I wrote yesterday that I love words. Well, usually. I also love efficiency, so it can be a little maddening when one thing has ten thousand different names. There are also certain subjects that are so unsavory that the less that is said about them, the better. If you’re describing something beautiful and poetic, then let the synonyms abound! Write flowery, circumlocutory sentences that dance around the lovely subject without ever saying its name outright till the cows come home; if the subject is an unpalatable one, though, just cut to the chase, call a spade a spade, and move on. Sometimes endless euphemisms just drag things out and make everything worse. Out with it, already!
Case in point: lagaña
A patient today was describing her eye problems to the provider, and she mentioned that her eyes had been producing a lot of lagaña. I recognized the word right away, but all of the English terms coming to me were far too childish or gross to say in a medical setting.
I finally went with eye goop, feeling disgusting as I said it. Why can’t we have a simple, elegant and non-evocative term like lagaña in English?
When the provider asked about it, she said sleep and crust. Now that I’m home and have looked it up, I see that the technical term is rheum. I’ve also seen dozens of other colloquial ways to say it in English, and I’m feeling more disgusted than ever. I think Spanish wins hands down for having the most succinct, innocuous and adult term. To be fair, sleep is pretty elegant as well, although it’s not quite as clear as lagaña. I’ll probably say sleep next time.
Since we’re on the subject, I might as well tell you that the reason I know the word lagaña (which, by the way, is legaña in Spain) is because of a popular phrase in Colombia: no ser cualquier lagaña de mico. (To not be a monkey’s eye booger; in Colombia, mico= monkey.)
Lagaña de mico = a nobody, nothing, something small and insignificant, something laughable, thus no ser cualquier lagaña de mico (or no ser ninguna lagaña de mico) = it’s nothing to be sneezed at; to be no laughing matter, no mean feat, something to be taken lightly.
Los humanos no somos sino una lagaña de mico teniendo en cuenta los 4.500.000.000 años que tiene la tierra.
We humans are just a drop in the bucket considering the 4.5 billion years that the Earth has existed.
1,000,000 visitas en tan solo un año no es cualquier lagaña de mico.
1,000,000 visits in just one year is nothing to sneeze at.
Why a monkey’s lagaña? Wouldn’t something like a hummingbird’s lagaña or a ladybug’s lagaña drive the point home even better? I really couldn’t tell you, but I’d like to think that there’s a story there.
Poking around a bit on the internet, I see that an equivalent of this phrase in many countries is (no) ser moco de pavo. To (not) be turkey snot. To (not) be a turkey’s booger. Um, how delightful. Which then reminds me of another phrase I’ve always enjoyed (I swear it’s the last one!): estar más perdido que un moco en una oreja. To be more lost than a booger that’s somehow wound up in an ear. I think that one’s Colombian, too. Isn’t the imagery great? I mean, so gross, but so explicit and vivid. All right, one, two, three–let’s all go wash our hands.
What can I say? It’s not just sugar and spice and all things nice when learning another language–sometimes you have to get your hands dirty and learn how to say the icky stuff, too. Do you know how to?