The funniest thing I ever said in Spanish

(This is subjective, of course. And, yes, I realize that I’m likely not even aware of the funniest things I’ve ever said, but I sure hope people went on to publicize my mistakes among their offices and parties and mass email lists and that they caused many a riotous chortle.)

Today’s word of the day is flamante. It means brand new. I ran into it today while reading an article on William and Kate’s newborn baby, and it took me back to you-know-where. But first the sentence.

Un poco antes se desplazaron a ver a la flamante familia los padres de Catalina, Michael y Carole Middleton, quienes mostraron su entusiasmo con el hijo de su primogénita. 

Just before that, Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, who showed their enthusiasm about the son of their eldest daughter, went to see the new family.

As I said, flamante means brand spanking new, in mint condition, right out of the box. It’s the kind of word you’re going to hear some street vendor yell into a megaphone to hawk his goods. Used with people, it just indicates a new status or title. It’s not really a word you’re going to use with friends; you’re much more likely to put it in an ad to sell your car on Craigslist, perhaps, or maybe to introduce your new wife with a touch of playfulness. (Wouldn’t it be fun to introduce your flamante amante?) It’s kind of formal and a bit cheesy. No matter what you do, you most definitely aren’t going to blurt it out to an innocent bakery attendant. Unless you’re me, that is– but we can’t all be that unlucky, can we?

Flamante carro

When I lived with my ex-boyfriend in Medellín, one night we went to a new bakery adorned in the tacky, garish colors that are so typical down there (think, hot orange and green) that had recently opened on our block. I remember nibbling on something at one of the tables, and then I engaged in some friendly banter with the bakery girl. I probably told her how nice everything looked in my very best Paisa Spanish, and then I asked when they had opened. Oh, just Tuesday, she said. Only Tuesday? Wow. Flamante.

She then scurried back to her counter, and I was left alone with my ex, AKA, accountability time. Had what I just said made any sense? No, no it had not. He had a grieved, concerned expression on his face. I think he first confirmed that he had heard right. Excuse me, love, did you say . . . ahem, flamante? Did I hear that right? Surely I did not just hear what I think I heard. Say it ain’t so, babe. Of course, he asked this in the kindest, most respectful, most loving way possible, but I knew by the very question that I had just made a laughingstock of myself. Somehow I could just tell that I’d said something ridiculous, that I’d done the bear–hacer el oso. And next thing I knew, I started laughing uproariously.

Both of us peed our pants cracking up so hard and for so long that it’s amazing we didn’t end up on the floor, paralyzed from our spasmodic guffaws. It’s my best memory of truly splitting myself in half from laughter– totearme de la risa— while in Colombia. Howling, we were breathless and absolutely hysterical. The thing is, what I’d said was so unbearably cute and sincere. I don’t do Spanish in half measures. If I’m going to say something, I say it unflinchingly and really own my words with a zealously faked confidence. So I’d reached for flamante, a word I’d read but never used before, briefly considered the risks, and proceeded anyway. What did Martin Luther say about sinning boldly? I think you have to speak Spanish boldly and just snarl and bare your teeth at those stupid mistakes that are inevitable and that will be a boon for you if you embrace them. Or you can be namby-pamby about Spanish and only say something when you’re 100% sure it’s correct. But if you let the fear of sounding dumb stop you, how will you get anywhere?

I was sincere and self-confident when I said flamante, and I was sincerely wrong. The impression my ex gave me was that it would be like saying, “Oh, just Tuesday? Smokin’.” Or, “Oh, just Tuesday? Newfangled.” Or something just completely out-of-place and ludicrous. I’m simply happy I could appreciate how funny it was. For this reason, I love to laugh at language mistakes and am not one of those touchy, uptight types who becomes indignant at anyone who would dare laugh when people out there are trying so hard, bless their hearts. OK, no one’s saying they’re not trying hard; no one’s saying they don’t speak very well. No one’s mocking the language student. Even the most fluent person, though, will occasionally have something come out of their mouth that is bona fide comic gold, and it’s silly to not enjoy these gems. Who knows, maybe having a sense of humor is a key part of making serious headway in language studies. I think it’s served me well.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said in Spanish? For the love of God, please don’t say that you accidentally told people you were pregnant, that is, embarazado. That mistake has become so trite that it’s no longer funny. I’ll especially appreciate your story if, like mine, what you said had no intrinsic humor but was instead funny because it was so side-splittingly, tragically wrong but you were adorably earnest about it. Mega kudos to you if afterward you were unapologetic and made sure to get both the first and last laugh. If only we walked around with little tape recorders to capture all of our conversations! Just imagine how much fun we could have listening to ourselves from years past, as well as the swell of pride we’d feel appreciating all of our progress. Any time you feel bored in life or that you’re getting too stuffy and serious, maybe it’s time to learn a new language! You’ll create comic situations for both yourself and your listeners, and you’ll also have millions of new people to laugh with. If that isn’t a compelling reason to learn a language, I don’t know what is.


13 responses to “The funniest thing I ever said in Spanish

  1. :D Brava for making me smile! When I was in Spain as a brand new language learner (I really wanted to add the word “flamante” here), I would repeat new words after my host family taught me. I misused/mispronounced words all the time! Usually it ended with lots of laughs and me scribbling it down in my notebook. Now I can say “cajón” instead male parts, I know that “Paco” is not a nickname for short “poco” guys and “da a luz” does not mean “Give (me) a light”.
    It’s part of the fun of learning the language!


  2. I once tried to say that my middle-aged tutor at a Mexican university was very good, but ended up saying he was very sexy. (“Bien bueno.”)
    Funnier than that, a friend of mine once tried to say “hey, you cut your beard” to a man. She got mixed up about the word barba, replaced the a with an e and the second b with a g, and accidentally told him he had cut off another part of his body.


    • Te cortaste la verga… ahh. Hahaha :/

      How did he respond? Not nearly as funny, but speaking of shaving, I remember once accidentally saying Necesitas afearte instead of Necesitas afeitarte. Or ¿Ya te afeaste? Something like that. Of course, afear is to make ugly.


      • As I recall, he turned bright red and said “¡No, no! ¡La barba! ¡La barba!” then told the story to all our mutual friends.


  3. I was talking to a Spanish-speaking library patron about her fines a few months ago, and all went smoothly until I said, “¿Quieres una receta?” instead of “¿Quieres un recibo?” Whoops. l felt very silly once I realized I’d asked her if she wanted a recipe! On the plus side, I haven’t mixed those words up again since.


    • Easy mistake to make! :)

      But did either of you laugh? My point in this post wasn’t to highlight embarrassing things said but rather things that provoked the most laughter, for whatever reason.


  4. There’s a “Little Mexico” near where I go to college. A few weeks into my first semester (my Spanish wasn’t great), my Spanish teacher had taken us there to eat and shop. The plate I’d ordered came with potatoes and onions as a side, and I wanted rice instead. So I looked at the waitress and said “Quiero el número dos, pero no quiero los papas y los caballos.” Her eyes got big and she started laughing and said, “Señor, we don’t have any horse in our food here!” It gave my class a laugh, to say the least.


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  7. Él: “Qué puedo regalar a mi prima?”
    Yo: “Yo no sé, ¿qué les gusta las mujeres? ¿Mantequilla?”

    I was trying to be funny/sarcastic; the word I was looking for was “Maquillaje”.
    He gave me the most hilarious bewildered look and said: “¿¡Mantequilla?! With his reaction I quickly realized my mistake and we both had a long, hearty laugh. He still hasn’t gotten her anything, and I’m still maintaining that he should just give her some mantequilla.


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