Tag Archives: Language

Bañarse dos veces en el mismo río

I just read this headline in El Espectador:

Tribunal prohíbe a entrenadores del parque SeaWorld que se bañen con orcas

And I’ll admit that I mentally translated (or understood) it like this: Court prohibits SeaWorld trainers from bathing with killer whales

SeaWorld trainer swimming with killer whale

I remembering seeing it last night as well and understanding it in the same way. And since it didn’t make sense for the trainers to be bathing in these giant whale tanks (Do they not have shower facilities in their homes? Is their pay so paltry?), I think I even had the subconscious thought that it must be that they’re forbidden from getting in the tanks during the whales’ bath time. I know, embarrassing. But it’s not like I clicked on the article and had that idea for its duration–it was just a fleeting thought as I scanned the headlines.

Because, wait. Does a whale take a shower? Is a fish capable of getting dirty? Are dolphins ever in need of a good hosing down? (Not rhetorical questions) I’m no sea life expert, but I’m going to guess no. We’ve got to look for another meaning of bañarse.

And we have one: bañarse can also mean what you and I would call to swim. Of course, in general terms to swim is nadar. In many countries, though, it’s perfectly natural to use bañarse for pools and the ocean when you merely get in, splash around, maybe jump some waves, float on your back, and so on and so forth. Essentially you go for a dip or go for a swim but you can’t really call what you’re doing exercise. You can also use darse un baño for this. Nadar can give the impression more of actually doing a particular stroke, swimming from point A to point B. It seems that in general bañarse is more common in Spain, but it’s definitely used in several Latin American countries as well, Colombia being but one of them. Don’t overthink it; it’s hard to go wrong with nadar. Just know that there’s another option, and you’ll likely hear it at some point if you haven’t already.

El mar estaba helado como para tiritar de frío, pero igual quería bañarme.

The ocean was shiveringly cold, but I still wanted to go in.

Barcelona estudia multar a Shakira por bañarse en una fuente

Barcelona contemplates fining Shakira for dancing in a fountain

Bolivia tuvo mar. Yo sueño con bañarme en una playa boliviana. (Hugo Chávez, 2003)

Bolivia once had a coastline. I dream of going swimming at a Bolivian beach.

Even in English, we have two names for what you wear in the water that blur the lines between to swim and to bathe: a swimsuit or a bathing suit. In Spanish it’s usually traje de baño, but bañador in Spain.

You cannot step into the same river twice –this is a famous quote of Heraclitus. It’s impossible to return to and repeat an experience because situations and we ourselves are constantly changing. There are various versions of the phrase, and some say that you can’t swim or bathe in the same river twice.

This quote is often translated thus in Spanish: No se baña dos veces en el mismo río.

Fotografía Caño Cristales: por Mario Carvajal (cc) 2012

A river you shouldn’t step or bathe in even once, but certainly should visit before you die Caño Cristales, La Macarena, Colombia

So, back to our title–it’s clearly saying that SeaWorld trainers are now forbidden from swimming with the killer whales.

As a sidenote and slight continuation of the theme from yesterday’s post: Speaking of swimming, be careful if you ever come to Bogotá and decide you want to find a place to swim. Bogotá’s most famous brothel is called La Piscina, and if you, say, ask a taxi driver to take you to a piscina and you fumble a bit with the Spanish, he’s very liable to think that’s where you want to go. A word to the wise.


I recently spent just under a week in Quito, a city that to me felt very similar to Bogotá. And in Quito I did all the typical things: La Ronda, el TelefériQo, the museums, the parks, and the sinfín of plazas and spectacular churches. In the entrance of la Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, there was a painting inspired by Dante’s circles of hell, and the various sinners were identified. The names were so fascinating that it would have been a sin not to have jotted them down. But first a few pictures of the church.

La iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús en Quito

La iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús Quito nave central

Murmurador (rumormonger, insinuator, backbiter),
Vana (vain), Adúltera (adulteress), Impenitente (unrepentant)
Cruel (cruel), Bailarín (dancer), Deshonesto (dishonest), Injusto (unjust), Borracho (drunkard), Votador (blasphemer, swearer),
Deliciosa (prostitute, harlot), Registrador (?), Usurero (usurer), Homicida (murderer), Hechicera (sorcerer, witch), Perezoso (slothful), Traidor (traitor), Tahúr (cheater at cards), De duro corazón (hard-hearted), Vengativo (vengeful), Nefando (loathsome, vile, abominable), Ladrón (thief), Sacrílego (sacrilegious, heretic),
Imprudente (imprudent, foolhardy), Impuro (impure)

Hernando de la Cruz Infierno La iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús Quito

Inferno, Hernando de la Cruz

I love old-fashioned and Biblical language for vices. Slothful, vile, rumormonger, harlot–I wish these words had more currency. My favorite word? Deliciosa. Why is it used for a prostitute? There is something in the word itself that sounds decidedly scandalous: delicious, delectable, delito (crime in Spanish). What was the connection? This is what I–a linguistic dilettante–was able to piece together.

We get the words delicia and delicioso from delicere. This verb comes from lacere, which means to deceive, to rope in, to lureand lacere comes from lax, lacis (noose, snare, bait). This in turn comes from the Indo-European root lek (trap).

From the Latin delicere we also get the word delectare (to seduce, please greatly), from which came the Provençal word deleitar. This came from the language of troubadours, those who sung scandalous songs in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which was smack dab in the middle of the sexual oppression of the Catholic Church.

I also discovered the English word deliciate, a new one for me: to delight one’s self; to indulge in feasting; to revel.

My peregrinations inevitably brought me to delicatessen. I took a break from the arduous life of a linguistic private eye and had a sandwich, and then I went on my way to learn that delicious in Middle English also meant to be characterized by sensual indulgence.

They enroote theimself to delicious life and coruptible condicions.

Also, in addition to tasty, I found a meaning of delicious in Old French that is noble, courtly, courteous. It would be remiss of me to not inform you that I also learned that an anagram of delicious is lousicide (a substance that kills lice, not the murder of lice).

I never found any strict evidence that deliciosa was ever used for prostitutes, so I don’t know if the word was used or if this was a caprice of the painter. (If so, he probably got in big trouble with his wife.) I even had dinner with an Italian guy last night, and I asked him about deliciosa, wondering if in Italian it had any lascivious connotations. No such luck. And, no, it doesn’t seem that there’s any link between delicioso and delito.

Olympia Manet

In Spanish, delicioso is delicious (tastes and smells), as well as delightful. (Which we use in English to talk about, say, a delicious shiver or delicious revenge.) One use of the word that I hear all the time is for talking about the weather.

Está haciendo un clima delicioso, ¿sí o no?

This weather is amazing, isn’t it?

La pasamos delicioso ayer en la obra de teatro.

We had a great time at the play yesterday.

Delicioso also gets shortened to deli, if you fancy that kind of informal thing.

La caminata estuvo deli, ojalá se repita. 

The hike was great–hopefully there are more of them.

Also, delicia to say that something sounds delightful (as well as a delicacy).

¿Vas a estar dos meses en Ámsterdam? Ay, ¡qué delicia!

You’re going to be in Amsterdam for two months? Sweet!

Qué delicia ese tiempo a tu lado anoche, no quería irme.

It felt so good being by your side last night–I didn’t want to leave.

I feel like the words prostitute, whore, and hooker in English are ugly, but deliciosa makes the title sound much lovelier. Luscious, succulent, and scrumptious (which sounds so much like strumpet) also have the right sound and connotations to fit the bill. Courtesan isn’t bad, either. Thoughts?

You ring a bell

Jess: I think restaurants have become too important.
Marie: Mmm, I agree. Restaurants are to people in the eighties what theatre was to people in the sixties. I read that in a magazine.
Jess: I wrote that.
Marie: Get outta here.
Jess: No, I did, I wrote that. [. . .] I also wrote “Pesto is the quiche of the eighties.”
Marie: Get over yourself!
Jess: I did! [. . .] Nobody has ever quoted me back to me before.

I thought of this scene from When Harry Met Sally yesterday when something unexpected happened to me, particularly that last line. Nobody has ever quoted me back to me beforeWell, there’s a first time for everything. Yesterday someone “quoted” Vocabat to me without realizing that–bwahaha–we’re one and the same. Vocabat is my Mr. Hyde, so to speak, but, if anything, I think she might be my better half.

I was in my translation class last night, and the teacher announced that we were going to go over punctuation. He passed out a paper that had a list of punctuation marks and their names in English and Spanish. OK, so far, so ho-hum. And then a few things made me sit at attention. In a matter of seconds, I realized I was beholding my own work, looking upon my unmistakable intellectual property. I just knew the list had to have come from this post on Spanish punctuation marks in March 2012. How did I know?

…  Puntos suspensivos Ellipsis, dot dot dot – Hmm, I remember writing that “dot dot dot.” Kosher it isn’t, but my readers know that I embrace all things colloquial.

/     Barra oblicua/inclinada, diagonal, “slash” Slash – Interesting. I also recalled using those translations of slash and unblushingly including the Spanglish version.

#   Numeral, signo de número, almohadilla, cuadradillo, gato Number sign, pound, hash – I am nothing if not thorough (to the point of being annoying), and who else out there would have included those five ways of saying the number sign in Spanish?

” ”  Comillas Quotation marks (little commas!) – But this was the dead giveaway. It was the parenthetical that did it for me. Come on, who else is going to froth at the mouth when they realize that comillas are really little commas? That nerdy exclamation mark was the clincher for me.

And the order of the signs (there were several more) was the same as my list. My heart pounding and my face bright red, I raised my hand. I just had to ask.

Um, where did you find this list? I know, but what website? Why? Well . . . OK, this is kind of crazy, and if I’m wrong I’ll be extremely embarrassed. But I would swear that this list is from my website. 

Oh, snap! My teacher fervently denied it, though. So, I pulled out my Kindle, went to Vocabat, and, sure enough, the list was identical. I showed him afterward. Maybe he thought I was upset and wanted him to pay royalties or something for using my material? Or that I was accusing him of violating my copyrights? Ha! Au contraire! I couldn’t care less (now, if someone was toting my My experience in translation or My favorite Spanish words pages as their own, that would be a different story); I just thought the coincidence was uncanny seeing as I’d never told him about my blog. He said he found it somewhere else, but a Google search when I got home showed that that list doesn’t exist anywhere else on the WWW. Hmm. Curious and curiouser. I’d say that I smell a rat, but I’ve never had a great sense of smell. In any case, it’s a very cool rat that makes me happy. Think, that rat from Ratatouille, not Templeton.

They say there’s nothing better than taking a class with a professor who wrote the textbook you’re using, but what about when it was one of your classmates? It also would have been great, devilish fun to have interjected “I’m sorry, the source is impeccable” anytime he faulted the text for any reason. It wouldn’t have been true, though–I learned a great deal in that discussion, and I’ve already gone back and updated that post.

How to make this strange turn of events didactic? Well, here are a few phrases you can use when something is familiar to you.

One excellent verb is sonar. Sonar is used intransitively to mean that something rings a bell for you. It’s also used when you recognize someone’s face but can’t quite place them or remember their name.

¿Si conozco esta canción? Sabes, me suena pero no estoy muy segura de la letra.

Have I heard this song? Um, it sounds familiar but I’m not all that sure about the lyrics.

Disculpa, ¿será que nos conocemos? Me suena mucho tu cara. 

Sorry, but do I know you from somewhere? Your face looks so familiar.

No me suena ese autor, no creo conocerlo.

That author doesn’t ring a bell; I don’t think I’ve read him.

church bell ringer

Se me hace familiar, me resulta familiar - It seems familiar to me

Se me hace muy familiar esta película, seguro que la vi alguna vez antes.

This movie seems really familiar–I’d almost swear I’ve seen it before.

Me resultan familiares tus promesas de cambiar, pues si son las mismas que haces constantemente sin nunca cambiar nada.

Your promises to change sound familiar to me, seeing as they’re the same ones you make constantly without ever changing anything.

Since we’re on the subject, we might as well touch on how to say that you’re familiar with something: estar familiarizado con algo.

As you can see, kind of a mouthful. Also, once your brain is used to Spanish, it’s hard to look at or say the word “familiar” without thinking of a family member.

OK, being used in a classroom was just the beginning. When any of you hear or see a Vocabat post quoted in a movie, song, online dating profile, or presidential campaign slogan, let me know. In that case, I definitely want royalties, and if they’re big enough, we can and will totally share.


Considered by many to be the bane of good writing, adverbs get a bad rap in literary circles. Even Gabriel García Márquez famously shuns them, giving his translators quite the task. I use adverbs o̶c̶c̶a̶s̶i̶o̶n̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ at times, and I don’t think my speech in Spanish has an abundance of -mentes. When I learn really great adverbs in Spanish, though, I can’t help but be excited about getting an opportunity to use them, adverb tsk-tskers be damned. Here are two interesting Spanish adverbs I learned today and yesterday, adverbs so good they should easily vindicate their part of speech’s dishonor.

Fulminantemente: on the spot, without warning

¿Qué rayos quiere decir fulminantemente? (You’ll see in a moment how apropos this epithet is.) I read this word in a comment on a newspaper article. “. . . que sean despedidas de las universidades y sitio de trabajo fulminantemente.” They (people who sneak into the TransMilenio system without paying) should be kicked out of and fired from their universities and jobs on the spot. Wow, what a word. I didn’t know why, but something about fulminante made me think of fiery, sizzling, heat. I couldn’t connect it to any English word I know, though. As it turned out, fulminate is a word.

to fulminate

-to issue a thunderous attack or denunciation, to rail (against)
-to explode or detonate with noise and violence
-to thunder and lighten (new word for me–to lightning)


-to strike down, kill suddenly (an illness)
-to look daggers at sb, give sb a dirty look, à la “if looks could kill”, a death stare


-instant, immediate (adj.)
-sudden and fatal, fulminant (adj.)
-explosive, squib (n.)

Sudden Impact

Sudden Impact

I vaguely remember the verb fulminar from the time I read Roald Dahl’s The Witches in Spanish. (Las brujas) Yes, yes, here it is: La Gran Bruja recorrió la sala con una mirada fulminante. The Grand High Witch glared around the room. And, Los relucientes ojos de serpiente, hundidos en aquella espantosa cara corrompida, fulminaban, sin pestañear, a las brujas que estaban sentadas frente a ella. The brilliant snake’s eyes that were set so deep in that dreadful, rotting worm-eaten face glared unblinkingly at the witches who sat facing her. I’d forgotten the meaning of this word, but I retained the connotations of heat and intensity. Fulmen means lightning bolt or violent utterance in Latin.

the witches las brujas roald dahl

I guess I must have also heard about fulminated mercury in Breaking Bad. But none of these grazes with fulminate helped me when I tried to imagine what to fire someone fulminantemente meant. You fire/kick out/impeach/dump someone with the intensity of a lightning bolt. In a word, you zap them.

Pistola de fulminantes is a cap gun.

pistola de fulminantes cap gun

Arrobadoramente: enchantingly, entrancingly

I heard this in a lecture at an art colloquium on Friday. While arroba is @, the at sign, arrobar is to enchant, to enthrall. To send into an extasis, to enrapture. It can be in a mystic, spiritual or romantic sense. Arrobador or arrobadora is entrancing, enchanting, and so on and so forth. I’ll now be sniffing around for an opportunity to use this word.

arrobador perfume

Come across any punchy adverbs lately? Don’t be shy; nobody gets fulminated around here, at least not on lazy, rainy weekends.

Pizza boy

You might have missed it, but I made a brief mention of a pizza boy in the last post. How do you say that anyway in Spanish? I don’t want to lose the final round of Jeopardy someday because of this egregious ignorance.

Best supporting/delivery actor: the pizza man

Best supporting/delivery actor: the pizza man!

If you tuned in to watch the Oscars a few weeks ago, you saw Ellen order pizza on a whim for the stars. The pizza delivery boy was reportedly given a $1000 tip. My favorite satirical news site here in Colombia is Actualidad Panamericana (fine, the only one I know of, but so good!), and they did a local riff of this extravagant gesture soon after.

Repartidor de pizza de los Premios TVyNovelas recuerda haber recibido mil pesos de propina . . . Un repartidor de pizzas recibió la astronómica suma de mil pesos de propina . . . “Le entregué la pizza, y cuál no sería mi sorpresa al ver que me dio mil pesos de propina. Me dijo que era para el bus. Muy generoso el señor, ya que el bus cuesta $1400″.

Pizza Boy Recalls 1000-Peso Tip at the TVyNovelas Awards . . . A pizza delivery boy received the astronomical sum of one thousand pesos as a tip . . . “I handed him the pizza and to my astonishment was given a thousand-peso tip. He said it was for the bus, which was very generous of him, seeing as the bus costs 1400 pesos.”

1000 Colombian pesos is like a whopping 50 cents. I’m not quite sure in which direction this satire is aimed, but in any case a 50-cent tip for a delivery boy probably would be newsworthy here.

Repartidor de pizza was also the phrase I saw used as the story about Ellen was disseminated throughout newspapers in Spanish. Repartidor? Pizza passer-outer? Because, for me at least, repartir is when you divvy something up and then everyone gets a piece. Like a slice of cake, or a share of the booty. But, lo and behold, repartir can also mean to deliver, like mail or newspapers. It sounds so sterilized, like how job titles have changed over the years to make them genderless or make them sound more official. Pizza distributor. Pizza conveyor. Pizza dispatcher. Pizza destination coordinator. Pizza courier. Pizza transfer engineer. Pizza logistics manager. What a difference a change of perspective makes!

At a stoplight, who could resist reaching in for a slice?

At a stoplight, who could resist reaching in for a slice?

I was pleased to finally know how to say pizza boy/girl/man/lady/PERSON in Spanish, and then immediately crushed like red pepper flakes to be informed that no one actually says that, at least not in Colombia. Told that the phrase is always translated that way in Spanish subtitles on foreign movies, I assume that repartidor de pizza is standard somewhere. Speak up! The best alternative I could wrangle out was domiciliario, which is obviously all-encompassing for people who deliver orders, that is, domicilios. To domiciles. I’m not sure that I’ve ever noticed a delivery person on a motorcycle conveying anything pizza-shaped, but I do distinctly recall the surprise and charm I experienced when I first visited Bogotá in 2007 and saw fried chicken being delivered in little chicken coop-shaped containers atop motorcycle grills.

Repartidor de volantes, OK. A person who passes out flyers. That feels more natural for me. And here’s an old article on a repartidor de tinto.

I recently learned in my translation class that the classic movie Home Alone is known as Mi pobre angelito in Spanish. My poor little baby. In this clip in Spanish, you can watch the famous scene where Kevin has the Little Nero’s pizza boy go to the back door and then scares him half to death using clips from an old movie and sounds of a machine gun. “Keep the change, ya filthy animal” becomes Guarda el cambio, inmundo animal. Poor little pizza boy.

Fast food delivery boy is killed

Fast food delivery driver killed

Here you can get almost anything delivered to you, and I know that I am totally desaprovechando this laziness afforded me. To my shame, I don’t have any firsthand experience with repartidores/domiciliarios save for when a friend ordered pizza the other week. That should change, though. And you, what do you call the pizza boy?