Turn turn turnstile

anti tourniquet 


bus station tourniquet

Those are three Google searches I did a few minutes ago to no avail. Can you tell what I was looking for? Hint: I was (unintentionally) thinking in Spanish. I’d read that Bogotá’s TransMilenio BRT system is planning to implement anti-colado faregates, and I wanted to see what such an apparatus would look like. Just really tall? Google was no help, though, until the last query, when the first result was the Wikipedia page for turnstile. Oh, turnstile! Of course, of course. You know what, though–I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying tourniquet in English for the last good while or so. I’ve definitely talked about turnstiles in Spanish far more than I ever have in English, so I guess it figures. Probably because now I live in a major city where I regularly take public transport, and my exposure to turnstiles in the States was decidedly skimpy. How I previously lived without that daily or even bi-daily metallic brush against my waist, I don’t know.

So, yes. Turnstile is el torniquete in Spanish. Tourniquete is also the word used for a medical tourniquet. A tourniquet constricts an artery on an arm or leg to control bleeding, and the idea of a turnstile/torniquete is to constrict and control access into a location. Apparently they say molinete in Argentina (like a pinwheel) and torno in some areas of Spain. Another throwaway fact is that turnstiles are also called baffle gates. The DRAE also said that a torniquete can be some part of a bell, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

At the end of the Wikipedia article on turnstiles, they dedicate an entire paragraph to “Turnstiles in Russia.” The novelty is that “In the early 2000s, Moscow authorities sought to further improve fare collection; since enclosing all bus and tram stops and providing them with fare gates was not feasible, they installed turnstiles inside each city bus and tram.” Yes, and? That seems normal to me (isn’t it? I’ve lost all touch with normality), but Wikipedia clearly did a double backflip about the far-out insideness of these turnstiles. Though it mentions that these groovy inside turnstiles are also seen in Chile, Brazil, and Hong Kong. They’re pan de cada día here in Colombia.

Enemies of crinoline petticoats

I’m going back to the U.S. tomorrow and will be there for eleven days, so if Vocabat can make herself stop eating all the delicious food that will abound–we’re doing an early Thanksgiving–and get around to blogging (oh, who am I kidding? I need to blog like I need to breathe), then she’ll be broadcasting from the U.S. of A, very happily a few pounds heftier. Tune in!

Vía crucis

I feel like I’ve been reading the expressión vía crucis (or viacrucis) everywhere lately. Its meaning has been obvious due to the context, but I never took the time to look the word up to understand what was really going on there. Cross way? Crux way? Kind of sounds like cruise, crucial . . . yeah. You can tell that it’s a metaphor that corresponds to something tangible, some clear image for the people that use it. But what image? It would be illogical to use it–even if it was correctly–without understanding what it was literally saying. It would be like a non-native English speaker using the phrase “to be up a creek without a paddle” and not actually knowing what a creek or paddle were! Fortunately, this kind of ignorance is corrected rather quickly. It was off to the dictionary for me.

El viacrucis or vía crucis is the Stations of the Cross, a series of artistic representations, often sculptural, depicting Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion. There are usually 14-15 stations, and the idea is to help the faithful make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, through meditating upon the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death. Often performed in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during His Passion, it’s most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday.

The Stations of the Cross are also known as the Way of the Cross, or the Via Dolorosa.

But back to the Vía Crucis. So, the phrase refers to the remembrance of Jesus’ tortured last journey, beaten, bloodied, taunted by crowds who wanted him dead, with thorns pushed into his head, and having to bear a heavy cross despite utter exhaustion and weakness. A strong image, to say the least.

How is the phrase used metaphorically? To say that something was a trial, an ordeal, with many difficulties, a nightmare, torture, or a living hell. Maybe it’s profane to cheapen Jesus’ suffering by comparing it to our own comparatively petty gripes, but the idea is certainly clear.

Mujer atacada con ácido vive todo un viacrucis por paro judicial

Woman attacked with acid forced to endure ordeal during judicial strike

Transitar por Cali, un vía crucis al que se enfrentan los discapacitados

Getting around Cali: a daily nightmare for the city’s handicapped population

El servicio del banco Colpatria es una porquería, un viacrucis. Lo peor de lo peor: un banco tan caro y con servicio pésimo.

Colpatria bank’s service is unbelievably bad, a real hell on earth. It couldn’t get any worse–so expensive and with a service that sucks!

Sacar la cédula se ha vuelto un verdadero vía crucis.

Getting a new ID card has become a major pain in the ass.

As you can see, it can be written as vía crucis or viacrucis. It’s always masculine. I’ve yet to hear it said, but I know I will at some point. I was told that it’s a little old-fashioned, but, like I said, I’ve been reading it everywhere. It’s still very much alive. A very similar word is calvario: it also means the Stations of the Cross (as well as Calvary/Golgotha: the hill where Jesus was crucified), and it’s also used to mean a torment or agony that someone undergoes.

I never knew until a few months ago that the word ordeal also has a historically religious meaning. Historically, ordeals were a method of trial in which the guilt or innocence of an accused person was determined by subjecting him or her to danger or to severe pain or torture, especially by fire or water. The outcome was then regarded as an indication of divine judgment. I think I learned this when I came across ordalías in the Javier Marías book I read earlier this year; you can read this fascinating Wikipedia article to learn more about trials by ordeal. How grateful I am not to have been born during the Middle Ages!

WordReference says that the phrase hacer el viacrucis is to do a pub crawl. Hmm, now that is bordering on sacrilege. I wonder what country they say that in. Anyone know?

Hopefully you have no need to use vía crucis; hopefully your life is a vía placeris instead, a real bowl of cherries. But just in case, here’s a new phrase for when you want to let off some steam and really exaggerate your trials and tribulations so as to maximize the pity others feel for you. ¡Qué vía crucis, por Dios!

Colombian Spanish in the time of love (The Bogotá Post)

My latest for The Bogotá Post centers on all things love. Because I am clearly such an expert on the topic . . . cough cough. I have been around the block a time or two, though, and I think I can definitely hold my own in falling in love in Colombian Spanish. When you’re in love in a different language, on the one hand you tend to stop caring about saying things perfectly because all that really matters is what you feel and just being with your sweetheart. At the same time, though, I feel that more than ever you want to know all the words out there so you can express yourself with absolute precision, not just approximations. So, single or already partnered, it’s a great time to learn some key vocab if there’s even the remote chance that you might ever find yourself in love with a Colombian. Highly recommended, by the way.

All you need is love for your newfound relationship with a Colombian, at least at the beginning. Even if you don’t know a lick of Spanish, if there’s attraction, understanding, and un buen feeling between you and your Colombian honey, you should be able to get by on just sparks and body language at first. But eventually by, oh, I don’t know, the second or third day or so, you’re going to want to know a few words and phrases to express all these new marvelous sensations you’re experiencing. Here is some local vocabulary, phrases, and idioms for relationships, many of which don’t translate literally.

It all starts with a crush. And in local Spanish, it starts with a traga. Tragar literally means to swallow, and tragarse de alguien could range from being really into someone who doesn’t even know you exist to being crazy about your long-term partner. Note that una traga can refer to a man or woman. Un trago is something totally different: a drink.

¿Quién es tu traga? Who do you have a crush on?

Estoy muy tragado de Natalia. I’m really into Natalia.

La nueva secretaria tiene tragado a Mauricio. Mauricio’s crazy about the new secretary.

If your crush is unrequited and it ends up just causing pain for you, it’s una traga maluca.

crush avestruz traga

So, you have a crush. Now what? How are you going to get that person’s attention? You flirt. The standard way of saying this is coquetear, and someone’s who’s very flirtatious is coqueto or coqueta. A more colloquial way of saying to hit on someone is echarle los perros a alguien. Literally, to throw the dogs at someone or set the hounds on them.

Te estuvo echando los perros toda la noche, obvio que le gustas. He was flirting with you all night–he obviously likes you.

To pick someone up is levantarse a alguien.

Hey, your flirt game isn’t so bad! You’ve gone out, you really like each other, and you decide to make it official and start going steady. Here in Colombia, they call this step cuadrarse con alguien.

Juan y yo nos cuadramos el sábado. Juan and I decided to be a couple on Saturday.

Se conocieron apenas la semana pasada y ya están cuadrados. They just met last week and they’re already boyfriend and girlfriend.

a room with a view una habitación con vistas beso kiss window ventana

Maybe friends with benefits is more your style. In that case, you’ll be amigovios (from amigos + novios) or amigos con derechos. Machuque is another very colloquial word you might pick up somewhere.

Maybe friends with benefits is more your style . . . while you’re with someone else. An affair is un affaire or un romance, and cheating on your partner is ponerle los cachos a alguien. Literally, to put the horns on someone. It’s very similar to the old-fashioned idea of cuckolding someone. If your secret lover is a man, he’s el tinieblo (the shadow) or el mozo; if a woman, she’s la moza. Or they can be el otro or la otra. If you have someone interested in you that you don’t encourage but you don’t exactly discourage either, just kind of keeping them on the side in case you ever need a plan B, you have an arroz en bajo. To have a pot of rice just simmering there in the background.

Supe que mi novia me estaba poniendo los cachos y la eché. I found out that my girlfriend was cheating on me, and I dumped her.

love falling amor cayendo

Sadly, things don’t always work out, maybe for the reason listed above. To break up is terminar, and after the breakup comes a long painful period of wallowing in your sorrows, listening to vallenato, and trying to drown your grief in alcohol. This period is called la tusa or el despecho in Colombia. Someone going through this stage is, then, entusado or despechado. But cheer up! Un clavo saca otro clavo–the best way to get out a nail that’s stuck in something is by using another nail, and the best way to get over an old flame is by meeting someone new. Now you’re all set with all the vocabulary and phrases you need to do so!


Can you imagine if the grocery store you always shopped at was renowned for being a shoplifter’s paradise? If the store was totally permissive and seemingly even went out of their way to accommodate thieves? On their way out, thieves would wave the stolen goods at the cashiers and security guards, and the personnel would just shrug their shoulders and go, “meh, I can’t be bothered.” Or they’d see them, but they’d be too lazy to pause the games on their cell phones to do anything about it. With plenty of acne and only a few stray facial hairs beginning to sprout, these security guards would be mere teenage boys, visibly bored and armed with what essentially came to nail clippers. Sometimes they’d even wink at the shoplifters and slyly give them a thumbs up. Other times the store officials would mock-seriously wag a finger at the miscreants, who would then pull their pockets inside out to show that they can’t afford to pay, poor little things. And then everyone would laugh and go about their business. When stopped, the sticky-fingered shoppers would regularly protest that the quality of the products is so poor that it isn’t fair or logical to expect them to pay for them. As the store owners would never be able to come up with a good comeback to this (they would know that their products are undeniably crappy, and they would have no plans of remedying this), they would just uncomfortably shrug and look in the other direction.

Imagine that we’re not talking one or two or even ten shoplifters in the supermarket chain’s stores, but almost seventy thousand a day. You’re a law-abiding citizen, of course, and you would never think of stealing (though it would be so easy to do, seeing as there are no cameras and an absolute laxness and impunity that mean you could get away with it, no questions asked). But, naturally, it ires you to know that you’re subsidizing these criminals, and the problem only gets worse as more and more people realize how unnecessary it is to pay for anything. Only a fool pays when you could just take it. And it would appear that the store couldn’t care less. Oh, but that’s where you’d be wrong. They absolutely do care, routinely fretting over the health and safety of their thieves. This leads them to periodically make half-hearted denunciations of the non-payers, tsk-tsking them for putting their lives in danger. No mention whatsoever is made of their criminality or, at the very least, extreme selfishness, and no effort is made to reduce shoplifting. Once in a blue moon, shoplifters are play-nabbed, but then just as quickly let go. It’s all a game, and this joke of a system is carried out right in front of the honest folks. What kind of self-respecting person would continue to patronize this establishment? Well, when it’s essentially the only choice you have, all the other nearby stores being either convenience stores filled with junk food or prohibitively expensive gourmet shops. You continue to bear it, your dignity suffering a little more each day. The local newspapers report on the shoplifting epidemic regularly, but this changes nothing. It’s an open secret, and the store appears to be entirely complacent.

And then you arrive at the store one day to face a huge sign hanging over the doorway: Due to low revenues, we are forced to raise our prices. Thank you for understanding. 

SEVENTY THOUSAND daily thefts that the store took zero measures to curtail or stop. SEVENTY THOUSAND daily thefts that the store still has no intention of lifting a pinky finger about. And these buffoons have the effrontery to feel sorry for themselves and force their honest customers to make up for the loss in revenue that their own incompetence brought about. No, I don’t and won’t “understand” it. What nerve, what gall, what utter audacity. Of course, raised prices will only ensure that the thefts will increase, but at this point, one almost starts to feel that those idiots deserve those thefts. In the face of such boundless ineptitude and indifference, I for one refuse to ever support their services again until a serious anti-shoplifting policy is implemented. I’m not holding my breath.

Don’t live in Bogotá? I’m talking about this horrendous little system called TransMilenio. I’m actually a huge supporter of TransMilenio (and have a lot of respect for Enrique Peñalosa), but its current administration is flabbergastingly horrible. Like, couldn’t be made worse even if you were paid to think of how to make it more useless. I used it twice yesterday, railed against this very topic with a friend, and then came home to learn that the fares are going up. And I’ll be honest with you: it doesn’t really affect me because by local standards, I’m rich. Yes, it’s just a “measly” five cents, but if you only knew how measly local salaries are you’d know how brazen this is in light of the rampant thievery that goes uncommented and unimpeded. Also, TransMilenio is very expensive compared to Latin American averages. It’s the principle, though, and TransMilenio and the local government show time and time again that they have none. They’re all talk, all squawk, all speech, all plan, all study, all announcement, all defense, all self-pity, all conspiracy theory, all accusation, all improvisation, all self-congratulation, all self-nomination for obscure international awards . . . with so very little to show for it all. Jokers, every last one of them. So, again, I refuse to ever take TransMilenio again (even though my card has almost 30.000 on it) until this problem is seriously and effectively addressed. I don’t even insist that they address all of their other ills–just fix this problem of the non-payers, at the very least! Their silent condonation makes them complicit in their own robbery and in the robbery of the rest of us. It already felt like a daily slap in the face, and this new fare hike now feels like a kick in the gut. I wash my hands of the whole scummy ordeal.

I recognize that I’m privileged in that I can even consider forgoing this option, instead relying on walking, biking, taxis, and SITP (I see them as a mal menor, as at least they’re not affected by non-payers). Many, many Bogotanos absolutely can’t, and they’re the ones that will be most hit by this fare raise. Surely, many of them will resort to not paying themselves. Not that everyone who sneaks in without paying does so because they can’t afford to . . . many do so just because; to stick it to the man; because stealing is their nature; because papaya servida, papaya comida; and so on and so forth. I’m glad that this fare raise is supposedly going to help continue the subsidy for those on SISBEN, but for me it still doesn’t excuse the gargantuan problem with the non-payers and the complete silence and invisibility of the authorities on this issue.

transcolado transmilenio colados bus bogotá

Where’s the Spanish? Well, let’s see, I probably shouldn’t teach you emputada or any of the “four-letter” invective I find most suitable for everyone related to this decision. But, there’s this: these 70,000 daily non-payers are called colados. Colarse means to get in somewhere without paying, to sneak in, or to gatecrash. It also means cutting in line. And just plain old colar means to strain, so a piña colada is a drink made from straining pineapple. Cut out the entire mesh part of the strainer or sieve and just let the entire pineapple plop into your drink, and you get what TransMilenio lets happen every day. TransMilenio was inaugurated on December 18 (hey, my birthday!), 2000, and the name was clearly chosen to evoke the progress and innovation that the new millennium represented. That era has long come and gone, though. Though it was truly innovative at the time and showed great promise, subsequent administrations didn’t follow through with the system’s extension plans (there should be 388 kilometers constructed by 2016, and instead there’s only about 112 currently). Always a man more concerned with superficial image than actual substance, current mayor Gustavo Petro recently got his panties in a bunch about wanting to change TransMilenio’s name. Yes, that’s what keeps him up at night: the name. Not the service or lack thereof. OK, fine. I have the perfect name for you, mayor Petro: TransColado. A much more apt description of what the system’s become and of what clientele it truly caters to, this name will provide you with a legacy that fully encapsulates all that you’ve given the city. (I don’t deny his many contributions to gains in social areas, but he’ll be remembered for his effective do-nothingness, incapacity, and arrogance on the transportation nightmare.)

I’m not stingy. I’d be willing to pay even more if we received a world-class service, or even a simple service characterized by respect, efficiency, professionalism, and dignity. But, sadly, that’s far from the case.

¡Ay, Bogotá! Vote with your feet and your pesos.

New RAE dictionary!

I learned from this article yesterday in El Colombiano that the twenty-third edition of the Real Academia Española’s dictionary comes out today (the last edition came out thirteen years ago, in 2001!), and it has 8,680 shiny new words for lexophiles to caress and gaze at lovingly. Oh, and use, if you’re into that kind of thing. In fact, I learned how to say lexophile (word lover) in Spanish from the article: palabrófilo. This blog is like a ward for me and my readers, seeing as we clearly have moderate to severe palabrofilia going on. Not that I think any of us are exactly suffering.

rae diccionario dictionary spanish españolI really liked how the article started out:

La suerte del diccionario, quién sabe si otro libro la quisiera. Cientos, miles de lectores cada día acuden a su saber, y le creen… Pero casi nadie lo cuenta entre sus lecturas habituales.

No lo leen en orden, sino en la página de la palabra que requieren visitar, parecido a la Bibliaque los cristianos leen en cualquier parte, casi nunca de principio a fin. En ambos casos, la fe es la misma.

Who knows if any other book would wish to share the dictionary’s fate. Hundreds, even thousands, of readers turn to its wisdom every day and put full stock in it, but hardly anyone reads it regularly.

They don’t read it in order, instead turning to the page of the word that they needed to look up. A reading style that’s similar to the Bible, with Christians reading it in piecemeal, but rarely from start to finish. In both cases, the degree of faith is the same.


Yes, and just as religious people are often accused of cherry-picking verses to conveniently justify whatever belief or action they wanted to justify, perhaps we cherry-pick from the dictionary and only use the timeworn words that suit us. It may be time to finally read it from start to finish, de cabo a rabo, from a to zutano. The article tells of one learned man here in Colombia who claims to read the dictionary as if it were a novel.

What a unique book is a dictionary! And what an important role it’s played in my life. It’s hardly to be believed, then, that at this moment I don’t have a dictionary in my possession. (Stored in a box in an attic in the U.S. doesn’t count.) Wait, wait, I do have a musty Breve diccionario de colombianismos. And out of the blue, someone gave me their 1962 miniature illustrated Larousse dictionary on Saturday, complete with a sticker on the front with their name, school, and grade (Tercero D). Tell me, what are roses next to a compendium of every flower? What’s a box of chocolates when the dictionary gives me a short history lesson on chocolate in “Méjico” juxtaposed with images of a chimpanzee, a bedbug, and a slipper? (Chimpancé, chinche, chinela) A box of chocolates gets eaten in one sitting, ahem, but a dictionary is for sweetly sipping and savoring over the course of a lifetime. I vaguely remember that a former partner also gave me a dictionary (maybe a diccionario de dudas–it was a long time ago). Another friend once gave me a Spanish dictionary of synonyms (wait, I’m thinking in Spanish! I believe we call that a thesaurus in English), but I think I left it in Medellín. I guess dictionaries must be the most obvious gift for someone like me, and also the most perfect. “De tierra soy y con palabras canto.”

In English, you can call someone who has a prodigious vocabulary a walking dictionary, and in Spanish you can call them un diccionario con patas or un diccionario andante.

Dictionaries also have a very funny nickname in Spanish: un mataburros (donkey killer) or un tumbaburros (donkey demolisher). In some countries, even un amansaburros (donkey tamer) or un desasnaburros (donkey un-donkeyer). With donkey meaning idiot or fool, so perhaps better thought of as ass. Which would make me want to translate desasnaburros as something like remedial school for idiots. Jackass school. In any case, spend a while reading the dictionary and watch your ignorance be beaten to a pulp.

Here’s a great little essay on dictionaries by Gabriel García Márquez. As he says, dictionaries are for playing with, for dizzily luxuriating in words. I need to spend more time playing with dictionaries, especially Spanish-only ones, not just bilingual ones.

Of the 8,680 new words in the DRAE, the El Colombiano article shared a handful of them, and I’m feeling pretty good. Cortoplacista? I just read it in Enrique Peñalosa’s piece on Bogotá’s metro. Feminicidio? Sara blogged about that the other day. Hipervínculo, used it yesterday; positividad, I used to have it my defunct online dating profile, until someone told me it sounded too much like a direct translation from English. Well, who gets the last laugh now?

It’s only $75, and I’m really wanting to own these two tomes to marinate in the riches of the Spanish language and to significantly enhance my vocabulary (also to have a much stronger Scrabble game in Spanish). So, I’ll just put this out there: the blog’s birthday was on Sunday, but Vocabat’s real birthday is in December, just two short months away. Do with that information what you will!