Tag Archives: Language

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.

Beautiful women in Medellín

It seems like a lifetime ago, but I used to live in Medellín. And, yes, as you might have gotten wind of, the women are beautiful there. (And so are the men, which is why I found myself there in the first place.) But I think the women are also beautiful in Bogotá, as well as gorgeous in the other parts of Colombia I’ve visited. And I think that American women are very pretty, Polish women are charming, Mediterranean women are stunning, Indian women are ravishing, Kenyan women are lovely, Asian women are knockouts, etc. I’ve never felt there was any scarcity of feminine beauty in the world, nor any exclusivity. Beauty is generous and abundant, and with an endless variety that’s fascinating.

Medellín and the department of Antioquia seem to have many elements, though, such as poverty, extreme regional pride, and narco culture (both current and leftover from its height in decades past) that have combined to create a particular subculture of beauty and vanity. The women I knew and spent time with in Medellín were probably the last people to ever do something like get plastic surgery or dream about competing in a beauty pageant, but I can’t deny that that cult of beauty is very strong in that region. It manifests itself in a lot of ugly ways, and it also not infrequently has tragic consequences. My dance instructor there died shortly after I left following a botched series of at-home injections of liquid silicone to give him a more shapely butt.

I’m grateful that the city is becoming much more proactive and aggressive about sex tourism and child prostitution–the kerfuffle caused by a recent controversial newspaper article calling the city the biggest brothel in the world seems to have spawned deeper reflection after the initial defensive backlash. I’m also encouraged that there are government campaigns that insist that our [their] women are not a tourist attraction–when people ask you what’s so great about Medellín or what you liked about it, please stop talking about how hot the women are. Seriously, think of a better and more respectful answer that doesn’t reflect so poorly on you. Are the women just more beautiful scenery to gaze at? Boosts for your ego? Cheap investments? I’m not so sure that Medellín is quite ready to position itself as a top tourist destination (I feel the same way about Bogotá), but, believe me, it has a lot going on and is headed in what I feel is a very positive direction. Even if you couldn’t help but appreciate the attractiveness of the women in Medellín (even Rihanna did at the World Cup), was there not anything else? Many Medellineans are tired of this shallow characterization of their city (beautiful women and cocaine), and they’re seeing that this kind of publicity makes their city a destination for many unsavory types whose dollars they’d rather not be courting.

I read an article this morning titled Las ‘reinas’ que no quieren cetro y corona (had to look up cetro: scepter) and also found it to be incredibly heartening. When the current governor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo, was mayor of Medellín (2003-2007), he cut off the city’s sponsorship of the beauty pageant part of their annual Feria de las Flores; he also saw to it that Antioquia’s support for the departmental beauty pageant dried up. His wife, Lucrecia Ramírez, a psychiatrist who specializes in body image issues for women, headed these initially controversial initiatives. Many in Medellín’s society apparently had gotten fed up with women only being exalted for their looks, and the profligate amounts of money spent on the contests also caused concern. Then there was the embarrassing fact that the city was quickly becoming almost exclusively associated abroad with drugs and beautiful women. Another person cited the fact that the ubiquity of cosmetic surgery also made these pageants more than a little pointless.

But they didn’t just cut off support and then move on. Instead, they rechanneled those same funds into the creation of a Miss Talented Pageant (Concurso Mujeres Jóvenes Talento), having women compete based on their merits in academic excellence, artistic and athletic skills, and community leadership. Apparently 80 municipalities in the department have replaced their beauty pageants with Miss Talented Pageants. While some ephemeral kind of hope and distraction from the decades of violence and displacement in Antioquia might be found in the glorification of beauty, it’s just sad when you think ab0ut how fleeting, ineffectual, and arbitrary beauty really is. What does it accomplish, again? Whereas the promotion of leadership and skills in youth is the only true hope for any society. I think Medellín’s example here is so awesome that . . . well, I just had to write a blog post about it. Forgive me if Spanish learning is minimal today.

There was one word in the article that got the ball rolling in my mind for this post, though. That word was cosificación.

La psiquiatra había atendido en su consultorio varios casos de jóvenes afectadas por la obsesión de ser delgadas, y había encontrado un efecto claro de los reinados en las mujeres: “la cosificación”, cuando una persona ubica su cuerpo por fuera de sí misma y lo convierte en una cosa, “y como las cosas se venden y se compran, se exhiben, carecen de valor humano, se tiranizan y se modifican al antojo de quien las compre”, dice Ramírez, inevitablemente este efecto baja la autoestima de cualquiera.

The psychiatrist had seen several cases of young women affected by the obsession with being thin, and she witnessed one clear effect of the beauty pageants on women: objectification, which is when a person locates their body as being outside of him- or herself, turning it into an object. “And just like things that are bought and sold, they’re put on display, they lack human value, they’re oppressed, and they’re custom-fitted to please whoever purchases them,” says Ramírez. “This effect would inevitably lower anybody’s self-esteem.”

I didn’t know the word cosificación; to objectify someone is cosificar. In addition to the objectification of women, the terms are also used in the contexts of animals and workers.

Here are the four most talented (and, I would say, beautiful) women in Antioquia in 2014. Each of their stories moved me deeply. And I loved the woman who was certain that it’s only a matter of time until more people tune in to watch this talent pageant than to watch the traditional beauty pageant in Cartagena!

Daniela Guarín, 23 años, ganadora en la categoría Deportes del concurso Mujeres Jóvenes Talento.

Sandra Milena Santa, 22 años, ganadora en la categoría Arte y Cultura del concurso Mujeres Jóvenes Talento.

Ana Milena González, 23 años, ganadora en la categoría Liderazgo Social del concurso Mujeres Jóvenes Talento.

Natalia, 21 años, ganadora en la categoría Excelencia Académica del concurso Mujeres Jóvenes Talento.

Acometizaje

Congrats to the ESA’s Rosetta mission on the Philae probe’s successful comet landing! The strangest thing I’d heard about in quite a while, but certainly one of the most far-out.

Can you really land on a comet, though, linguistically speaking? (Not that the actual landing-on-a-comet part is a comparative piece of cake.) No one blinks an eye at it in English, probably because one of to land’s definitions in English is: to set (a vehicle) down on land or another surface. You can land on water, the moon, Mars, and, as of today, a comet. 

It’s different in Spanish, though, and today’s feat has already set off linguistic alarms all over the land as well as all other habitable surfaces. In Spanish, to land is aterrizar. The RAE definition is thus: Dicho de un avión o de un artefacto volador cualquiera: Posarse tras una maniobra de descenso, sobre tierra firme o sobre cualquier pista o superficie que sirva a tal fin.

Just as in English, you can aterrizar on firm land or any runway or surface where a plane or flying object can land. However, there also exists a plethora of verbs in Spanish for landing on other surfaces. For example, alunizar for a moon landing (alunizaje), and acuatizar, amerizar, amarizar, and amarar for water landings (acuatizaje, amerizaje, amarizaje, and amaraje). The FUNDÉU recommends using amerizaje, amarizaje, and amaraje for landings in the ocean (el mar), and acuatizaje for landings in lakes and rivers. Amarizar seems to be the best-known verb for this, at least in Latin America; one person admitted that, if put to him, his best guess for amerizar would be to land in America. Another said that amarar just sounded like a lazy amarrar.

His head spinning when I asked him about all these verbs, one friend facetiously said that to land on a lake must be alaguizar and to land on a lagoon alagunizar. But, what if you land on a rivulet? A highway? A cracker? We’re going down a dangerous path, here.

Aterrizar is always your safest bet, then, even if you’re not strictly landing on, well, land. After all, we can marearnos (get dizzy/seasick) on land, so why can’t we land on the sea? Still, words like alunizaje and acuatizaje are firmly entrenched in Spanish, and a word like aterrizaje just feels like it won’t do for today’s historic comet landing. Surely it’s time to herald in a new word for this exploit. Something grand, something epic. As this structure already has a precedent, though, there’s not much room for creativity here. Obviously to land on a comet must needs be acometizar, and a comet landing couldn’t be anything other than acometizaje. These words have already been gaining a lot of traction around the web in the past few days.

RAE lexicographers must get so excited when humans do something never done before and, thus, create the need for a new word. I believe the word alunizar was created long before man did land on the moon in 1969, so word makers might as well go ahead and coin words such as ajupiterizar, aplutonizar, and asolizar to prepare for man’s future achievements. It’s only a matter of time. English just doesn’t really lend itself to fluidly creating verbs like these, so Spanish should revel in this ability and stick it in our eye.

Be sure to “acomentizar” as well, taking a minute to land in the comments.

Also, if you read the comments on the last post you saw that I got mud all over my face. I fixed the typo but resisted the urge to change my erroneous comments on Salud Hernández-Mora’s nonexistent error: let my embarrassing ignorance be a lesson for all of us. Not to never criticize others (the attack wasn’t on her or the other writers, but on the newspapers’ consistently negligent proofreading), but rather to look words up and keep improving our vocabulary. I’ve been in a Spanish plateau for a long time now, where it’s very good but still far from exceptional. And I’m getting kind of restless and bored in that spot, pleased with people’s praise but knowing deep down that my Spanish isn’t even close to where I’d like it to be. So, once again I recommit to excellence and continuous growth, and I also express my gratitude for readers who take the time to correct me, put me in my place when I need it, and who share their own valuable insights and experience.

The case of the conspiculously absent proofreaders

Do news proofreaders exist in Colombia? And if they do, then why are they so sloppy? Inquiring minds want to know, and bleeding eyeballs are crying out for a linguistic armistice. Enuf is enuf!

I’ve been in the U.S. for the past ten days, so my Spanish has more or less come to a screeching halt. I said in my last post, though, that I have to blog like I have to breathe, so it’s good to come up for some air. I may not be speaking much Spanish here (besides some Skype calls), but I still tend to regularly scan the headlines and a few news articles back home. And as I did so yesterday, the discouraging same ol’ same ol’ inspired me to make a teaching moment from it.

What do I mean by the same ol’ same ol’? I’m not talking about the content of the news, but rather its presentation. To wit, I personally find that the online news in Colombia is RIFE with spelling and grammatical errors. I mean, absolutely filled to the gills with typos and gaffes. I rarely read print versions of the news, so I can’t comment on that. These errors seem to be more the rule than the exception, and sadly it’s across the board. I decided to collect a few examples to see if you can find the mistake.

My methodology: I read ONE column on El Tiempo‘s website and found a typo, and then sat down to read just ONE article on Semana‘s website and came across a wide gaping gaffe right off the bat. Not ten articles; not even two. Just one news item each was all it took to come across these errors. If I’d read every article on their respective sites, there’s no doubt I would have found mistakes galore. It was at this point that I decided to intentionally look for and collect errors. I then went to the websites of El Espectador, El Colombiano, La Silla Vacía, Publimetro, and Pulzo. And on each site I chose only ONE article to read. With El Espectador, I never even made it to an article; the headline of the top story had a big typo-filled grin for me. Not one of these articles was free of spelling/grammar mistakes.

OK, challenge yourself to see if you can find the mistakes as well. The answers are below, and I’ve indicated in yellow what sections the mistakes are in. At least the ones I found– if there are others, please let us know.

1. El Tiempo

El Tiempo Colombia gazapo

2. Semana

Semana Colombia gazapo

3. El Espectador 

El Espectador Colombia gazapo

4. El Colombiano

El Colombiano Colombia gazapo

5. La Silla Vacía

La Silla Vacía Colombia gazapo

6. Publimetro

Publimetro Colombia gazapo

7. Pulzo

Pulzo Colombia gazapo

ANSWERS

1. No es contra ti, Salud, but your spelling leaves a lot to be desired. Perjuicios? I’m sure you meant prejuicios. Expect to be both pre-judged and post-judged when you write sloppily.

2. Well, we don’t have to look far for this mistake. First sentence: Esta semana Bogotá fondo. Look ma, no verbs! They clearly meant to say that Bogotá tocó fondo. This newspaper’s writing hit rock bottom with this opening line. Let’s just hope that their writing also has arreglo.

3. Fueron condenaron? Close but no cigar: it’s fueron condenados. It’s no fun to spectate gaffes like these ones–it’s like 20 fuetazos for my poor eyes.

4. A triple whammy: three mistakes in one sorry sentence. Ideam should be capitalized, just as it is in every other mention in the article; por lo que se sugiere OR por lo que sugieren, but not the two combined; and it should be posibles crecientes. Red alert for typos.

5. Las pestañas, not la pestañas. Empty chair, absent proofreader.

6. Dejar de usar, not dejar se usar. Please don’t stop using a proofreader; but do get a better one.

7. Gestión should definitely be capitalized in that name. And shouldn’t it be Javier Pavo, since he’s a man? Just kidding on that last count.

How did you do?

Sorry about the snark, but I can’t help it! I’m just as harsh with my own stupid mistakes. A translator and editor by trade, I have eyes like a hawk (or lynx-eyed, like they say in Spanish: ojos de lince). Shouldn’t this be a prerequisite for any writer or publisher? Also, Spanish is my second language, and as such I try to treat it with a lot of respect. I mean, I started this blog three years ago to help people learn and improve it. Is it too much to ask for Colombia’s journalism to show Spanish the same level of care and respect? It’s rather embarrassing to see mistakes like these on a daily basis, feeling my intelligence insulted in the most indifferent manner. Come on, Colombia! ¿Dónde quedó el profesionalismo, pues? Show some respect for your readers, your language, and yourselves.

I’m not capable of speculating why these kinds of mistakes happen, but feel free to leave a comment if you have insights into this. I know that Salud Hernández-Mora and her ilk are hardly ill-read, so I just have to put it down to typos and sloppy or nonexistent proofreading. I make typos all the time; and . . . then I catch them. It’s not rocket science. Colombian newspapers, hire better proofreaders, pay them more, and make it easier for readers to report typos! I’ll do this test again in a few months, and I’d better see improvements.

You can call misprints and typos gazapos, although this word is on the erudite side. I’ve used it many a time with zero comprehension on the part of my listeners. Misprints in previous issues of books or articles are sometimes listed in a fe de erratas: errata in English (erratum in the singular). An ex and I used to call mistakes rats because of the similarity. I found a rat! we’d declare, when proofreading each other’s writing. Colombian newspapers, please call exterminators and set out mousetraps post haste.

Promising news: during the writing of this blog, Semana caught their error and fixed it to exactly what I said it was supposed to be. Now that’s what I’m blogging about!