Brief by Central Staff
Language – October 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
Looking for a lot in Large Luggage Rack Estates?
A reader drove past the Baca Grande development near Crestone and wondered what the name meant in English. The “grande” part was easy — it means “big.”
But “baca” isn’t so simple. The Signet New World Diccionario Español/Inglés defines it as “top of a bus, stagecoach, etc., covered with canvas or leather, used for passengers or baggage,” and another dictionary says “luggage rack.”
“Huge Luggage Rack” doesn’t sound like an enchanting place name (some places translate even worse — Florida’s Boca Raton is “rat mouth”),
Baca comes from Luis Maria Baca. We suspect his “Baca” is a variant of “vaca,” which means cow. It is a noble Spanish name, as with the explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (“head of a cow,” another locution that sounds better in Spanish than English).
The “V” and “B” sounds in some Spanish dialects are so similar that a scribe might easily write the wrong consonant somewhere along the line.
As for vaca, it has a relative in English: “vaccinate.” Edward Jenner, the English surgeon who invented vaccination in 1796, observed that milkmaids seldom caught smallpox, and further investigation showed that those who had suffered from cowpox, a much milder disease caught from cattle, were immune to smallpox.
So if you scratched someone’s arm and swabbed the wound with cowpox serum, the person would suffer from a mild cowpox fever, but be immune to the deadly and severe smallpox, which killed 40% of its victims and left others blind.
(“Pox” is the plural of “pock,” a skin eruption whose scar is a “pockmark.” Smallpox produced smaller sores than the regular “Pox,” an old term for syphilis, as in this parliamentary exchange in 18th-century Britain:
(Earl of Sandwich: ” ‘Pon my honor, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die on the gallows or of the pox.”
(John Wilkes: “That must depend, my Lord, upon whether I first embrace your Lordship’s principles, or your Lordship’s mistresses.”)
Enough political dialogue from the days when statesmen where pure and noble, as opposed to these decadent times. Let us return to our vocabulary studies.
The process of artificial immunization was thus discovered, and since the serum came from the cow — vacca in Latin, the language of science — it was “vaccine” for a “vaccination” in English.
Or maybe they really did mean “Large Luggage Rack” when they named the Baca Grande subdivision.