When rereading one of my favorite Spanish novels, Jordi Sierra i Fabra’s Cuatro días de enero, which I’ve written about previously here and here, a sentence I’d missed the first time caught my eye:
El cadáver de Reme y el círculo de curiosas y curiosos, hablando en voz baja, observando aquel quebranto de la vida en forma de muerte inesperada.
‘Remy’s corpse and the circle of curious women and men, speaking in soft tones, observing that devastation in the form of unexpected death.’ (my translation)
The interesting Spanish here is curiosas y curiosos. It’s noteworthy because mixed-sex groups are usually described using the masculine gender only; the expected wording here, then, would simply be curiosos. (I occasionally tell a girl student that in Spanish, “boys have cooties”, so that a single masculine item in a group contaminates the whole group.) Sierra i Fabra is obviously circumventing this rule in order to emphasize that there were more woman than men ogling the dead body. This may sound like a minor detail, but the story is set in Barcelona in the waning days of the Spanish Civil War, and this is one of many instances where Sierra i Fabra calls attention to the lack of men after years of fighting.
My English translation gets the same message across by mentioning “women and men”, where the usual expression is “men and women”, but curiosas y curiosos is an even more striking — and attention-calling — deviation from the norm.
I love to find examples, such as this one, where a grammatical feature of Spanish adds to its expressive power.
Very interesting passage, Judy. I wouldn’t have understood the significance of it without your explanation.
It caught my eye partly because it reminded me of “curioser and curioser” in Alice in Wonderland!