Some words carry their expression not only from the meaning we associated them with now, but also from their connection to history, to some event, group or place which helps uncover its primal association.
That’s the case of today’s words of the week, two words still used in Portuguese but whose origins go further back, and both of which are serendipitously connected to a specific region (we’ll get to that later).
[A] razia comes from the Italian razzia, which ultimately originated in Algerian Arabic غزية, ghaziya, “raiding”, a word used for the corsair raids throughout the Mediterranean and North Atlantic during the Middle and Modern Ages, where pirates from Northern Africa (what was then known as Barbary Coast) attacked coastal settlements mainly to capture slaves for the Ottoman and Arabic markets. This idea of a violent raid became so entrenched that several languages beside Italian (and which include French and Hungarian) now have razzia as a synonym for “raid” or “plundering”, or in general any violent attack.
Portuguese is also one of these cases, but the most common use of [a] razia is in the figurative sense; here, it takes the meaning of “wipeout; devastation, destruction”, you can use it even when talking about trivial things like eating meals (a wipeout of food) or about the razing of a field/orchard by the elements, as does Portuguese children’s writer António Torrado in his book 100 histórias à janela («100 stories by the window»):
“Ainda se aquele pomar ficasse perto da estrada que leva à escola, talvez houvesse quem se tentasse e fizesse a colheita por sua conta… Mas como ficava num sítio isolado e pouco acessível, ninguém deu pelo pomar ao abandono.
Vieram os pássaros. Vieram as lagartas. Vieram os inse[c]tos. Foi uma razia.
Depois, o terreno do pomar não teve quem o lavrasse.” (p. 50)
The same process happened with the word [o/a] vândalo/a, which now describes a violent person who destroys things needlessly, but was first used in reference to the Vandals, a Germanic so-called barbarian tribe which moved around Europe during the 5th century AD (helping destabilize and bring the fall of the Roman Empire, together with the other marauding tribes), finally settling in Northern Africa, the same area where the Barbary pirates operated (the Mediterranean was a hotbed of piracy for centuries, and not nearly all of it coming from the South – the Portuguese themselves conducted raids and expeditions against Barbary Coast outposts and held a few in their possession during the height of the Empire).
This goes to show that words are always changing, and sometimes more literal, present meanings give way to something else – a closer examination of etymology helps not only understand your language better, but also its influences and the history behind the shared construction of meanings.
Let me know if this history-tinged WOTD was not too much for you, otherwise I’ll try to do some more in the future :)
See you next Wednesday!