. . . la naturaleza crea sus pro­pios pentagramas . . . 

Nature creates her own pentagrams? While working on a translation yesterday, that’s how I first translated this fragment while doing a slapdash run-through. Making a mental note, all the while, to go back and look into that, because pentagrams just sounded off and the reference to Satanism or Wicca was out of left field. (This symbol has strong historical ties to many other religions and cultural traditions, but I feel that these days its associations with the occult are best known.)

Nope, it was a false cognate, a falso amigo. It turns out that pentagrama in Spanish almost always refers to a music staff (US) or stave (UK). You know, those five lines where you see the clefs, time signature, and notes. It’s masculine: el pentagrama. I know this would never happen, but I like the thought of someone getting a tattoo of a pentagram in a Spanish-speaking country, only to be crestfallen when they see five lame-o lines on their body instead of the fierce symbol they wanted. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to make a point of thrusting a reference to music staffs into a conversation sometime soon. I wouldn’t want to keep the word pent up.

music staff stave pentagrama

How do you say pentagram in Spanish? That is, the 5-pointed star inside a circle. You have two choices: pentagrama or pentáculo. (Reminiscent of this word.) Technically, pentagrama is just the star, and pentáculo is when said star is encircled. (If we were sticklers, we’d call this a pentacle in English–the word exists.) A pentagram can also be called an estrella de cinco puntas, which you might have to say to the uninitiated. Like yours truly: a little embarrassing, but I didn’t know the word pentagram in English until a few months ago. And from what I’ve read, the vast majority of Spanish speakers only associate pentagrama with its musical meaning. The 5-pointed stars need to step up their PR campaign in both languages. Here I am doing what I can to help!

The translation made sense with pentagrama as music staff because the artist took pictures of birds and vegetation clusters on overhead power lines, then transcribed them as if they were notes on a staff. And then she turned it into music for a musical trio and a music box. One thing I love about translation: I get to see the world through such diverse sets of eyes on a daily basis.

pentagram pentagrama pentáculo

With beginners’ false cognate snafus well behind me, it’s not too often that I run into new ones. But when I do, they’re always really interesting. Say, complaciente and complacent, or condescendiente and condescending. Have you tripped over or dodged any tricky false cognates lately?

World Cup Spanish- Colombia’s out

Well, waaah. Colombia’s out of the World Cup, and I was feeling quite glum for a while. What was the point of continuing with World Cup Spanish vocabulary? What got me out of that funk? Colombians, of course! I know it can be dangerous to generalize, but by and large I find Colombians to be extremely alegres (happy), agradecidos (grateful), and celebratory for any little reason at all. We lost 2-1 to Brazil, and, yes, we were all crying along with James, but people were immediately applauding the team’s excellent overall performance, thanking them for bringing the country such positive attention, and celebrating that we got as far as we did. I just wanted to go home and sulk because that’s my nature, but, uh-uh, no one was having any of it. I was forced to go to a party, and, what do you know, I felt a million times better right away. In the end it’s just a game, and Colombia played and ultimately lost with honor and dignity. Can a heart be heavy and happy at the same time? I think so.

colombia team equipo world cup mundial

Who to root for now? Hmm, Costa Rica, because they’re the little engine that could, and their coach is Colombian. Then, Holland? Or Argentina? My enthusiasm is waning, truncated just like Colombia’s sparkling trajectory. ¡Pero la vida sigue! May the best team win.

A controversial figure in the Colombia-Brazil game was the ref. Not that that’s anything new. How do you say referee in Spanish? El árbitro. We have the word arbiter in English, but it’s very rare. Arbitrator isn’t too common, either. I think the first English word that you unconsciously associate with árbitro is arbitrary and, sigh, many of their calls and silences seem to be just that. Refereeing in general is el arbitraje, so blame it on the mal arbitraje if the ref had it in for your team. Sometimes the ref is called el juez. What if it’s a lady ref? La árbitra? El árbitra? La árbitro? The internet can’t decide. Juez becomes la juez or la jueza. Oh, English, how I long for your simplicity sometimes!

árbitro colombia brasil brazil world cup mundial

Everyone was complaining that the Colombia-Brazil ref was an árbitro comprado, or that he’d been bought off or bribed. That he was crooked and in the FIFA’s pocket. But at the end of the day, Colombia didn’t play well and didn’t score the goals it needed. While most of the fouls were against Colombia and it seemed that they especially ganged up on James, there was leniency (or blindness) toward Colombia as well. Seeing as one player’s knee to Neymar’s back fractured the Brazilian star’s vertebra, and he’ll now be out for the rest of the tournament.

The linesmen are los jueces de línea.

Fouls? Faltas.

Yes, some people are still crying foul and saying the biased ref this, the disallowed goal that, but overall Colombians accept the loss. We’re not sore losers or poor sports. A sore loser is a mal perdedor, or someone who no sabe perderBut, actually, I think that losing is what Colombia knows how to do best, soccer-wise. The series of wins and beautiful plays were a little dizzying, but I’m certain that there will be many more in the years to come.

Finally, something weird but cool. This beautiful giant grasshopper flew onto James Rodríguez’ arm and then stayed there for a good while as he took a penalty shot and scored Colombia’s only legitimate goal. Click on the picture to see it with greater detail. A grasshopper is a saltamontes or chapulín, though it’s not uncommon for it to be called a grillo (cricket) out of insect ignorance. Some are even saying the bug was a locust (which just sounds too messianic). Smart little critter, whatever he was.

james rodríguez insecto bug locust grasshopper cricket

¡Súper orgullosa! And now . . . back to normal life, back to reality. I really don’t even care about soccer, but I’m grateful for this surge of unity, hope, and cheer that my adopted patria inspired in me and so many people. I also love that the coach, José Pékerman, is Argentinian and that he has done so much for Colombia. He’s truly revered here, and he deserves it. Apparently, when Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup, Pékerman requested Colombian citizenship and received it the next day. I confess that I like to fantasize about what I could possibly do to one day receive Colombian citizenship on the spot! I’d love to do some great, heroic deed for Colombia, but I’ll probably just end up putting in the requisite number of years here plus the mountain of paperwork. If only those citizenship issuers were blog readers . . . I need a rosca . . . who can help me out here?

Gol gol gol

This post is going to be all about the goal. The goal area, goalie, net, posts, and, well, goals. It’s always important to have goals in life, and it’s especially important to have goals in a soccer game, seeing as they’re kind of the point. So, let’s give that region of the soccer field some love.

Tim Howard, American goalie

Tim Howard, American goalie

A goalie or goalkeeper is usually an arquero or a portero. Guardameta is also used with semi-regularity. Here in Colombia, I mostly hear arquero. Arquero seems to be the norm in most of South America; portero is more common in Spain and Mexico. Central America? The Caribbean? Equatorial Guinea? I don’t know. Words that also exist but that aren’t nearly as common include guardavallas, guardapalos, cuidapalos, golero, cancerbero, and meta. Cancerbero has nothing to do with cancer; it’s actually the combination of can- (dog, as in canine) + Cerbero (Cerberus, the mythological 3-headed hellhound that guards the entrance to the underworld). I like to imagine goalies giving themselves that pep talk as they step into position: I am Cerberus; I will guard this space like 3-headed ferocious dog guarding the gates of Hades; if anyone tries to enter I’ll bite their freaking head off! If Luis Suárez was a goalie, maybe he could have used this as his defense last week. Hey, I thought I was Cerberus! You guys don’t want me to bite, maybe you should think twice before you call me a 3-headed fanged beast. Except he’s a forward, so yeah. No excuses.


Those are nine ways of saying goalie, but what do you call the actual goal area? Well, you can find the many ways in the words above. The goal can be the arco, arquería, puerta, portería, meta, valla, los tres palos, or the casamata. Portería is what I hear most.

The posts or bars? I mostly know them as the palos, but they can also be called los postes or la madera. The horizontal crossbar can be called the travesaño, larguero, or horizontal (with the vertical bars being verticales).

Do you know how to say to bounce off something? It’s rebotar en algo. So, if the ball bounces off the posts, you say rebotó en los palos. Whenever this happens, there is sure to be cursing on one side and sighs of relief on the other.

Chile's Mauricio Pinilla tattooed his near-goal rebote on his back

Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla tattooed his near-goal rebote on his back

The net is la red, sometimes la malla. 

To score a goal is marcar un gol. You can also say hacer un gol, meter un gol, or anotar un gol. If you’re a journalist, you might write golear, though this doesn’t mean to score an individual goal per se, but rather for a team to score a lot of goals, for them to win handily. Colombia goleó a Brasil 4 a 1. Look for this one tonight!!! (This is actually the score I’m betting on for my polla- sports bet.)

And how about when a goalie blocks a goal or performs a save? The most common and colloquial ways of saying this seem to be tapar, parar, and atajar un gol. Atajar was a brand new one for me, but I’ve heard it several times lately; WordReference says to stop, intercept; to catch, catch in flight. ¡Qué atajada! What a save! Or, ¡Qué parada! Feel free to also bandy about verbs like detenerimpedir, evitar, rechazarbloquear, and blocar. Apparently, salvar un gol is used in some countries, but rejected in others as an overly literal translation from English. Despejar would be like to clear the ball, getting it the heck out of there by whatever means necessary.

David Ospina arquero goalie world cup colombia

David Ospina, arquero colombiano

Any more goal vocab? Oh, I just thought of one. In journalism, goals are often referred to as tantos. Supplement me, correct me, pillory me, love me in the comments. And tune in tomorrow at 4 p.m. U.S. Eastern time to watch the Colombia-Brazil game and cheer us on! It’s going to be epic, and we need your support! ¡Vamos Colombia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rodney’s latest post has lots of soccer vocab as well, so be sure to check it out. I didn’t know the Mexican phrase, ¿Quién es tu gallo? Pues, ¡mi gallo es Colombia! ¿Quién lo iba a pensar?

World Cup Spanish questions

Colombia has won all four of its first four games at the World Cup (Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan, Uruguay), and the excitement here is extreme, to say the least. Led by Argentinian coach José Pékerman, the national team has impressed big time. The midfielder James Rodríguez (pronounced HAH-mez, not James)–the so-called breakout star of the World Cup–has scored five goals in the four games and had two assists. His first goal in the game against Uruguay has been lauded worldwide as a thing of sheer beauty and genius. Oh, and Costa Rica has also made it to the quarterfinals under Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto, the first Colombian coach to make it that far. If your team is out or never quite made it to the drawing board, I respectfully suggest Colombia as a great team to follow. And I’m not the only one: here are some excellent reasons via photos and video to convince you to pull for Los Cafeteros.

Post-goal team happy dance

Post-goal team happy dance

I’ve watched so many games recently–not just Colombia, but many others as well–that I need a break this week. Just like the players need to rest before they face Brazil on Friday, I’m sure that many fans also need a hiatus so that we can recharge our batteries for the big match. The drama, nail biting, and jubilation are getting to be a bit exhausting! So, in lieu of watching soccer, I’ll do some blogging on World Cup vocabulary. If you don’t know what’s going on, here’s the best way to fake it. Brought to you by an expert faker, the best of the best: Vocabat.

A deft, well-timed question is really all you need so that it appears that you have a clue. If nothing else, you know what questions one’s supposed to ask, and you’ll likely then be politely left alone. Additional commentary is not only unnecessary, it also requires that you have at least a slight understanding of what’s going on. And that’s easy to screw up, believe me.

What’s the score? - ¿Cómo van?

I’d say that this is far and away the most useful, all-purpose, and colloquial way of asking who’s winning and who’s losing. I hesitate to even share any other options, just because this is the one you really should reach for. But, in case you ever feel the need to switch things up or need to be able to recognize a variant on ¿Cómo van?, here are equally acceptable ways of asking the score. As always, mileage may vary depending on the country.

During the game: ¿Cómo va el partido? ¿Quién va ganando? ¿Cómo va el marcador? ¿Quién gana? ¿Cuánto van? ¿A cuánto van? 

After the game: ¿Cómo terminó el partido? ¿Cómo quedó el partido? ¿Cómo quedaron? ¿Cuál fue el marcador? ¿Cómo fue el resultado?

Confession time: With my tail between my legs, I have to admit that I didn’t know the word marcador for score before the World Cup. Now I’m hearing it left and right, but it just wasn’t on my radar before. In fact, if pressed, I would have fumbled and offered up puntuación, but it turns out that that’s usually not the word you want for the score of sports events. It’s more like the score on a test. So, puntuación OUT, marcador IN. I’m clearly a fair-weather sports fan.

To answer this question, you can say something like:

Colombia le va ganando a Brasil, van 4-0.

Gana Costa Rica 2 a 1.

Va ganando Estados Unidos 1 a 0.

Van 5 a 1 para Holanda.

And now you know where my sympathies lie, roughly in that order, too!

james rodríguez selección colombia

James Rodríguez

Time for the next crucial question.

Who are you rooting for? Who do you want to win? – ¿Por quién vas?

Again, I think ¿Por quién vas? is the only one you really need to know, but there are little tweaks to this construction that you might hear.

¿Con quién vas? ¿A quién le vas? ¿A quién le haces fuerza? 

To answer:

Voy por Colombia, ni más faltaba.

¡¡¡Vamos con Holanda!!!

Él le iba a Camerún, ahora a Francia.

No sé a quién le voy a hacer fuerza, estoy entre Estados Unidos y Alemania.

Any more questions? Practice these, and I’ll have some more vocabulary soon so you can make astute, spot-on comments in Spanish while watching the World Cup. Go USA! ¡Y vamos Colombia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Change we can believe in

In the last real post we covered change as in small bills and change (change for a 20, for example), and in this one we’ll look at the change you get back after paying for something. Or not–the accuracy of your change not infrequently depends on the “size” of the bills you paid with, at least in Colombia. Here’s some vocabulary so that if you have to be short-changed, at least you can be sure it has nothing to do with you speaking unfluent Spanish.

Far and away, the most all-purpose and universal word for this kind of change is cambio. Super easy.

Then there’s vuelta and vuelto. Vuelta is said in Spain; vuelto is said in most of Latin America.

As I read about vuelta and vuelto, beads of sweat started forming on my forehead, and I felt mildly ill. Vuelta? Vuelto? I’d never heard the words before. How could I be a Spanish blogger and be utterly unfamiliar with these basic words? Because, me? I’ve always said vueltas. I was starting to feel like a crock.

And then I confirmed that vueltas is how you say change in Colombia. Whew! Just one more reminder of how Colombian my Spanish is. Here, we say vueltas, even devueltas. Also devuelta. As well as vueltos. (They obviously delight in being contrarians.) I’ll do my best to drop the s in other countries, but I can’t make any promises. I just don’t see decolombianization in my cards.

If you want to tell someone to keep the change, the most common verb to use is quedarse, followed by guardar.

Quédese con la vuelta. Quédate con el cambio.

Guardá el cambio. Guarda el vuelto.

While researching this, I learned that, at least in Spain, the preposition in the phrase quedarse con algo is often dropped. So, quédate con la vuelta can become quédate la vuelta, or quédatela. Is this construction used anywhere else? (For all I know, it’s used everywhere, and I’ve simply never noticed.) I’m on the case.

Quédate con tus monedas, quiero cambio.

Quédate con tus monedas, quiero cambio.

As I wrote about in the last post on change, it can be somewhat problematic here in Colombia. An article in yesterday’s El Tiempo stated that Colombians prefer cash as much as they did 70 years ago, at a rate of 48%. Plastic just hasn’t caught on like it has in other developed countries. From the article, I learned the phrase dinero contante (y sonante), which means cold hard cash.

The article mentions piggy banks as a common mode of saving money, and my experience bears that one out. They’re a rather common sight here in homes, so alcancía is a surprisingly useful word to know. If someone doesn’t have enough money for something, they might half-joke about having to romper el alcancía or romper el chanchito. Like many Spanish words that begin with al-, alcancía comes from Arabic. From what I read, the word alcancía has disappeared in most parts of Spain, replaced by hucha. (Hucha means butt crack in many countries, and se te ve la hucha or even se te ve la alcancía means, I can see your crack. Daily parlance for plomeros.) Alcancía is the only word used in Latin America, though. The piggy banks here, at least the ones I’ve seen, tend to be made of clay. I’ve never been so indiscreet so as to turn one over and contemplate its underbelly, but my impression is that they don’t have a plug; you have to smash them to access your money, so it doesn’t make sense to do so before you’ve got a nice little stockpile of funds accumulated. Poor piggies.

alcancías de barro colombia

I have an update on the last post’s story about me going head to head with an Éxito cashier about my change. Last week, I had another run-in with her. I think I paid in sencillo, but not with exact change. She asked if I had the 400 pesos or whatever, and I said that I didn’t. (I’m kind of fuzzy, but I think I genuinely didn’t have it this time.) And, then, what do you know, she actually gave me my vueltas in such a way that I was given 110 pesos or so above what I was owed. It’s common knowledge that it’s always the customer who gets the short end of the stick in these complicated sencillo situations, but now I see that it’s tit for tat in the larger stores. At least with steely-eyed Lady of the long braids. (Lady is her name–common here.)

Change or no change, at least Colombian money is relatively pretty to look at. I’ll blog about it at some point. And, rich or impecunious, at least you’re now loaded with Spanish vocabulary for talking about change. Don’t forget: BESO! (Billetes en sencillo, ¡obtuso!) That is, don’t forget your change at home. Hell hath no fury like a Colombian taxi driver scorned, i.e., paid with a large bill.