A reader asked me about the difference between cosecha, siega, and mies. He likes to read the Bible in Spanish and sees all three words, whereas the English Bible uses the single word ‘harvest’.
Nice question! I really went to town on this one, using several resources to research the answer:
- for word frequencies, the Google n-gram viewer
- for etymologies:
- the dictionary of the Real Academia Española
- Joan Corominas’s Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana
- the University of Texas’s Indo-European Lexicon project
- for meanings and usage, wordreference.com (my go-to dictionary)
The first thing I learned is that cosecha is a much more common word than siega or mies. Here is the Google n-gram plot of the three words’ frequencies. Incidentally, it looks like folks don’t write about crops as much as they used to, ¿no?
The second thing is that all three words started as past participles. Therefore, they originally meant something that is reaped, and only later took on the meaning ‘harvest’. The original verb behind cosecha is the very common verb coger ‘to take’: the g in cogecha, an obsolete irregular participle, morphed into the modern s. The verb behind siega is segar ‘to reap’; it is a cognate of English words including dissect and section, saw, sickle, and scythe, and possibly sail — because a sail is cut from a larger piece of cloth. The verb behind mies is Latin metere ‘to reap’, a cognate of English meadow and mow.
Finally, I learned that cosecha is the only one of the three words to have ‘harvest’ as its primary meaning. Mies mostly means ‘grain’, and siega, ‘mown grain’. Getting back to my reader’s original question about the Spanish Bible, perhaps these differences explain which word is used when. Check back and let me know!
Interesting how “you reap what you sow” is said in Spanish using recoger a verb which does seem to work better here than coger (and Latin American hispanohablantes can use the expression without making apologies or being ostracized.)
se recoge lo sembrado /se recoge lo que se siembra
tú recoges /cosechas lo que siembras
Thank you Word Reference!
The Latin American problem with coger caught my eye, too!
WOW! Your blog was awesome and exactly what I was looking for. A friend just asked me yesterday about this same issue, and I was proud to show him your very good answer! Thanks again for doing that research.
In regards to the expression “reap what you sow” which actually comes from the Bible, (Galatians 6:7), a very accurate rendering in Spanish is…
“Porque cualquier cosa que el hombre esté sembrando, esto también segará”
This avoids anyone being offended or anyone being misconstrued by the word “coger.”
Great article. Thanks!
I decided to line up the Greek and the Spanish to see how the translation compared to the original. For the Greek text I used Nestle-Aland in several different editions. For the Spanish text I used a revision of the Reina-Valera translation (also known as La Biblia del Oso), a Protestant translation first published in Basel in 1569 and said to be the first complete translation into Spanish from the original languages. Note that I only looked at the New Testament, since I don’t know Hebrew.
Of the three words cosecha, siega, and mies, cosecha doesn’t appear at all in the NT. Mies appears 7 times (always singular), and siega (as a noun) appears 6 times (always singular). All of these occurrences are translations of the Greek θερισµός (therismos), a word meaning harvest, both in the sense of the process and the results. θερισµός (therismos) is derived from θέρος (theros), which means summer.
I haven’t looked at the Greek closely – it’s been a long time since I looked at any Greek at all – but from a quick glance and the Spanish translation, it appears as if the translator was pretty consistent in using siega to refer to harvesting and mies to refer to what was harvested.
Wow, I wasn’t expecting Greek to appear in this comment thread. Thank you for your interesting analysis.