got very ugly. Why the territorialism? Why the intentional provoking?

      I don’t think this is an Argentine thing necessarily although I could be convinced otherwise. I would say that therapy would help but since 90% of Buenos Aires is already in therapy I am left dumbfounded.

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