Friday, January 16, 2009
Word of the Week -- Sumercé
In the 15 and 1600's, the use of the pronoun "vuestra merced" was the formal, respectful way to say "you" in Spanish. Eventually in the 17 and 1800's, it was replaced by the "usted" we know today. However, in the Altiplano Cundi-Boyacense, the "vuestra merced" eventually became "su merced" and then Sumercé (sue mare SAY).
Sumercé is used to address social superiors, or people who are perceived as social superiors. It is used throughout Boyacá and often in Bogotá when addressing older people as a way to show respect.
In families, children are often taught to use this with parents. I bring this up because I knew a family that adopted a sibling group. They had diligently studied Spanish in preparation for taking custody of their children. The mother was disappointed when her children rarely called her "Mamá", but rather kept calling her this unusual name "Sumercé". Not realizing that her children were actually showing the respect that most children would show their parents.
I want to add here that while Sumercé is not common in the business setting today, I have noticed that when I use it -- it always gets a smile. I think that lawyers, judges and ICBF workers do not expect a blond gringa to be thanking them with a "Gracias, Sumercé."