Rafa Nadal is forty-second out of the fifty in the Forbes list of top 50 Got Talent España. | EFE


According to the Collins Dictionary, the word talent arrived in present-day English from the Greek “talanton”, via the Latin “talentum” (plural “talenta”) and the Old English “talente”. Talent, as a word therefore, followed a familiar path, one that will have been similar - Old English excluded - for “talento”, the Spanish for talent.

All very unremarkable, you might think. And you would be right, except for how the meaning of talent changed. For the Greeks, a talanton was a weight or a unit of money. For the Romans and the Latin-speaking world (much of Europe once upon a time), talentum was a sum of money. For Old English speakers, talente probably meant much the same, but at some point, a different meaning was acquired. The money angle is ancient etymological history. Or is it?

Special natural ability, capacity for success or achievement - talent possesses subtleties of meaning, but these do not presuppose that talent equates to earning loads of money. Even so, talent can come in handy in pursuit of wealth and fame. Just ask Forbes magazine, producer of rich lists and also talent lists.

It depends how you define fame of course. How many of you know of Celia Muñoz, the ventriloquist winner of the 2021 ’Got Talent España’, the Spanish version of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’? Or how about Hugo Molina? Don’t know him? Well, at the age of three, Hugo, a drumming prodigy, scooped the 2019 contest. In years to come, it may be that Hugo acquires global stardom and a vast fortune, if this isn’t already mounting up. And he will owe this indirectly to Simon Cowell, who himself has great talent (and a pile of dosh) for coming up with TV shows that propel kindergarten drummers to national stardom and for flogging them to foreign TV channels.

Celia and Hugo, whatever their successes may bring in the future, are assured - for all time - in having been highlighted for their talent. Ventriloquist and drummer, are they blessed with special natural ability? Perhaps so. Being neither myself, I can’t really pass judgement, though I suspect that you can be trained to become a very good ventriloquist or drummer. Does this training therefore negate the talent tag?

That’s doubtful, as there are examples - some of them self-confessed - of people who have made much of what comparatively limited talent they had. I heard Alan Shearer say this of himself recently. Not about his talent as a football pundit (discuss) but as a footballer. I thought Shearer was a hell of a player. He looked talented enough to me, but put him alongside a Maradona or a Messi, and you begin to get the picture. They arrived in this world doing keepy-uppies.

Messi, it’s fair to say, has exploited his fabulous natural talent for all it’s worth, which is a great deal. He is the epitome of the linguistic crossover from the Greek and the Latin to the modern meaning of talent. His feet are worth their weight in gold. But then so also is something in his head. That’s where that natural talent really lies.

Which brings me to Forbes and also to Rafael Nadal. The magazine has compiled its list of the top 50 Got Talent España, not that Forbes has borrowed this. The Top 50 Awarded Spaniards, the magazine calls them, borrowing instead from John Stuart Mill in explaining that “the value of a nation is nothing other than the value of the individuals of which it is composed”. The introduction goes on: “Each one has a talent, yes, but there are virtuosos who go beyond borders. Their skills and personal capabilities are recognised on other horizons for their business, cultural or scientific impact at a global level.”

Nadal, it can appear, is forty-second out of the fifty. I say appear, but if you look carefully, you will realise that the list is alphabetical by Christian name. More or less anyway, as Alejandro Sanz is named first before Alberto Campo. This could be for graphics sake - a better photo of Alejandro rather than Alberto. And they are? Respectively, a Grammy Award winner with no fewer than 24 distinctions and an architect.

Most of the names on the list will be unfamiliar. Those who may not be include Alexia Putellas, Antonio Banderas, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Ferran Adriá, Martín Berasategui, Pedro Almodóvar, Penelope Cruz, Rosalia as well as Rafa Nadal. This group, I would suggest, are more familiar because of how and where their talents have shown - the cinema, sport, music and gastronomy.

And that’s probably how we mainly perceive talent. Through popular culture more than the earnest endeavours of, say, an architect. Talent is popular culture, partly because Simon Cowell has said so. Talent is also Greek and Latin. These are celebrities not short of a euro or two.

But Mallorca short of talent? To answer my question, no. Nadal is the only Mallorcan on the list, but as Mallorca’s population is roughly one-fiftieth of Spain’s, this is about right.