The problem with Catalan “philologist” and “historian” Jordi Bilbeny being a 24-carrot burro is that when he occasionally says something half sensible no one listens. The conspiracy theory which rules Bilbeny’s life is that guys like Columbus and Cervantes were really Catalan, but that a powerful group destroyed all the evidence and then disappeared without trace. While his arguments might normally suggest to the cynical a better acquaintance with the Rif’s chief export product than with the evidence, he has at last found one interesting little thing–not half as interesting as he thinks, but interesting all the same–in Chap 71 of Don Quijote. Here‘s the 1998 Francisco Rico edition:
—Yo apostaré —dijo Sancho— que antes de mucho tiempo no ha de haber bodegón, venta ni mesón o tienda de barbero donde no ande pintada la historia de nuestras hazañas; pero querría yo que la pintasen manos de otro mejor pintor que el que ha pintado a estas.
—Tienes razón, Sancho —dijo don Quijote—, porque este pintor es como Orbaneja, un pintor que estaba en Úbeda, que cuando le preguntaban qué pintaba, respondía: «Lo que saliere»; y si por ventura pintaba un gallo, escribía debajo: «Este es gallo», porque no pensasen que era zorra. Desta manera me parece a mí, Sancho, que debe de ser el pintor o escritor, que todo es uno, que sacó a luz la historia deste nuevo don Quijote que ha salido: que pintó o escribió lo que saliere; o habrá sido como un poeta que andaba los años pasados en la corte, llamado Mauleón, el cual respondía de repente a cuanto le preguntaban, y preguntándole uno que qué quería decir «Deum de Deo», respondió: «Dé donde diere».
“I’ll lay a bet,” said Sancho, “that before long there won’t be a tavern, roadside inn, hostelry, or barber’s shop where the story of our doings won’t be painted up; but I’d like it painted by the hand of a better painter than painted these.”
“Thou art right, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “for this painter is like Orbaneja, a painter there was at Ubeda, who when they asked him what he was painting, used to say, ‘Whatever it may turn out [“Whatever it turns out as” would surely be better]; and if he chanced to paint a cock he would write under it, ‘This is a cock,’ for fear they might think it was a fox. The painter or writer, for it’s all the same, who published the history of this new Don Quixote that has come out, must have been one of this sort I think, Sancho, for he painted or wrote ‘whatever it might turn out;’ or perhaps he is like a poet called Mauleon that was about the Court some years ago, who used to answer at haphazard whatever he was asked, and on one asking him what Deum de Deo meant, he replied De donde diere.
Rico notes that “The phonetic translation of the words of the Credo was a traditional joke” and leaves it at that. Bilbeny, in a short piece modestly entitled Conclusive proof that Don Quijote was written in Catalan, points out that this is rubbish–“Deum de Deo” simply isn’t homophonic with “Dé donde diere.” He suggests that “De donde diere” is actually a wonky Spanish translation of “De unde deu,” but there are several problems with this.
Firstly, “unde”, whilst common in the period in other parts of Spain in the period, principally in the form “onde” (“o” -> “u” is common down south, inc, I believe, around Úbeda), is rare in Catalonia. If we were to try to create an artificial firewall between C16th “Spanish” and “Catalan”, “De onde” would probably fall on the “Spanish” side.
Secondly, Bilbeny says that “deu” is an abbreviation of “doneu”, but produces no evidence of why this would be found convincing or of it happening elsewhere.
So, what to do with “diere”, which remains a problem? I thought at first that Quijote might have chosen it to rhyme with “saliere” in the previous gag (cf “Yo tengo de pintar, dé donde diere, salga como saliere“), but that doesn’t work: the only source cited by Rico for his “traditional joke”, El coloquio de los perros, has two dogs repeat the gag in Valladolid without any obvious hanger of this type. (Valladolid is not noticeably in Catalonia, but it did house Cervantes for a while… although Bilbeny would probably dispute that as well.)
My own hypothesis is that “Dé (d)[o|u]nde diere” did originally resemble “Deum de Deo”, but that, while the association remained, the sound drifted. A vaguely analogous example would be in rhyming slang, where, for example, we still know that “butcher’s” means “look”, even though we no longer say “butcher’s hook”. I will study some regional verbs to see if I can figure something better.
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