Tag Archives: Language

When it rains, it pours (The Bogotá Post)

My latest column in The Bogotá Post came out a few weeks ago, but with 12 days spent in Nicaragua it’s just now that I have a chance to share it here. I’m posting what I wrote, and I’m including the link to TBP’s website, where you can see the column in its final format. Rain is an ever-present backdrop to this city, and you can come to love it. Especially with the trend of global warming/weirding–Bogotá’s cool, drizzly weather may be something we look back on fondly in decades to come! Enjoy it while it lasts, and use the words and expressions below to sprinkle your Spanish with fluency and colloquiality. Happy new year!


Bogotá is a fairly rainy city even at the best of times, but lately the rain has been absolutely relentless. That’s because we’re in what’s called invierno, a rainy season that’s particularly strong in November and December. In fact, some people jokingly call November lloviembre, combining noviembre and lluvia. It’s said that Eskimos have one hundred terms for snow due to its importance and ubiquity in their culture, so it’s only logical that Bogotanos would have a plethora of vocabulary for talking about rain.

When dark clouds look menacing or you can just tell that it’s going to rain, you’ll want to say Tiene ganas de llover or Quiere llover.

There are many ways to say that it’s raining hard. The most common word locally for a downpour is aguacero. More colloquially, many people call this a palo de agua. You can also say: está lloviendo a cántaros (it’s raining buckets), llueve hasta maridos (it’s raining men), or, está cayendo un diluvio (it’s flooding).

Esta tarde cayó un aguacero ni el berraco, jamás había visto semejante palo de agua.

It rained so much this afternoon–I’d never seen such a torrential downpour before.

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If you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, you’re going to get soaked to the bone. The standard and most common word for this is empapado, from the verb empapar. Of course, there are also a few local ways to say that you got drenched, one of which is emparamado. You can also say, Me pegué una lavada.

Maybe it starts to sprinkle and nothing else. The word for this in Spanish is una llovizna, and informally it’s also called un espantabobos. That is, just a little drizzle to make all the silly rain-paranoid people panic. Espantaflojos and espantabrujas also exist.

No te preocupes, es solo un espantabobos.

Don’t worry; it’s just barely sprinkling.

A key rain-related word to know is escampar. It refers to when it stops raining, when it lets up. It can additionally mean to take shelter somewhere while you wait for it to stop raining, like ducking into a cafe or standing under a doorway.

Nos vamos apenas escampe.

We’ll leave as soon as it stops raining.

Vamos a escampar en ese chucito para que no nos mojemos.

Let’s go wait out the rain in that little hole in the wall so we don’t get wet.

For umbrella, you’ll hear both sombrilla and paraguas here, though sombrilla is more common. Puddles are charcos, and they are legion.

If you read my column a few weeks back, you’ll recall that a moza or mozo is the person you’re having an affair with. Well, this word makes a reappearance with rainy weather in the phrase para moza (or, para mozo). This expresses that the lousy or rainy weather just makes you want to be curled up in bed with the person you’re seeing on the side. It’s a play on words of paramoso, which means rainy.

Uy, este clima está como para moza.

This weather just puts me in the mood to snuggle with my sweetie.

Arrunchar means to cuddle, and the sight of rain always makes locals express their desire to be in bed, either watching a movie or spooning with their partner. This is called a plan arrunchis.

So, you’ve got your umbrella, check, you’ve made your plan arrunchis, check, and now you’re fitted with the vocabulary for any and every rainy situation. A hard rain’s gonna fall, and you’re going to handle it as fluently as a local.

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.

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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.

Lost

I misplaced my TransMilenio card 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! 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 it 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.

¡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.

lost

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. If knowing the right Spanish for expressing that you’ve lost something is a poor consolation, pray to St. Anthony–the saint of lost things–quick!

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