Language What does the expression "dancing the water" mean and where does it come from?

Bailarle al agua is a Spanish expression that has been used colloquially for centuries

Language What does the expression "dancing the water" mean and where does it come from?

Bailarle al agua is a Spanish expression that has been used colloquially for centuries. Surely the reader has used it and heard it on many occasions, but perhaps has never noticed its origin. As an idiom, the meaning of the phrase cannot be deduced from the words that compose it and, however, it is almost always incorporated in the appropriate context. Let's see if it is possible to clear all doubts about the saying.

Indeed, there is not much mystery regarding what it means to "Dance the water for someone" or "Dance the water in front of you", the latter being a very widespread variant as well. María Moliner's Dictionary of Spanish Use offers a precise definition of the expression: "Trying to please him, flattering him, flattering him, flattering him or agreeing with him completely."

There are those who add two nuances to this definition: anticipating the wishes of the person being praised and pretending to receive something in exchange for so much compliment. In short, the saying is used to suck up to someone as much as possible.

An example of how the phrase is used: "He seems like a mediocre soccer player to me, what happens is that he has a lot of journalists who dance the water around him."

The origin of the locution has more intricacies. According to Alberto Buitrago's Dictionary of Sayings and Phrases, dancing the water arises from the intersection of two different origins: the action of flattering someone by standing in front of them to bow, as if they were dancing, and, on the other hand, courtesy. of offering water to whoever arrives to drink and wash, a courtesy that, according to the author, comes from the rite of foot washing, a symbol of modesty and submission that Jesus Christ did to his disciples.

In The Why of Sayings, José María Iribarren carries out an exhaustive study of expression. Opens the Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish language of Covarrubias (1611), where it is maintained that "dancing the water in front" comes from the way of speaking of the maids, who in summer cooled the rooms by pouring water on the bricks and tiles just before for their masters to arrive home.

However, Iribarren then rescues authors such as Cejador or Rodríguez Marín, who were critical of Covarrubias' version because watering the walls was not a deep-rooted custom. In Rodríguez Marín's opinion, dancing the water in front of one comes from the gesture of going to meet a person with a glass of water to offer it to them; In this transfer, the water in the glass moves as if it were dancing. For Cejador, for his part, dancing refers to the flatterer who receives someone with water so they can drink or wash.

What is clear is that it is an ancient saying that already appeared in the second part of Don Quixote de la Mancha (1615), by Miguel de Cervantes, when in the fourth chapter Sancho says: "But above all I warn my sir, if he has to take me with him it must be on the condition that he has to fight for everything and that I must not be obliged to do anything other than to look after his person in regards to his cleanliness and his gift, which In this I will dance the water in front of him".

Another illustrious author of the Golden Age, Francisco de Quevedo, also brought up the expression, although he did so in his Cuento de Tales as another mockery of the clichés that were used in his time: "What will it be like not to give someone a thirst for water?... And make the water dance in front?"

Quevedo uses the locution again in his Romance CXI (376), where a beautiful woman bathes in the diminished Manzanares:

"She spent the entire puddle on an ankle boot and, as she climbed higher, the current made her jump. The only one I have ever seen is the water dancing in front of her."