We’re used to thinking of cultural difference. But some things in this world are so inherently beautiful that people everywhere, and always, seem to have loved them. To name a few: butterflies, roses, kites, rainbows.
A small, flying insect, usually red and spotted—English “ladybug,” Spanish mariquita (little Mary), vaquita de San Antonio (St. Anthony’s little cow), and other names—also has a strong claim on membership in this select group.
The English and Spanish names are subtly linked: the “lady” in “ladybug” seems to refer to the Virgin Mary.
Some others: French la bête à bon Dieu (the good Lord’s bug), Russian bozha kapovka (God’s little cow), Dutch lieveheerbeestje (the dear Lord’s little animal), Yiddish moyshe rabbeynus ferdele (or) kiyele (Moses’s little horse, or little cow).
Why this affection so strong it often crosses into the sacred? The ladybug’s pretty colors are not unlike a butterfly’s; the spots remind us of cows. Ladybugs readily rest or walk on a human hand. And mariquita, a farmer’s friend, eats such agricultural pests as the aphid.
Some religious traditions, like Judaism, shrink from naming the Deity, so the prophet Moses is used instead. Spanish also steers clear of God in naming this insect, displacing to the Virgin or St. Anthony.
Maybe the ladybug is one of those utterly joyous things whose contemplation once moved Robert Louis Stevenson to write: The world is so full of a number of things/I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
¡Buenas palabras/Good words!
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, CT is a Certified Translator (ATA/American Translators Association) eng>spa and a Certified Interpreter (Tennessee State Courts) eng<>spa, as well as a recognized trainer in the fields of translation, interpreting, and cultural competence. He has over 25 years experience in these fields. An earlier version of this column was written for the Jan. 24-30, 2015 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) as part of his bilingual weekly column Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation/Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción.