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the word dad

A potato, or potato.eugenekeebler (Getty Images)

The word pope is a prodigy: few say so much with so little. They are two letters, the pe and the a, viciously repeated, easy, child’s play. Papa is the obvious counterpart of mom, but where mom is a unique concept — “there is only one mother” — papa are several very diverse ones.

Papa can be dad: in many places in Spanish they are used interchangeably. Or, better, they are staggered in an ascending line of affection: father-dad-dad. Until it collides with the most solemn use: the father of —supposedly— everyone, that father that some fans write with a capital letter.

They say that during its first 1,000 years the flock called all the bishops pope —from the Greek, papas—: it was a sign of respect, the same thing that any faithful does when they call the priest of their neighborhood father. But the supreme leaders of that Church fell in love with the power of that name and decided to seize it, empower themselves. Since then, the pope is one and is the representative of his god on Earth and the head of an increasingly smaller state: the Vatican. He chooses it, as we know, the Holy Spirit, who needs to confine a bunch of cardinals in very ornate rooms where they sell each other’s fish to manifest themselves. Once elected, that pope dedicates himself to presiding over the most macho organization in the West: one where no woman can reach any position of —modest— power, one that is dedicated to limiting women’s freedom in every possible way. That is why it is not uncommon for his boss to be called Pope: he fulfills the repressive functions that the fathers of the family —the family bosses— used to fulfill when his organization started up.

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History seems to give it to him. The potato is famously native to the Americas: it was cultivated there for millennia before any European planted it. And the first Spaniards did not find potatoes but something they liked: it was sweet potato, which the natives of Hispaniola —now Santo Domingo— called sweet potato. Years later, when they discovered the real potatoes from Peru, they confused them with those sweet potatoes and called them similar: potato. It didn’t matter much: in those days the tuber was pig food. And still no more pigs lived in this kingdom than people.

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The potato took more than a century to reach the human table and there it stayed, turned into one of their main foods, something similar to a banner. The Spanish potato omelettes, the Belgian fries —or french fries—, the puree so French, the kartoffelsalat so German, the musaka so Hellenic, the failure of those Irish potato crops between 1845 and 1848 that caused several of the most powerful men of recent decades—Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush, Biden—to trace their origin back to that starving island

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Over time, the potato became so widespread that in many American countries it is called that way to any meal for a small boy —”now I’ll make you the potato”—, to something easy to make —”it’s a potato”— or to the truest – “I tell you the potato” -. And that’s not to mention the double chin and the papacy, so diverse, the fools or flycatchers or parrots or paparazzi —or the impalpable papables, papisas and papillas.

Papa is, in any case, a lucky word, where the vowel rules: pee, poop and poop change almost everything. And it continues to be a word that divides us, that marks differences. In Spain the tuber never ceased to be called a potato: what some would call the stubborn persistence in error. Or others, the way in which languages, when wandering, find their new paths.


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