Expat Argentina

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


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…