Basque Fact of the Week: Gaurko Hitza, Basque Word of the Day

In between my sophomore and junior year at the University of Idaho, I spent a year in Donostia with the goal of learning Euskara. When I told my dad that I wanted to learn Basque, he asked “Why? Why not Spanish? You can speak that everywhere.” I guess he was too pragmatic. Anyways, I did learn some Basque and felt like I got a reasonable handle on the grammar. My Achilles’ heel, though, was vocabulary. I never built up a big enough vocabulary to really be able to converse. If only I’d had Gaurko Hitza, or Basque Word of the Day! Every day, they send an email with a new word, it’s history and usage, and translation into English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. I subscribed about a year ago. I can’t claim my vocabulary is increasing all that fast, but here are some of my favorite words over the last year.

Ipi-apa ezagutzen zituen eskualdeko bazter guztiak. [(From start-to-finish, he/she knew every corner of the region.) Erabili goldea hilen hezurren gainetik, Olga Tokarczuk]. Image from Gaurko Hitza.
  • indargabetu: depending on the context, this word means to weaken, to attenuate/diminish, or to repeal. It’s one of those words that, when you look at it closely, becomes transparent. indar means strength, gabe means without, and tu is the suffix that makes something a verb. So, literally, indargabetu means “to make without strength.”
  • lehenbailehen: as soon as possible. This word comes from lehen baino lehenlehen means first. It can also mean before in some contexts. And baino means “than,” so this literally means something like “before the first thing.”
  • txintxo: well-behaved. Such a nice, short word you can yell at someone who isn’t behaving…
  • odolbero: irascible, irritable. Literally, it means “hot blooded:” odol means blood and bero means hot.
  • zingil: thin or slim. What strikes me about this word is that it doesn’t really sound like a Basque word. There are no “tx”s or “k”s.
  • kukubilkatze: squat. Sometimes, there isn’t a short, simple word for something in a language. It would almost take more time to say the word than to do the squats!
  • betiera: eternity. beti means always, so betiera is something that has the quality of being always, or eternity.
  • minbizi: cancer. Sometimes it seems that meanings are hidden behind words, that you can’t know what a word means without knowing what it means. But minbizi, the Basque word for cancer, literally means living or alive pain.
  • dapa: voice used to indicate the presence of a sudden idea. In English, we had to borrow the word eureka from Greek. The Basques already had their own word for eureka!
  • zipriztindu: to splash or spatter. I just think it’s a cool sounding word.
  • sabelzuri: false or a cheater. Literally, this words seems to mean white belly (zuri=white, sabel=belly), so something with a white belly was a cheater.
  • puskakatu: to tear apart or shred. It’s funny how words can be made. Puska is a noun that means piece, like a piece of something. Puskaka is an adverb that means breaking up or apart. And puskakatu, a verb, is the action of making something break apart.
  • eztitu: to sweeten or to calm. Just like in English, some words have different meanings that seemingly have little to do with one another. eztitu can mean sweeten, but it can also mean to calm or soothe, I guess making someone’s mood a bit sweeter?
  • sorgin-gurpil: vicious cycle. Literally, it means witch’s wheel.
  • ahozuri: gourmet. Literally, this word means white mouth. In addition to gourmet, it flatterer, wheedler, sycophant, bootlicker (thanks Morris Student Plus Dictionary!). What are the Basques trying to say here?
  • gurgur: rumbling sound, babbling. The word sounds like it’s rumbling!
  • bakoiti and bikoiti: odd and even, as in numbers. I assume the first parts relate to the Basque words bat (one) and bi (two)…
  • ipurdikatu: to turn upside down. Yeah, I’m a dad, I had to squeeze in a butt joke. Ipurdi means butt. Ipurdika means backwards. Ipurdikatu means to make backwards or upside down…
  • ipi-apa: detail, from start to finish. The Basque version of alpha to omega.
  • konkolotx: astride. Just another word I think sounds cool.

2 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: Gaurko Hitza, Basque Word of the Day”

  1. “My Achille’s heal, though, was vocabulary”.
    Perhaps your Achille’s heel is spelling?
    But never mind that, your Basque word list is good.

    My own favourite expression: “gutti goiti behiti” (sometimes folk say “gutxi gora-behera” but that doesn’t sound quite so good) meaning “more or less”.

    1. Fair enough! I’ve also always been a horrible speller. 🙂

      And thanks for sharing your favorite expression! Very nice indeed.

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