Wondrous Words Wednesday: Victoria Hislop on Spain

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from The Return by Victoria Hislop. The book is mostly set in Spain and two very iconic activities have a major role, so most of my words this week are actually Spanish.


Without giving anything away, I can tell you that one of the characters is interested in bullfighting. From him I learned the following words:

  • verónica: n. a maneuver in bullfighting in which the matador stands with both feet fixed in position and swings the cape slowly away from the charging bull. (source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, via TheFreeDictionary.com)
  • muleta: n. a short red cape suspended from a hollow staff, used by a matador to maneuver a bull during the final passes before a kill. (source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, via TheFreeDictionary.com)
  • traje de luces: n. (lit. suit of lights) the traditional clothing that Spanish bullfighters wear in the bullring. The term originates from the sequins and reflective threads of gold or silver. (source: Wikipedia)

The following video, a movie trailer, shows a torero in his traje de luces, executing veronicas with a muleta (the video does not include extremely violent scenes, but watch at your own risk):


It is not a mystery that flamenco also has a big role in the novel. Here are my flamenco words:

  • alegría
  • bulería
  • soleá
  • siguiriya

These are all different rhythms for dancing flamenco. The differences are quite technical, so if you are interested I found this explanation. To give you a better idea, enjoy some videos:

The alegría rhythm in its essential aspect (actually, a flamenco lesson!):

The completely different rhythm of a siguiriya:

And a soleá show:


And to finish off, a German word!

This was a real place, she thought, nothing ersatz here.

ersatz: adj.(of a product) made or used as an inferior substitute for something else. Not real or genuine.


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)


10 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Victoria Hislop on Spain

  1. I think it may be. The first given meaning for “veronica” is the image of Christ’s face impressed on a handkerchief that St. Veronica offered him — and I guess maybe the meaning transferred to any kind of cloth, especially one that has a high chance of getting blood on it. Or maybe it’s just that the bull pressing its face on the veronica on its way to death is a symbol of Jesus, or something along those lines.

  2. Wow! What a great post!

    Like, Kathy, the only one I knew was ersatz. And, I was also wondering about the Veronica connection to the woman’s name!

    I always wanted to know more about flamenco, so this was really interesting!

  3. Me again! Sorry this is off subject, but I have NOT abandoned the Book Pilgrimage! Something happened with Blogger that made my whole right column disappear(!) I have set aside a couple hours today to try to fix it – its driving me bonkers! BTW, THANK YOU for helping me with my Italian over at my blog!

  4. Hi Scribacchina,

    There is me with my Zimbabwean words and you with your Spanish and German words, seems as though we have our own mini language class going on!!!

    I know of ‘ersatz’ and ‘muleta’, however all the others are new to me.

    I can’t make up my mind whether this is a book I would enjoy, or not. The storyline is quite interesting, but I am not sure whether there is too much emphasis being placed on the war aspects for my liking?

    Thanks for sharing some great words today.

  5. Thank you all for your comments, I had no idea ersatz was so well known!

    @ Yvonne: well, yes, the civil was features as the major theme and there are quite a bit of gory details — but then there’s dance, which is used as a filter to look at the world through, and that is quite refreshing. I wouldn’t say it’s a light book, but it’s well-balanced.

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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