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The Hitherto Unknown Theft of Portuguese Letters
by Anita G. Gorman

Having studied Spanish at Junior High School 73 in Maspeth, Queens; Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens; and Queens College, which also happens to be in Queens, I know a thing or two about Spanish, even though I chose to be an English major. My extensive knowledge of Portuguese, on the other hand, stems from a recent trip to the Iberian Peninsula, spending one week in Portugal and one week in Spain, where I deliciously retrieved from the recesses of my brain enough Spanish to find my way and get something to eat.

My first clue that something linguistically nefarious  had happened in Portugal surfaced when I stared at the emergency exit of our tour bus in Lisbon. Instead of the familiar Spanish term for exit, salida, I saw saída. What had happened to the "l"?

I had both a Spanish and Portuguese dictionary with me. At first I casually compared words. With increasing alarm as I  went through the alphabet, I learned that the single "l" in Spanish was often something else in Portuguese, but, more significantly, the double "l" had disappeared completely.

Yes, the Spanish llamar had become chamar in Portuguese, llama was now lhama and llegar, chegar. lluvia was now chuva. Calle, the word for street, was rua in Portuguese, similar to the French rue, which derives from the Vulgar Latin ruga, but we shall avoid vulgarity in this essay, my dears.

How did it happen that Spanish ended up with a surplus of l's and Portuguese a severe shortage? Imperialism. Conquest. Theft.

Oh yes, the Portuguese did their share of circling the globe in sailing ships. Remember Vasco da Gama, the first guy to find a way to get to India by water? Portuguese, that's what he was. The Spaniards were powerful too, sailing all over the place and settling in South America and Florida and who knows where else. But their  most historically significant caper was the theft of Portuguese letters in the middle of the night.

The Spaniards had for unknown reasons developed a lust for more l's in their words. They even invented words with double l's, unknown in Latin, their parent language. In time a leader emerged  for Spain's pro-l movement: Lorenzo Lupo Llamarosa y Lopez, known as El Lupo, the wolf, by his followers. And on one fateful night, October 12, 1491, exactly one year before Christopher Columbus landed in the western hemisphere, El Lupo and his rag-tag band of lusty, lonely lemmings crossed the border into Portugal, over the mountains and to the west.

The raid took place while the Portuguese were sleeping. Slowly and stealthily, El Lupo and his band of thieves raided Portuguese homes, stores, taverns, and museums looking for l's they could steal and take back in the large bags they had slung over their shoulders. But their greatest haul came when they broke into all of Portugal's printing presses, taking every l but a few, for El Lupo had a bit of kindness in his soul, and besides, he didn't want Portugal to wage war with Spain over a part of the alphabet.

The next day the Portuguese awoke to a new normal, as did the Spaniards, and neither language has been the same since that time.

And now for a salida. Or saída.