(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?
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.