Tag Archives: Language

Yo te hacía

I had lunch with a newish friend the other day, someone with whom I’ve gone out several times with other new friends to drink but hadn’t had much time to talk with one-on-one. The lunch place was self-serve, so we loaded up our plates with churrasco, rice, and salad. Except that I skipped the salad because the lettuce looked sad and wilted, and its uninspired bare-bones nature made it look too much like rabbit food to me. Sitting down and eyeing my saladless plate, my friend said to me:

Yo te hacía más de ensalada.

And I had to ask him to repeat it several times because, for some reason, the words just didn’t register with me. I didn’t know that hacer could be used that way.

What was he saying? I took you for more of a salad kind of girl. I thought you were more of the salad type. I had you pegged as more of a salad person. I figured you for more of a salad girl.

Interesting! I had no idea that you could use hacer that way. Later on, he wrote me a message where he used that structure again:

En el diplomado no te hacía tan charlona ;)

During the diploma program I didn’t take you for such a talker ;)

Heh heh. Well, I’m a little bit of everything. The one constant is that I’m fascinated by Spanish, and I can have somewhat of a one-track mind once a new word gets thrown into the mix.

With this usage, hacer means think, suppose, imagine. You’re saying, in my mind I imagined you as a certain way or doing a certain activity.

Te hacíamos en el Perú.

We thought you were in Peru.

Yo lo hacía de ciudad.

I had him down as being a city type.

Pues no imaginaba yo a un señor catedrático como usted usando Linux, yo lo hacía más de máquina de escribir.

Well, I just didn’t imagine a professor like you using Linux; I would have put you down as more of a typewriter person.

Maybe there’s some connection with this usage of hacer and the construction se me hace, which I should definitely blog about at some point. A salad junkie, a mousy type; and how do you picture your favorite Spanish blogger? Don’t worry; I’ve unconsciously invented lives and personalities for all of you, too. And you’re all speaking beautifully fluent Spanish, naturally!

Mercado report

I’ve been reading Eileen at Bearshapedsphere since I first came to Colombia in 2009 and developed a strange addiction to extranjera-in-Chile blogs. She’s one of the few who’s still blogging, and we’re very much linguistic kindred spirits (though her Spanish is oh-so-Chilean, and mine’s very Colombian). Here on the blog, I’m a writer, a teacher, a humorist, and a dramatist–I am not, alas, a storyteller. It’s just not my forte, and I don’t have the patience to work on it. Eileen, on the other hand, is a fantastic storyteller, and she has spun so many colorful and exquisitely textured yarns over the years–in Chile, in New Zealand, in Paraguay, in Suriname, and many other far-flung corners of the globe–that I’ve delighted in getting tangled up in. She was definitely one of my main inspirations for starting this blog, so I encourage you to check her out!

Anyway, one staple of her blog are her feria reports, where she regularly takes pictures of all the produce she bought at the market and reports prices. And I’ve always kind of wanted to do that, always wanted to show you how far your pesos can take you fruit and vegetable-wise in Bogotá. I buy all my produce at the plaza de mercado in my neighborhood, which is about five short blocks away, but it usually makes for one hell of a heavy lug home. Which I don’t really mind at all. I’m sure I could get things cheaper somewhere, but I’m not one to crisscross the city to save a few cents. I always buy from the very first seller, so, who knows? Maybe the guys at the back are where the best prices are at. And maybe I get charged a gringa tax–I don’t think so, but it’s definitely possible. Just putting all those caveats out there in the event that some other Bogotá dweller tells me that I’m paying a fortune for my fiddleheads, making me a real knucklehead. Go ahead–it’s not like it would be the first time or anything.


5 bananos (bananas) = 2000 COP = $0.85
2 pimentones (red peppers) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 brócoli (head of broccoli) = 1000 COP = $0.42
2 zucchinis (1 zucchini, 1 squash) = 1500 COP = $0.64
13 papas criolla (creole potatoes) = 1500 COP = $0.64
3 tomates (tomatoes) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 duraznos (peaches) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 manzanas (apples) = 3000 COP = $1.27
3 naranjas (oranges) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 granadilla = 500 COP = $0.21
2 aguacates (avocados) = 1000 COP = $0.42

+ 4 mandarinas (mandarin oranges) thrown in for free (ñapa)

14,500 COP = $6.16 (the dollar is at 2,353)

I’ve never had a head for prices, tracking them from week to week or country to country, but I’d say the prices are great. The peaches are small, and the broccoli’s bigger than it looks in the picture. I usually never buy apples (I decided a long time ago that why would I come all the way to Colombia to eat expensive imported apples when delicious tropical fruits abound?), but today gave in to whimsy. I realized that the only uniquely local produce in this haul is the granadilla and the papa criolla–most of the most eye-catching “exotic” (read, local) fruit here is best in juice, and I wasn’t planning on making any.

So, if you come to Bogotá and find yourself with just a little over six bucks in your pocket, know that at the very least you could buy yourself this much produce. Not too shabby, eh?

As for the ñapa, yes, that always happens at these kinds of places; no, they’re not going to give you a ñapa at Éxito or Carulla. After the produce, I bought some things at the dry goods area inside the plaza, and the girl also gave me a ñapa–a bocadillo treat. Then I bought toilet paper from a lady at a household products stand, and she gave me a ñapa, too. No, not a few extra squares; a piece of chocolate. These are people I’ve been buying from for almost a year now, so I have a nice rapport with all of them. What I can’t find at the plaza, I begrudgingly get at the Éxito supermarket down the hill. And even if they were to throw in a ñapa (which they never would), the experience wouldn’t be even half as nice as shopping at the mercado! More mercado reports to come.


I misplaced something recently, and it’s been driving me crazy. Something important that makes city living easier, I’ve had it since 2010, and I even managed to hold onto it the two years that I was back in the U.S. And now I have to up and lose it! Geez. I just don’t get it. It’s bright red and should be easy to find. I’ve torn apart my apartment multiple times, though, and the bugger just won’t be found. I haven’t been able to give it up for lost quite yet, insisting that it’s just misplaced. I fear that officially declaring it lost and getting a new one will require rigmarole and bureaucratic hoops to jump through that I’d rather avoid. All signs point to its irredeemable lostness, though, so I just need to accept it, get a new one, and move on.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the accidental se construction in Spanish, which is constructed via se le + verbo a alguien. So if you spill, lose, forget, burn, or do anything else unfortunate to some object, you express it by saying that the object spilt, lost, forgot, burnt, etc. itself and affected you. Who, me? Scatterbrained? No, I would never be so absent-minded so as to lose my keys–those daggum keys lost themselves and inconvenienced me in the process. Oh, you poor thing! How dastardly of those keys! Here, this round’s on me.

¡Se me perdieron las llaves!

I lost my keys!

If you didn’t lose something (or are just in denial, like I am) but merely seem to have misplaced it, your verb is extraviar.

¿Será que me podrías prestar tu lapicero? Se me extravió el mío.

Could you lend me your pen? I can’t seem to find mine.

Here in Colombia, they also use the verb refundir. Supposedly, this verb is used throughout the Andes region, Central America, and Mexico.

Voy a necesitar que vengas a abrirme el casillero, es que a la muchacha se le ha refundido la llavita.

I’m going to need you to come open the locker for me, since the girl has misplaced her key.

One definition for refundir is: meter en el fondo (stick in the bottom or at the back of something), so you can see that the idea of refundir is of an item getting irretrievably lost in the murky nether regions of some theoretical bag or box.

There’s also traspapelar, which is used for files and documents. Imagine something getting misfiled or stuck in some random folder never to see the light of day again, despite multiple searches for it. The verb can also be used for electronic files like emails.

Se me traspapeló la factura, necesito que me impriman una copia.

I lost the receipt, so I’ll need you to print me a copy.

They also say embolatar in Colombia for to lose something, a verb which, if you remember from a few weeks back, can also be used to say that you’re busy.

Se me embolató el correo, regálenmelo otra vez, por favor.

I lost the email; send it to me again, please.


Another little detail to point out: I don’t know about other countries, but here in Colombia to say “what did I do with such-and such?,” you say ¿Qué hice X cosa? It would be like saying, What did I do my keys? And not, What did I do with my keys? Strange, eh?

¿Qué hice mis llaves?

Now, what did I do with my keys?

No sé qué se hicieron tus zapatos, pero te ayudo a buscarlos.

I don’t know where your shoes are, but I’ll help you look for them.

So, there you have it: all the ways to get lost in Spanish, as if you weren’t feeling lost already. Speaking of lost, the best-selling American book and movie Gone Girl was translated as Perdida in Spanish. The TV show Lost was Desaparecidos or Perdidos.

And, sorry to be so enigmatic about what I  misplaced lost. So . . . it was my TransMilenio card. I know, I know; I said a few weeks back that I would never step foot in that horrible contraption again! Despite my fiery words and vows, though, time passed, my anger did, too, and I saw that I’d gotten carried away. I avoid the TM as much as humanly possible, just like I avoid all forms of transport here as much as I can (and so much walking means I can pretty much eat whatever I want, especially with all the hills). But, sometimes it’s el mal menor. And, if it wasn’t clear, I despise the current administration of TransMilenio, not the TransMilenio itself (if I could vote, I’d vote for Enrique Peñalosa as mayor again and for the expansion of TM instead of the ill-planned metro in a heartbeat). I knew a reader would catch me on it one day, so I might as well out myself before I’m exposed as a hypocrite. I need to pray to St. Anthony–the saint of lost things–to find my card, and then I’ll say a prayer to whoever’s the saint of poor urban mobility! And the saint of Spanish? Well, I don’t know–I once heard of this bat-lady who was pretty obsessed . . .

Wink wink nudge nudge

Yesterday being Sunday, I was out walking in the Ciclovía (I want rollerblades for Christmas!), and I briefly got caught in the middle of a piropo sandwich. Behind me and to my right a little, one guy was saying to another, qué mujer más hermosa, es radiante, radiante como el sol. I cocked my face about five degrees and gave the tiniest little upward curl of the lips to show that I appreciated it. I don’t know if it’s true, but I want to be radiant!

And right then an old man who was seated on a sort of giant planter box (that separates the bike lane from the rest of the street) said to me out of nowhere, usted no me pica el ojo, que estoy comprometido ya. And then laughed at his joke/piropo. If I’d heard that a few years ago when I was a Colombian Spanish virgin, I would have thought he was saying something like, you don’t make my eye itch. So, I would have figured that to make someone’s eye itch was to seem attractive to them, to catch their eye (and pour itching powder into it), making them crazy for you. I’m no longer a Colombian Spanish spring chicken, though, so I knew that picar el ojo has nothing to do with itchiness or spiciness or any of picar‘s usual meanings. Here, as well as in a few other countries, picar el ojo means to wink at someone. Wink wink, wink wink . . . that’s it, you’re an old pro.

To wink is usually guiñar, and a wink is a guiñoWhich is how I usually hear it here, even though you could say picada de ojo. I’m not much of a winker in real life, but I’m a very prolific winker in writing. wink How else to convey your ultra-facetious and flirtatious nature? wink Fine, fine; my ultra-facetious and flirtatious nature. wink Until recently I had someone to wink all the livelong day at, and it was great wink wink You know how they say it’s physically impossible to sneeze and keep your eyes open? It was similarly impossible for me to get a sentence out with quickly closing at least one eye. wink Happily, my winking was neither unrequited nor unrewarded wink wink Now my writing is full of sober, grim emoticon-free sentences or, at best, just a half-hearted, staid smiley smile (frown), which is never quite as fun as when accompanied by a playful open-and-shut of the eyes. I’ve got an eye itch that needs a scratching badly! wink

I remember that in Medellín they also said matar el ojo for to wink. To kill the eye–just imagine. I’m thinking that might be overkill; a mere scratch has worked just fine for me to make my point. But if the phrase was ever apt for an individual, here he is.

If winks could kill

By the way, in case you think winking is puerile and distasteful (in a vice-presidential debate, of course) and just gives you eye wrinkles, you should know that one day when we all use Google Glass, we’re going to be winking as furiously with our eyes as people used to peck away with their thumbs on their Blackberries. For now, you take a picture by winking, but I’m sure that the wink feature will continue to be developed. So, we might as well start practicing now.

So, what the old man had said was (in, I should point out, a totally non-gross, non-dirty, non-creepy old man way) was, don’t you wink at me–I’m already taken! Wishful thinking, I mean, wishful winking, at its finest. But I was in a good mood, and he said it in a very friendly, good-natured way and the sun was beautiful and radiant, so I just smiled and went on my way wink

Last words

A relationship that meant a lot to me ceased to be yesterday morning, so I’m sad, reflective, and hoping with all of my being that there’s a minimum of pain on the other side. It’s a long weekend here in Colombia–a weekend that was supposed to be spent on a trip with many wonderful people–and I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of time to fill. I feel like the first 24 hours and probably the first days thereafter must surely set the tone for what a post-breakup will look like, and I know that this one will not look like my last one. I’ve grown far too much since then to let my life be upended or brought to a standstill by the exit of one person (not a totally fair description; I called it off both times). It was a unique relationship for me, though, with a lot of firsts (and perhaps lasts, or onlys), and I’ll mourn it in a way that gives it its due. As in, short, succinct, with self-respect, and in a way that honors the brief but beautiful relationship–no undignified wallowing in self-pity, doubt, nostalgia, or guilt.

So, how to close the cycle before I let a new, beautiful one begin? Before saying goodbye, many want one last something. You sleep together one last time, exchange one last kiss, a goodbye hug, maybe a meal, a letter, a mutual blessing and expression of gratitude for the time that was shared. Obviously, I’m talking about amicable partings where you still care about each other. I didn’t get any of that; it was a heartrending adiós and then they left, forever. I suppose it was too painful to draw it out and encumber ourselves with any of the other formalities. Just like I did three years ago, I want to write one last blog post. And I want to write it about the words I took from that last night of conversation at his house–conversation with him and his parents. The last words he’ll unconsciously teach me, words that, like so many things, will always linger. I didn’t write any of them down, but I made mental notes and was able to recall most of them later on. I don’t remember the context of most of them. I already knew all of these terms except engramparse and plátano hartón, but they’re not words that are a part of my active vocabulary. Either I’m not familiar enough with them and their usage to use them regularly, or I’d read them but wasn’t sure if people used them in casual conversation. Words have always been my most cherished gift anyway, so in lieu of any received letter or note I’ll see myself out with these phrases and hereby close this sweet chapter.

1. Se engrampaEngrampar apparently means to staple in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and a few other regions (with grampa instead of grapa for staple), but the word has a different meaning in Colombia. The best I can make out is something like to find yourself burdened with some undesirable object, location, or company. In a word, stuck. Or stuck in traffic. Ha, stapled in traffic. Readers?

2. En la quinta porra - This means in the middle of nowhere, in the boondocks/boonies, out in the sticks, in bum****. (Sorry, I self-censor for all moms and grandmothers out there.) A place that’s perceived as far away from the speaker and inconvenient to reach. Porra loosely translates as hell (mandar a alguien a la [quinta] porra is to tell them to go to hell), but this particular phrase isn’t offensive. This is the local variation of the traditional Spanish phrase en el quinto pino, and endless variations exist all over the Spanish-speaking world: en el quinto infierno, en los quintos infiernos, en el quinto carajo, en el quinto coño, en la quinta puñeta, en la quinta chingadaen la quinta hostia. Some of which are definitely not for polite company. Nobody really seems to know why quinto (fifth) is used this way, but it’s emphatic.

3. Ni por el chiras – no way, not a chance. El chiras is probably a name for the devil in Colombia–I actually learned this from a blog reader, edf, a while back. Other Colombian forms (of varying vulgarness) include ni por el berraconi por el forro, ni de fundasni de vainas, and ni por el putas (ni puel putas). It’s not gonna happen.

4. Cerciorarse de algo – to make sure of something, to assure yourself of something, to ensure, to check. It’s a fancier way of saying asegurarse de algo, but it’s a good word to know and definitely pops up in conversations. Universal.

5. ¡Rebulla, rebulla! – from rebullir, which means to stir a drink (to dissolve the sugar or mix in the milk) in Colombia.

6. Jincho/a - drunk, plastered, wasted in Colombia.

7. Bonachón, bonachona – good-natured, jolly. I always remember that the book The BFG by Roald Dahl (The Big Friendly Giant) was translated as El gran gigante bonachón in Spanish. Sometimes it can also have the negative connotation of someone who’s goofy or dopey. Like someone who always has a big dopey grin on their face and never has a clue. Or, they’re naïve and easily get taken in because they just can’t imagine the possibility of malice in others. The word is an augmentative of bueno, and it’s universal.

El gran gigante bonachón The BFG Roald Dahl

8. Se erizó – from erizarse, which is when you bristle and all your hairs stand on end, or, if you’re a dog, your ears prick up and you sit at attention, right before launching into a tireless tirade of barks. The dog in question is named Luna, and, oh! How I’m going to miss her. A hedgehog is called an erizo, and this must be because their quills are always standing on end. Similar to this word from a blog post of yore, both being used everywhere.

9. Un no tajante – an emphatic “no,” rejecting something out of hand, a categorical “no.” Tajar means to cut, slice, or chop. You give your “read my lips, I said N-O” and make a clean slice, a clean break.

10. Con eso me limpio el . . . – this is an example of ellipsis, when a word isn’t provided but the listener is assumed to be able to fill in the blank. That blank would be “culo.” So, the complete phrase is con eso me limpio el culo. I wipe my ass with that, literally, or this is as worthless as toilet paper for me, but probably best translated as something like, um . . . I can’t think of a good equivalent phrase. Maybe you couldn’t tell from this blog, but I rarely use profanity. Basically, you’re expressing your disdain and disgust for something. I don’t know, maybe, what a worthless bunch of crap, or, what a load of bull. We might even have a phrase just like this in English, but I wouldn’t know. The person who used this phrase was just quoting someone else, a mom who was jokingly expressing her contempt for her kids’ reports cards that showed various failed subjects.

11. Plátano hartón – a kind of plantain. A titillating discussion began on the names of the different kinds of bananas and plantains after a bowl of dreary, gray, sludge-like plantain soup that I foisted on my partner at the time. I tuned out because I don’t currently care about adding more nuances to my banana/plantain repertoire, but somehow this one reached me in my indifference. You can also just say hartón.

12. Croquis - a police sketch. I’d read the word in newspapers, but this was the first time I’d heard it in real life. The person was saying that after being hit by a hit-and-run driver, he was unable to give the license plate number or a facial composite of the driver to police because it all happened so fast. Isn’t this word cool? It makes me think of croquet and Iroquois. It’s also used for a general diagram, outline, or sketch. In some places, it’s used for an informal, imprecise map that you might draw on the back of an envelope for a friend. Apparently, the word also exists in English (coming from French): a quick and sketch-like drawing of a live model, or a quick figure sketch in fashion design.

Croquis police sketch

13. De sopetón - all at once, suddenly, unexpectedly, just like that. A sopetón can also be a punch. So, the adverbial phrase conveys the shock and suddenness of a sucker punch.

Not to worry; I won’t be breaking up with Colombian Spanish this time or any such nonsense. Nor are a bunch of despecho posts in the works. I’m sad, but not devastated. Life goes on; Vocabat, of course, will go on. I’ll keep speaking better and living better, one word and relationship at a time. I’m grateful, so grateful, for this and every other person who passes through my life, albeit briefly. And I wish both of us the very, very best.