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The day before yesterday

Nuestro mañana será más luminoso [sic] que nuestro ayer y nuestro hoy. Pero ¿quién pondría la mano en el fuego en cuanto a que nuestro pasado mañana no vaya a ser peor que nuestro anteayer?

[Our tomorrow will be more luminous than our yesterday and our today. But who would put their hand in the fire and swear that our day-after-tomorrow won’t be worse than our day-before-yesterday?]

I like this little quote because it highlights an interesting difference between Spanish and English. Now, Spanish is generally lengthier than English; for various reasons, even a word-for-word translation from English to Spanish will generally be around 20% longer.

This is one of those cases, however, where Spanish is actually more compact than English. The word ‘anteayer’ is a combination of ante (before) and ayer (yesterday): the-day-before-yesterday. But whereas English needs four words, Spanish needs just one. Similarly, ‘pasado mañana’ is a combination of ‘past’ and ‘tomorrow’, or the-day-after-tomorrow; English here still needs 50% more words!

The quote is actually from Venedikt Yerofeyev’s 1969 samizdat classic Москва — Петушки, or Moscow-Petuchi, which narrates a vodka-soaked tour of Moscow’s underground system. I am reading it in Spanish and wondered if Russian, too, had a single word to say the-day-before-tomorrow or anteayer. It does: позавчера. Russian’s equivalent to pasado mañana is also slightly longer than its anteayer, but still shorter than the English: на прошлой неделе. In both cases, the basic sense and composition of the word is the same as in Spanish.

Even among the Romance languages, which are often more-or-less consistent with each other, there are various approaches to ‘anteayer’: French has avant hier, Portuguese anteontem, Catalan abans d’ahir; the Italian giorno prima di ieri has the same number of words as the English, whilst the Romanian o zi înainte de ieri is even longer.

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