Si le das una palabra a una ratoncita…

Of course, the Spanish version of the children’s classic If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is Si le das una galletita a un ratón. We all know how the story goes– if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw. When he’s finished he’ll ask for a napkin . . . and so on and so forth. Point being, it never ends. Forewarned is forearmed.

Si le das una galletita a un ratón

In my case and maybe yours as well, if you teach me one word in Spanish, I’m going to want to know all of its shades of meaning; sample sentences with context; its etymology; derivatives; synonyms; antonyms; homonyms; pajamanyms (I might have just made that up); varied usage depending on region, class, gender and education; notable uses in literature or pop culture; register and whatever other minutia I can think up. And then I’m going to want another word to nibble on. Woe to the Spanish speaker who tries to sneak a new word by me and then clams up, refusing to (or unable to) elaborate! I mean, we can still be friends, of course, but it’ll never go any further than that. No love for you.

Here, I’ll give you an example. It all started this morning when my coworker Anne taught me a new word she’d just learned: muñequera. Clearly deriving from muñeca (wrist), it can mean a wrist brace, a wrist splint or a wrist band like the kind tennis players wear. I already knew how to say brace, splint and band, but I was delighted to learn this ultra specific word. I love precision! I love exactness and economy! Oh, what the heck–I love words. Who knew?



And then . . . I wondered. If muñequera is a brace for your wrist . . . what about other joints? Other body parts? I considered. Rodillera, anyone? ¿Será? I consulted Google with bated breath and found:

Rodillera, knee brace


And, I had a winner! Rodillera was totally legit. Apparently, they can also be used as knee pads or knee guards for sports. All right, on to my next set of joints. How about elbows? Let’s see; coderas? 



Another slam dunk. I was two for two. Hmm, tobilleras?



Sure enough. Then I decided to get really crazy and search for one I just knew couldn’t exist: mentonera. I mean, come on. Drumroll please . . .



My mind was blown, and the day wasn’t even halfway over yet. Then I somehow accidentally cheated and saw collarín somewhere.



A cervical collar or neck cuff. Cuellera also exists. Well, I was on a roll, so I figured that with my luck, hombrera must have existed as well.



In a beautiful state of bliss, I then went to town, thinking of every single body part I could and trying to see if I could concoct a word for a brace there. Yes, every body part. CumbamberaNalgera? It might have happened. Here are a few of the other words for braces/pads/related support that I found:

talonera (talón – heel) (heel pad, heel support)

espaldera (espalda – back) (back brace/motorcycle back protector/garden trellis/gym wall bars)

canilleras/espinilleras (canillas/espinillas– shins) (shin guards!)

pantorrilleras (pantorrillas – calves) (calf compression sleeves)

bracera (brazo – arm) (arm brace)

inglera (ingle – groin) (groin protector)

muslera (muslo – thigh) (thigh brace, thigh compression sleeve)

braguero (braga – boxers, underwear) (jock strap–wow, I just know that I am going to have to say that one day in a sports medicine session)

And now for some words that have nothing to do with braces or splints but that are constructed along the same lines. I already knew some of them.

ombliguera (ombligo – belly button) (belly shirt)

riñonera (riñón – kidney) (fanny pack–eww, such a repulsive word. I have always hated it.)

naricera/bigotera (nariz – nose, bigote – mustache) (nasal specs)

naricera (nariz – nose) (nose clips for swimmers)

bigotera (bigote – mustache) (bow compass)

orejera (oreja – ear) (headphones/ear muffs!)

pechera (pecho – chest) (bib/breastplate/dickey/chest harness/vest)

narizera (nariz – nose) (nose guard for motorcycles) (nose guard)

nuquera (nuca – nape of the neck) (neck pillow)

(Several hours later . . . ) Whew! I’m exhausted. Well, that’s what happens when you give a ratoncita a word. Nothing’s wasted on me. I absolutely adore lists and categories that help me organize all the words and make some sense and order out of them. And I love to be exhaustive, hence the exhaustion. I mean, if I learn one word, I might as well learn all of them. For better or for worse, I’m kind of an all or nothing person.

Do you do this too? Get intrigued by a word and then go down a rabbit hole (una madriguera) and not come up for air until several hours later? What have been some of your more interesting language excursions of late? Don’t leave me in the dark. Or are you perfectly content to just learn one word at a time as if each word were an island? How do you organize it all in your mind?


7 responses to “Si le das una palabra a una ratoncita…

  1. In Polish we say that “if you give him/her a finger, he/she will want the whole palm” (there’s no continuation, as af as I know).

    Cool words, I don’t think I even know POLISH equivalents.

    As to words, organizing them, etc., I’m not sure I’m good at at. Sometimes I do check related words out of curiosity, but more often than not I just stop at one.

    BY the way, I think I remember seeing somewhere that you studied literature before going to Columbia, right? And yet now you’re working as a medical interpreter. Yes, I read the bit about examination so I remember how it came to happen, but I was wondering if you have some special interest in medicine?


    • This children’s book came out in the 80s, and it’s been very popular since, and the phrase kind of worked its way into the popular lexicon. There were followup books that followed the same formula–if you give a pig a pancake, if you give a cat a cupcake, if you give a dog a donut, etc. But people only say the original mouse phrase. It’s because mice are the best, clearly :)

      Outside of that phrase, the only standard proverb that comes to mind is if you give somebody an inch, they’ll take a mile. I never use it, though, so I’m not certain of its connotations. The idea of a slippery slope could also apply.

      Yes, I studied literature. Hm, a special interest in medicine? It’s a good question. Not so far, anyway, although nutrition does interest me somewhat, as well as counseling/psychology. I’m still trying to figure it all out. What do you do, again? Translate?


  2. Jaja, están todas bien. La única que no me suena tan bien es “cuellera” o “colarín”. Parece más un “cuello ortopédico”, que se usa generalmente para inmovilizar el cuello luego de una lesión. Por lo menos así es cómo se conoce acá. :)

    Yo también soy un poco loco y me gusta relacionar palabras, conocer los matices, saber en qué situaciones son más comunes, etc. Igual, no lo hago siempre; voy a tener que contagiarme de vos y seguirte la corriente. Me ENCANTÓ esta entrada, y si no te molesta, voy a copiar muchos de los equivalentes en inglés porque no los conocía.



    • ¿Sí te encantó esta entrada? Ah, qué tan bueno mijo, muchas gracias por tus palabras tan lindas, pues a mí me gustó escribirla y me da más gusto todavía leer los comentarios de mis lectores tan brillantes y amables ;)

      Claro que este “método” no es para nada científico, así que no me citen. Obvio que voy a tener que averiguar más al respecto, pero me parece por lo menos un buen comienzo. Que nadie piense que yo le tome a Google tan al pie de la letra.

      Yo tampoco lo hago siempre, pero a veces con ciertas palabras como muñequera resulta más obvia la probabilidad de otras palabras relacionadas.

      ¿Si me molesta? Pues, ¿para qué estamos si no para copiar y aprender cada uno del otro? Que me copies tranquilo. Como decimos en inglés, imitation is the highest form of flattery :)

      Ah, y ¿cómo se expresaría esa idea la del ratón y la galleta en español? He visto le das la mano y le agarra el codo, además le das la mano y se toma el pie. ¡Gracias!


  3. Ah, me olvidé de decirte cómo se expresa esa idea en español. Sí, “le das la mano y te agarra el codo”. :) Generalmente tiene una connotación negativa, como si alguien está “pushing it”. También se usa mucho con el sentido de abusar de la confianza de alguien.


  4. Pingback: Another blog birthday | Vocabat

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