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!


I’ll come out with it already: I’m off-the-charts affectionate. Touchy-feely, besucona, cursi, you name it. No, I can’t and won’t keep my hands to myself, not if I’m in a relationship with you, anyway. I definitely come from a family of huggers and kissers and everything else, and I thought I was living in a country of affectionate, warm-blooded, demonstrative, passionate people. Emphasis on thought, there. Hitherto but not henceforth. That is, I was under the impression I was finally living amongst people who, in theory, get me! And who would reciprocate and celebrate my tactile nature.


But take a look at today’s two illuminating phrases:

No coman pan delante de los pobres.

No cuenten dinero delante de los pobres.

No coman pan delante de los pobres means don’t eat bread in front of the poor, and No cuenten dinero delante de los pobres means don’t count your money in front of the poor. That is, don’t flaunt the fact that you have a partner for the whole world to see. Don’t rub it in peoples’ faces, don’t run around smothering everyone with your lovey-doveyness. ‘Cause a lot of people (partnered or not) don’t have that, and you might make them pine for what they don’t have. I heard the first phrase a few months ago; I was tsk-tsked with the second phrase this weekend. Sorry! (Not sorry.) I like the first phrase a lot more; it makes me think of Marie Antoinette. Well, let them eat cake!

The only English equivalent I can think of is: Get a room! Or maybe something about PDA (public displays of affection). Though I feel like the intensity of the PDA has to be greater for someone to yell at them to get a room, whereas a mere crumb of third-party affection like a quick peck on the lips could feel like insensitive crowing for a “poor” person who wants bread. And, of course, the English phrase makes no reference to the person’s own condition: you can be happily coupled and still yell at someone to get a room. The same thing happens with these Spanish phrases, though–you don’t have to be single to say them. It’s interesting, though, that you have someone calling themselves poor. Do we ever do that in English?

Counting your money in front of a poor person (in front of anyone, really) is outright bragging and of really poor taste, but I find it intriguing that in Spanish simply eating bread is also considered to be a show of ostentation. If you were stuffing your face with bread, OK. But you’d think the phrase would be with caviar or filet mignon. I guess, though, that only a middle-class striver who was always looking over their shoulder to see what the Joneses were eating would be rankled by luxury items such as these: when you’re truly hungry, food is food, and bread is probably one of the most filling, satisfying, and easily acquired items. So, self-absorbedly eating bread in front of a poor person without even breaking off a piece for them would be downright cruel and selfish. But, how do you share your physical affection with a starving person? And like someone’s really going to go discreetly eat bread in a windowless room.


Whatever, the phrase is mainly used to tease and give happy couples a hard time. Still, I always want to be sensitive and considerate–heavens knows I’ve spent enough time being “poor” myself. And poverty could be just around the corner for me again. So, all the more reason to eat up now, right? And to rejoicingly count my (potentially dwindling) money over and over, regardless of the onlookers around me. I’m conflicted . . . so I suppose I’ll just keep being my overly and openly affectionate self in the meantime! I know at least one person is breathing a sigh of relief right now.

The phrases are also said with enfrente de and frente a: no coman pan enfrente de los pobres/no coman pan frente a los pobres, and no cuenten dinero enfrente de los pobres/no cuenten dinero frente a los pobres.

And another blog birthday!


So, I had this nagging sense that Sunday was important for some reason, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea why. And then I felt someone gently biting me early Sunday morning while I was still plunged in deep slumber. That is, I figured it was a someone; turned out, it was a something. After several sharp and persistent nips, I finally sat up to see that there was a bat biting me, trying to rouse me. Vocabat? What are you doing up at this hour, sweetie? Crazy ol’ bat. What could be so important? Through a series of squeaks, she breathlessly asked me where was the cake, where were the presents, and at one point even accused me of forgetting that it was her birthday!!!! I mean . . . of course not! I mean . . . like I could really forget about something as important as that. Geez. Ne’er fear, we made and ate our cake (well, strawberry peach cobbler), drank our champagne, and, um, even went on a motorcycle ride to celebrate. How many other bloggers could even have been bothered? A blog birthday for the ages. Forgive us for not getting around to inviting the rest of you until today–yesterday was a holiday and we were out of pocket.

So, Vocabat turned three on Sunday, and the years are flying by so fast that pretty soon she’s going to have to start lying about her age. No, the blog is 29 . . . again! But for now, we’re pretty happy to be celebrating our third year over here. I know that all this hoopla might strike you as totally unnecessary and silly for a blog, but I’ll have you know that every year is an accomplishment and a great defiance of the blog odds. So I make a point of being all hey-look-at-me and obnoxiously making A BIG FAT DEAL about it. Have you looked at the longevity rates for blogs recently? They’re not pretty. With just a few glasses of champagne, slices of cheesecake cobbler, and hearty hear-hear!s and for she’s a jolly good fellows, we’ll happily keep writing about all the Spanish words and phrases fit to blog over the next year.

This was a unique year for Vocabat because all of 2014’s posts were blogged from Colombia. So, no more guessing, speculating, and trying really hard to remember. Each word and phrase came backed by a stamp of authenticity and up-to-the-minuteness. If they weren’t saying it on the street/bus/classroom, I wasn’t blogging about it. And if they were, I absolutely was.

And now for the statisticians among you, here’s some hard data. This past year, I’ve almost doubled the number of visits from the first two years combined.

The top locations of my readers and visitors over the last year

1- United States                         
2- United Kingdom
3- Colombia
4- Canada
5- Mexico
6- Australia
7- Spain
8- Germany
9- India
10- Netherlands

France, Argentina: it was nice knowing being read by you! Also, hola, India!

I’ve had visitors from at least 186 countries and territories (last year, 171). This year we have new readers joining us from such far-flung lands as Namibia, East Timor, Isle of Man, Papua New Guinea, and Somalia. Welcome, welcome, one and all.

Here’s what the global diaspora of Vocabat readers looks like.


As you can see, Vocabat most needs to concentrate her marketing efforts in desert and ice tundra topographies. I totally understand, though, that these people might have bigger fish to fry than working on their Colombian Spanish. All in good time.

The most popular posts on Vocabat from the last year

1- Test your Spanish vocabulary Do it already! Do it now!
2- Is Mata Taylor a Spammer? A silly spammer gets her comeuppance.
3- World Cup Spanish- Colombia’s out The parade had to be rained on eventually–memories from one of my favorite parts of the year.
4- Styrofoam guinea pigs Because a party’s not a party until somebody breaks out the styrofoam guinea pigs.
5- Colombia: A simple country Simple, my eye! But this post will uncomplicate it for you.
6- Back to Bogotá Uno vuelve siempre a los viejos sitios donde amó la vida.
7- Abuzz First a bat, then a bee–I have a lot to live up to this Halloween.
8- Tomémonos un tinto, seamos amigos Café con aroma de Spanish
9- Pizza boy This post made me happy because one of my sisters shared it and reported laughing like a loon . . . glad to know my screwball humor isn’t exclusively self-enjoyed
10- About the benjamins Three cheers for the youngests!

Some of my favorite posts have been Uy, ¿quién pidió pollo?; Quick, quick, I need a placeholder!; Deliciosa; and Little chicken hearts.

The top Google search terms of the last three months

1- spanish
2- funny/beautiful/fun/cool/weird/pretty spanish words
3- chimbila
4- lavadero
5- spanish tattoos
6- bat costume
7- music staff
8- plastilina
9- piropo
10- planned obsolescence

Yep, this blog pretty much runs the gamut.

creepyWith cobbler crumbs all over her mouth and slightly woozy from the champagne and the motorcycle ride, Vocabat says muchísimas gracias for all the visits, comments, and camaraderie this year and all the years. She hopes the 200+ posts have really helped your Spanish, but hopefully you’ll still stick around even after you’re ten times fluenter than we could ever hope to be. We love making local friends, so let us know if you ever want to tramp around Bogotá. And like us on Facebook!!! May our favorite bat keep sharing her weird and fabulous linguistic finds from her flights around Bogotá.


Today’s word . . . wish . . . -n’t know. Sad to say . . . lately been . . . a lot. Which . . . -lievably frustr- . . . Grrr! I mean . . . happy to learn . . . one Spanish word I . . . without.

Wait, what? Breaking up? . . . and out? That’s weir- . . . -thing is fine . . . end. Here, why don’t . . . Spanish?

Hoy quiero . . . palabra . . . ya quisiera yo . . . Últimamente, todo el . . . esta palabra . . . celular . . . señal . . . pésima . . . mi apartamento. Oye, ¿ahora . . . escuchas? ¡¿Que no?! . . . digas. Qué . . . cabeza . . . Dios.

So, now you know what my cell phone conversations have felt like ever since I moved into my new apartment a few months ago. It’s like they’re being censored. The signal is terrible, and it’s really the pits. For the people on the other end, that is. I hear them just dandy, but they hear me in dribs and drabs. There I am just chatting away, pouring my little heart out, when they have to break in with that ghastly, dreadful word: Qué pena, pero te escucho entrecortada. Oh, how I’ve grown to despise entrecortado! A horrid, gut-wrenching word that I’d just soon as not know. And you all know how obsessive I am about Spanish. As soon as I hear entrecortado, though, I have to do this frenzied dance where I run back and forth between the apartment’s windows, jiggling the phone, squinting at the bars on the screen, and once again kicking myself for not having devised some solution to this problem. If I need to put rabbit ears on my phone, rabbit ears it will be. If I need to stand on my head while taking calls, sign me right up. Anything to not hear that word of doom again. But for the sake of a little education, I’m bucking up and sharing it here, as unpalatable as it may be for me. I’ve had it up to here with entrecortado, and I’d be pleased as punch if you guys could take him off my hands for a little while.

Entrecortado/a (on the phone): breaking up, going in and out, cutting out

In other contexts, it can be translated as intermittent, faltering, choppy, or jerky. Think of cortar (to cut), and entre (between)–like someone with a chef’s knife and a cutting board that keeps chopping, chop-chop-chop, right in the middle of your call. It’s enough to make you want to claw your eyes out. The only silver lining I can find to the whole thing is that I’m now solid on how to say this in Spanish, and now you are, too. Don’t let my bad calls be in vain!

No sé si sea la señal o qué, pero se escucha muy entrecortado.

I don’t know if it’s the signal or what, but the call keeps going in and out.

¿Puedes repetir lo último que dijiste? Es que está un poco entrecortado.

Can you repeat the last thing you said? It’s been breaking up a little.

Te escucho como entrecortada, debe ser porque voy por la calle.

It keeps cutting out, probably because I’m on the street.

Being the bigger person (though obviously childishly insisting on getting the last word), I will say one thing in its defense, and it’s this: it is rather elegant and concise that Spanish can express this idea with just one word. Whereas we need a whole phrase to do so in English. Oh, entrecortado. I guess you and I won’t be breaking up anytime soon, after all.