Saturday, September 11, 2010

The "when" of "now"

Now then, there is one thing that bugs me now about the word "now". "Now" is a word that's supposed to mean "the present." It is what is occuring, what is just about to happen, or what has occurred immediately previously. It basically means "the time remaining to / elapsed since this event can be rounded to zero."

But there's the other usage of the word "now".You saw how I used it in the first sentence of this post, didn't you? There was no time implied there. Now was just there as a filler; an emphasizer; a muletilla, if you will. People have been using "now" to mean anything but "now" for years. (I want to say "centuries", but I don't know which word preceeded it in this usage.)

And before you say "what is our language coming to?" or "bah, it's English, get used to it;" let me tell you that it gets worse in Spanish. Way worse...
The Spanish equivalent of "now" is "ahora". But not only is "ahora" used at the beginning of sentences without meaning, it sometimes is used to indicate a time other than the present! Consider the following exchange:
"Ahora, ¿puedes sostenerme esto, por favor?" (Now, could you hold this for me, please?)
"¡Ahora voy!" (Comming, now!)
The person yelling "comming, now" actually has no intention to stop what they're doing and run to the other person's aid. They're going to sit calmly and finish it, and go there in, well, maybe 40 minutes. This usually prompts the first person to say, "¡Ahora, nada! ¡Te necesito ya!" ("Don't you 'now' me! I need you right now!").

This translation brings me to another thing about "now". There's "now", and your way more immediate "right now". Spanish originally devised "ahorita", diminutive for "now" to mean "right now". It soon came to mean exactly the opposite.
"Baja a cenar, que se enfría." (Come down to dinner, it's getting cold)
"Ay no, ahorita..." (Aw man... later, OK?)
Which is why Spanish has the "ya", meaning "immediately".

What's that you say? It also happens in English? The difference is that it doesn't happen every time. The meaning of the word hasn't been changed because of it. If you ask a Spanish speaker when the stoplight's going to change and he says "ahorita", he doesn't mean that it's about to change or that it has just changed; he means, "you better get comfortable, 'cause it's going to be a lo-o-o-o-ong wait. Now don't bug me."

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