SHIRLEY L. ARORA
A WOMAN AND A GUITAR: VARIATIONS ON
A FOLK METAPHOR*
Hispanic proverbs, riddles and folk
verse offer numerous examples of metaphor in which a woman
is compared--implicitly or explicitly--to a guitar or vice
versa. These are primarily (using, for convenience, the
terminology adopted by J. David Sapir)
metaphors of the "internal" genus-for-genus type, bringing
together terms from disparate semantic domains--human being
and inanimate, manmade object--and establishing a
relationship between them on the basis of certain shared
features. As is typical of such metaphors, they also,
simultaneously, produce a degree of transference, between
the terms, of other features that are not shared, or that
have not been perceived as shared. In other words--borrowing
from Sapir (p. 9) but substituting the terms with which we
are concerned here--we are, through such metaphors,
"compelled to consider what we know about [guitars]
and to select those features that would apply to
[women], thus learning something very specific about
[women]." At the same time, we are invited to think
about ways in which women and guitars are not alike
and to consider whether perhaps some of those unlike
features may, after all, be shared--whether, perhaps, women
may actually have even more in common with guitars than is
immediately apparent. In other words, we are given the
means--again, adapting Sapir's wording--of imagining that a
woman is in fact a guitar, down to the smallest
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The diagram reproduced here, which is
adapted from Sapir and taken by him, in turn, from
shows this process as it applies to some of the examples I
shall be citing later on:
"D" represents the point of departure,
or what Sapir calls the "continuous term," "A" the point of
arrival or the "discontinuous term," and "I" the
intermediary or shared features. Since we are dealing here
with a reversible equation, we can put either guitar or
woman in the "D" column, and either woman or guitar in the
"A" column. Under "I" will then go the various features that
the two may be said to have in common, beginning with the
simplest--the grammatical gender of the word guitarra and other names for this or similar musical instruments--and
continuing through similarities of physical form and action.
It should be noted that a number of these shared features
are in themselves metaphors: the overall shape of a guitar
resembles that of a woman, but to speak of the "waist" and
"hips" of a guitar, or of its belly and mouth and teeth and
so on, is to employ subsidiary metaphors that could
themselves be analyzed in a diagram similar to this
one. The same is true when we refer to the sound of the guitar as
"weeping," "talking," "singing"; and, as we shall see later,
the use of certain verbs of double meaning in
Spanish--tocar, templar--adds still another
Mujer mal criada, guitarra mal
[A badly brought up woman (is like) a badly tuned
Antes templarás una guitarra
que una mujer airada.
[You will sooner tune/temper a guitar than an angry
The active role of the musician in
tuning/tempering is often emphasized:
La mujer y la guitarra, para
usarlas hay que templarlas.
[A woman and a guitar, in order to use them you have
to tune/temper them.]
La mujer y la guitarra se tiemplan
antes de usarlas.
[A woman and a guitar are tuned before using
(Argentina: field, M,
La mujer y la guitarra, para
tocarlas hay que templarlas.
[A woman and a guitar, in order to play/touch them
you have to tune/temper them.]
(Spain: field, F,
La mujer y la guitarra, es
[A woman and a guitar are difficult to
(Spain: Rodríguez 12.600 168)
La mujer y la guitarra, hay que
[A woman and a guitar, you have to know how to
(Spain: Rodríguez 6.666 92.)
Mujeres y guitarras, es menester
mucho tino para templarlas.
[Women and guitars, you have to have a knack for
tuning/ tempering them.]
(Spain: Rodríguez 10.700 203)
It is worth noting the frequency with
which these proverbs are stated in the form: "A woman and a
guitar..." rather than "A woman is like a guitar," so that
hypothetically at least the topic could be either the woman
or the guitar; that is, a musician, observing how easily his
instrument gets out of tune, could remark: "La mujer y la
guitarra, siempre destempladas" [A woman and a guitar,
always out of tune], and be simultaneously commenting on
his musical instrument and on women in general.
As a final category of woman/guitar
proverbs, we have those in which the two terms are linked to
others with which they are considered to share certain
Mujer, guitarra y molino,
requieren uso contino.
[A woman, a guitar, and a mill require constant
(Spain: Jara 303; Ecuador:
A quien tiene escopeta, guitarra,
reloj o mujer, nunca le falta un traste que componer.
[He who has a shotgun, a guitar, a watch or a woman
will never lack for something to fix.]
Traste, incidentally, which I
have translated merely as "something," has the basic meaning
of "fret," as on a guitar, but is widely used in place of trasto, meaning a piece of furniture, a utensil, or
simply a piece of junk. And finally, in a last
Mujer, escopeta, guitarra y
caballo, no prestallo.
[A woman, a shotgun, a guitar, and a horse are not to
(Spain: Rodríguez 12.600 213)
Here, the guitar has simply been added
to the more frequent list of three "objects" that one is
warned against lending: Mujer, caballo y escopeta, no se
presta or Mujer, reloj [watch] y escopeta, no
se presta (Spain: Sbarbi 667). In another variant,
however, it replaces one of the original group, thus
maintaining the original number of three:
No prestar nunca el caballo,
la guitarra y la mujer
[Never lend your horse, your guitar, or your
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue
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*Previously published in Proverbium, 10 (1993), pp. 21-36
- J. David Sapir, "The
Anatomy of Metaphor," Ch. 1 of The Social Use of
Metaphor, eds. J. David Sapir and J. Christopher
Crocker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1977), pp. 3-32. Sapir draws in turn on sources ranging
from Aristotle to Kenneth Burke, Max Black, and I. A.
Richards, among others.
Sapir, p. 6. His
reference is to J. Dubois, et al., Rhétorique
générale (Paris: Larousse, 1970), 108,
118. In the English translation by Paul B. Burrell and
Edgar M. Slotkin, A General Rhetoric (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981) the corresponding
pages are 108 and 121.
Such metaphors are by no
means limited to folk tradition; see, for example, a
technical description of the tiple and the cuatro--types of guitar popular in Colombia--in
terms of the dimensions of the "head," "chest," "waist,"
and "hips" (Guillermo Abadía Morales, Compendio
general de folklore colombiano, 4th ed.
[Bogotá, 1983], pp. 269 and 273).
Sources of quoted
examples are identified by author's surname, date, and
item number or page. See the bibliography at the end of
this study for full details. For examples collected in
the field I have indicated region, sex of informant, and
approximate age if known. All English translations are my
Variants also exist in
which the name of the instrument is masculine, e.g., tiple (a type of guitar especially popular in
Colombia), violão (the common term used in
Brazil for the "Spanish" guitar).
The strophe is one of 38 cuartetas making up the poem "Pórtico,"
written originally for a book published in 1892 by
Salvador Rueda (see Darío's Poesías
completas, ed. Alfonso Méndez Plancarte
[Madrid: Aguilar, 1961], p. 654). Within the
poem, the strophe appears in parentheses as a kind of
aside on the part of the poet, an isolated image brought
to mind by the mention of a guitar in the previous cuarteta; its consequent "detachability" from the
rest of the poem, and its use of traditional guitar/woman
imagery, might foster its adoption as a "folk" verse
despite its non-traditional, 11-syllable form. In the
original, the first word of the strophe is urna [urn] rather than the indefinite article una. Assuming it is not merely a typographical
error, the variation recorded by Saubidet may be
considered evidence of the entry of the cuarteta into oral tradition, where a relatively unfamiliar image
(the guitar as "amorous urn") has been replaced by a more
familiar one (the guitar as "amorous woman").
One of the
classificatory categories proposed by Roberto
Lehmann-Nitsche in his classic study Adivinanzas
rioplatenses (Buenos Aires: Coni Hermanos, 1911) and
later adopted by Archer Taylor in his English Riddles
from Oral Tradition (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1951) as well as by other scholars in
The italics are in the
original. Escachalandrado or descachalandrado is a regionalism with the meaning
of desaliñado, descuidado ("slovenly," "unkempt") (María Josefina Tejera,
ed., Diccionario de venezolanismos [Caracas:
Academia Venezolana de la Lengua, 1983], pp. 374,
418). The use of an adjective typically applied to a
person rather than an object contributes to the
Española, Diccionario de la lengua
española, 19th ed. (Madrid, 1970), under guitarra. The expression may be applied to
individuals of either sex. Under the verb templar the same source notes that in South America (region or
regions unspecified) the reflexive verb templarse has the meaning enamorarse, "to fall in
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----------. Los seis mil
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Shirley L. Arora
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
University of California
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1532