Words: Hamaika (11)

hamaika hitza. significado de hamaika en Euskera. hamaika Baque word meaning.

Basque language is arcane. Since it has no connection to any other language around, there are multiple theories of were it does come from, many of them quite fantastic. Up to now, I’ve heard that it is, in fact, the original Iberian language, that it comes from Russian-Georgian… even that Japanese was constructed as a variation of it, improbable hypothesis based on loose similarities such as the Basque word txori (=bird) and Japanese tori (=chicken) and the Basque tendency to sail away.

There is even a Basque-Icelandic pidgin that the rough fishermen from both more or less isolated regions developed to be able communicate.

But even so, what amazes and amuses me most about the Basque language is the word hamaika or amaika.

Hamaika is just means something so simple as eleven, 11, the number. One of the very fist things one learns. But it also has another meaning.

In most of the European languages I know, we have a concept that we use when we want to refer to an amount that overwhelms or burdens us, a figure too vast to be precisely counted or too unreal because of its ambition that renders only the possibility of being dreamt about or imagined, an aspiration. That is, a domestic, everyday term to refer to infinite or the closer and modest way we can picture it.

This term is usually “thousands”. “I have a thousand things to do”. If the speaker less vehement, the word “hundreds” could be used; if more so, it would be “A million things to do”.

Well, in Basque that concept is Hamaika, eleven. Yep, when we want to say: “I have a million things to do” we say: “Hamaika gauza egiteko daukat”, “I have ELEVEN things to do”.

Cracks me up. I can perfectly picture a no-nonsense sober ancient Basque farmer thinking: “What? More than ten cows? Who would want that? They are even impossible to count, I haven’t got so many fingers”.

Everything that is over ten, the figure up to which you can count with your fingers, is uncountable, hence infinite. Or kind of.

What would have happened if someone had been born with 6 fingers in one hand? Would she/he have revolutionized maths? No more base 10 counting? (But base 11 or 12 instead?)

For me hamaika is a summary of the good and the bad in Basque character: realistic and pragmatic, hard working, not prone to the presumptuous accumulation of goods and the resulting worshipping of superficial things, but lacking in ambition or fantasy?

Anyway, I too love 11.

PS. Bonus point: Since mealtime is very late in all the Iberian Peninsula, Basque are prone to indulge in l’aperitif, particularly eating pintxos (Basque take on tapas), usually around eleven o’clock. That’s why it’s called hamaiketako, “eleven’s thing”. A wholesome and savoury association of ideas.

PPS. For more recipes and visual clues on pintxos

One Response to “Words: Hamaika (11)”

  1. Maï says:

    Buenísima crónica sobre lo que significa Hamaika. De nuestras primeras palabras, asociada a tantas cosas… Yo también soy muy fan, pero sobre todo soy fan de nuestra caprichosa recreación del aperitivo en forma de pintxos. Los hamaiketakos, algo que no se debería de perder nunca :) ))

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