García Márquez’ Ten Favorite Words in Cien años de soledad

I finally finished all 471 pages of Gabriel García Márquez’ Cien años de soledad last Thursday. A healthy amount of rejoicing and self-congratulation ensued, naturally. Aside from the fact that it was a wonderful book that completely enthralled me–a sad but fascinating read–you know that if I’m writing about a book here, I’m going to be interested in its words. Cien años de soledad certainly had its fair share of them.

I don’t flutter between book and dictionary while I’m reading. I underline one word per page, look up the words later on, write the definitions down, and then go through them with my boyfriend, asking which ones are very useful, which ones are used occasionally, and which ones are strictly literary (some of which he has never heard in his life).

I keep track of the words on a list, and of course there are some words I see over and over again. I don’t keep any kind of strict tally, but I have a good memory. Below are the words that I felt that García Márquez must have had a special fondness for. And if we suppose that you have exactly the same level of Spanish that I do and know all the same words (a silly supposition, I know), these are the ten words you need to know to read Cien años de soledad. Learn them now, and save yourself uncertainty later. If you understand the lines below without a problem, consider reading Colombia’s most famous book in 2012. If not, don’t worry (I wasn’t ready to read it when I first picked it up over a year ago). You’ll get there; I’m sure you already have lots of ideas on how you can continue improving your Spanish in the new year, right?

1. abigarrado/a – multicolored; motley, mishmashed

“. . .  y nadie le daba razón, porque Macondo fue un pueblo desconocido para los muertos hasta que llegó Melquíades y lo señaló con un puntito negro en los abigarrados mapas de la muerte.”

2. apelmazado/a – matted, clumped together 

“Aunque . . . reforzaron la tumba con muros superpuestos y echaron entre ellos ceniza apelmazada, aserrín y cal viva, el cementerio siguió oliendo a pólvora hasta muchos años después . . .”

3. desafuero – excess; outrage

“. . . Aureliano Segundo solo pensaba entonces en encontrar un oficio que le permitiera sostener una casa para Petra Cotes, y morirse con ella, sobre ella y debajo de ella, en una noche de desafuero febril.”

4. desatinado/a – unwise, foolish

“Nadie sabía por qué un hombre que siempre fue tan desprendido había empezado a codiciar el dinero con semejante ansiedad . . . una fortuna de magnitudes desatinadas cuya sola mención dejó sumido en un mar de asombro a Aureliano Segundo.”

5. embadurnado/a smeared

“Vestía un uniforme de dril ordinario . . . y unas botas altas con espuelas embadurnadas de barro y sangre seca.”

6. escarmiento – lesson learned from a mistake; punishment to serve as an example

“El coronel Aureliano Buendía había sido condenado a muerte, y la sentencia sería ejecutada en Macondo, para escarmiento de la población.”

7. litoral coast, shore

“Logró imponer su autoridad sobre los militares de carrera en un amplio sector del litoral.”

8. percance – mishap

“Hicieron añicos media vajilla, destrozaron los rosales . . . mataron las gallinas a tiros, obligaron a bailar a Amaranta los valses tristes de Pietro Crespi . . . pero nadie lamentó los percances porque la casa se estremeció con un terremoto de buena salud.”

9. triquiñuela – dodge, ruse, trick

“Amaranta no se inquietó. Mientras conversaba con las amigas que todas las tardes iban a bordar o tejer en el corredor, trataba de concebir nuevas triquiñuelas.

10. zozobra – uneasiness, anxiety

“En busca de un alivio a la zozobra llamó a Pilar Ternera para que le leyera el porvenir.”

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, have you read or tried to read Cien años de soledad? What did you think of it? Was the vocabulary manageable? Do you look up every word you don’t know? What are some of your favorite books in Spanish? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?


12 responses to “García Márquez’ Ten Favorite Words in Cien años de soledad

  1. Great post and congrats! Found the blog through it and now going to check out some more of your wordage… you also inspired me to really really try to read CADS.


    • Thank you for the kind and encouraging response! Please do give the book a try– it is so worth it. And please come back and let us know what you thought. Glad to have inspired you.


  2. So far I’ve only read simplified versions of books in Spanish. One notable exceptions is “Sueńos en el umbral”, although, paradoxically, it was originally written in English, meaning that the original version would have been easier for me to read :)
    I never read any book by Garcia Marquez, not even in Polish,


    • You have to be honest about your level. If the amount of unknown words is to the point that you can’t follow the story and lose yourself in it, you will not be able to enjoy the pleasure of reading. Some people advocate this, though– I think your approach is better. Simplified versions sound great. I’m personally wary of translations because I find that translators often use strange, unnatural ways of expression to preserve the meaning and feel of the original. Maybe try children’s books? One book I loved was Roald Dahl’s The Witches in Spanish (Las Brujas), one of my childhood favorites. Yes, it was a translation, but I still derived a lot of pleasure from reading it, not to mention vocabulary.


  3. I’m not even sure if literature in the original language is so useful in the process of learning. The problem is that often what you find in books (especially older ones) is mostly lots of poetic and rarely used words and expressions. Sure, if you’re level is already very high and you want to learn something more sophistacated it’s a great choice, but otherwise you may end up cluttering your memory with loads of quite useless words when what you really should be learning is practical stuff useful in day-to-day communication.

    And, by the way, I’m a book-worm, so it’s not like I’m venting my hatred towards books here :)


    • Believe me, I agree with you 100%. I feel very strongly about this! I’ll write about it at some point. No, books are absolutely not a good source for learning conversational Spanish. I would probably argue, in fact, that they are one of the worst.

      When you do reach a high level, however, (like mine with Spanish and yours with English), those formerly “useless” words are not quite as useless anymore. But it is so difficult to know what to use when where how and why.

      And regardless, we can enjoy literature without looking at it strictly as a teaching tool, can’t we? It is good to have compartments in your mind for the “conversation” words and the words you know but don’t use.


  4. Yes, at some point we can “afford to” read books in their original version for fun. That’s what I do with English, for example. As i have a British Council library close at hand, I often borrow books and read them just for that one reason.
    As for the more realistic kind of language, newspapers are much better.


  5. Oh, and as to translations being sometimes difficult to read. One day, when I was slightly annoyed with a lack of literary reading materials in Spanish, I started searching for something in Wikisources. What I come up with was a Spanish translation of “MS. Found in a Bottle” by E. A. Poe. Needless to say, it was extremely difficult to follow, even though it was very short. I have no idea whether it was also the translator’s fault and if he added something to the Poe’s already difficult style, but I was barely able to follow the most basic elements of the story.
    Interestingly, it was te first version of the story that I read. Original version followed a few months later, but I still haven’t read it in Polish…


  6. Hay que leer Isabel Allende…en español por supuesto! Debe comenzar con “Inés del Alma Mía.” Es ficción histórica sobre la conquista del Chile. I learned my Colombian Paisa Spanish in Medellín in the 60’s as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Todavía queda conmigo. No lo olvidas. Leí este libro de Allenda hace dos años. Y después dos de sus libros mas.


    • Sí, sé que ella es una escritora muy popular. Tuve que leer una de sus novelas, Zorro, para una clase de la universidad. Buscaré ese libro, el que me recomiendas. Gracias.

      En los 60– wow, es muy impresionante que lo hayas podido mantener. De hecho, yo no temo olvidar lo que ya he aprendido. Me da algo de tristeza, sin embargo, que ya no estaré rodeada del lenguaje coloquial y pintoresco, las cosas que se dicen entre familia y amigos. Frases como “Váyase con ese manto a misa” y “¿Se te cayó una calza?” y cosas por el estilo. Pero bueno.

      Gracias por el comentario, Howard.


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