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Work of Art: Time to 'tutear'

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By Art Trujillo

Last week’s column on the use of “tú” and “usted” taught me a word that I would have thought of purely as slang, something conjured up for the nonce, for lack of the precise word, like when we use “typiar” as Spanish for “to type.”

We invent words. We give them the familiar Spanish verb ending and sometimes get by. To “wreckear” un carro is common, and to “watchar” one’s back has become a language staple for many.

The new word (to me), introduced by Art Vargas, is “tutear.” It appears in Spanish dictionaries and means simply, “let’s be on familiar terms.” Imagine a conversation laden with “usted,” among peers. One conversant might then say, “Vamos a tutear,” which gives both people leave to drop the formality of “usted” and use the familiar “tú.” I’m impressed and promise to tutear very soon. And some of my best friends are admitted tuteadores. The French word “tutoyer” provides an analogous version of addressing someone familiarly.

Vargas, an attorney now practicing in Taos, wrote that the “matter of when to use ‘usted’ long ago came up in Spanish classes; here’s the poser. When we pray, we say ‘tú’ to God, and in the Hail Mary we say ‘bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres.’ (In English, we use “blessed art thou).”

And Vargas adds, “Our terrestrial fathers, whom we call ‘usted,’ would agree that it is OK to call God ‘tú,’ even though our here-on-earth daddy agrees that God is above him. But ‘earth daddy’ still insists on ‘usted’ for himself. Do we ‘tutear’ with God simply because that is how we learned to pray?”

Finally, Vargas asks, “Does our sense of closeness to Him warrant the ‘tú’?”

A couple of people commented that last week’s exposition on “tú” and “usted” should also have mentioned “vosotros” as a key Spanish pronoun. But really, though we learned such elements in High School Spanish 101, has anyone heard “vosotros sois” without having been a classmate of Cervantes or having been in a church in Mexico a century ago?

• • •

It’s great, on rare occasions, when I’m in a group without automatically being the elder statesman. Yes, there have been times in which I’m among the younger players.

An example is the just-concluded reunion for the classes of 1954, ‘55 and ‘56 at Immaculate Conception School. I’m not old enough to fall into that fellowship, hence my teenie-bopper status. My schoolmates of yore are indeed old. I went just to take some photos — now in my Facebook page — and to enjoy a meal, at the insistence of Artie Geoffrion, Myles Sweeney and Eloy Gonzales, some of the reunion organizers.

A former schoolmate, who served as master of ceremonies, was Mariano Pino, who moved to Belen decades ago. Mariano and I lived on opposite sides of the railroad tracks; my family lived on Railroad Avenue, the Pinos just across the tracks, on Pecos.

The Pinos’ back yard contained a goal and a basketball, which all were free to use at any time. Mariano and his older brother Ray, both of whom were on the I.C. Colts’ starting five in high school, welcomed visitors such as my brother and I.

At the time, our neighborhood in the ‘50s was the recipient of huge plumes of ashes that belched out of the many coal-operated trains that bisected our town. The ashen windfall went on for most of my childhood, and attempting any kind of serious yard cleaning was futile, that is, until the arrival of diesel engines and electric trains.

Mariano said he and Ray used to play basketball in their back yard, literally just a few feet from the tracks and numerous passing trains, “and after we’d spent the whole day playing, we’d have ash all over our heads and faces.”

Well, that explains it. Whenever we visited the Pinos, I just naturally assumed Mariano and Ray had been born with salt-and-pepper hair. Now we discover the speckled-hair appearance came from the ashes from the passing engines.

And when we residents on the streets along the tracks got on our knees to pray for electric trains, it’s wasn’t for Lionels, Atlases or American Flyers under our Christmas trees.

No, the prayers were for real electric trains. They came within a few years, and our prayers were answered.

• • •   

Marie Montoya served for and outlived at least three Highlands University presidents. As administrative secretary, she needed to make sure correspondence leaving the office was proper. So naturally, correct English matters to her.

She called the other day to say one of the gubernatorial campaign ads bothered her. I don’t believe it was a partisan issue with Marie: she simply believes in good grammar.

In the TV spot for Susana Martinez, the GOP candidate touts her toughness on crime, as compared to the fact that her opponent, Diane Denish “gives drivers licenses to illegals.”

Martinez ends the commercial with, “As governor, that will change.” The error is a bit more subtle than the run-on sentence or the fragment. Martinez’s promise implies a great deal. It makes the word “that” an incorrect object of “governor,” as if the state’s highest office is a “that.”

What we assume Martinez really means is, “As governor, I will change that,” the policy of allowing undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico drivers licenses.

Officially, then, in English grammar, the “error” is considered a “general reference,” and without having to learn a slew of grammar rules, the gubernatorial aspirant merely needs to rephrase her sentence so that her “that” refers to proposed policy changes, not the high office.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.