Splitting hares

First things first. Did you know that Bogotá got Google Street View this week? Well, they did, and now you can finally see what a walk through this capital city looks like. The time stamps at the bottom of the images show that the pictures of Bogotá were taken in 2011 and 2012, so, hey, you might even bump into me on those sidewalks.

Since the pictures were taken then and not now, you won’t see any evidence of the strikes, protests and police presence in the city of recent weeks. Speaking of, I’ve run into forms of the word alebrestarse several times while reading about the agricultural strikes and protests in Colombia. Quick as a jack rabbit, I (virtually) thumbed through the dictionary to discover that in Latin America alebrestarse means alborotarse, agitarse. Which is to say, to get worked up, to get riled up, to be incited, to be upset. Someone who’s alebrestado is anxious, angry, volatile, stubborn and apt to fly off the handle at any time. Just imagine a whole country of hardworking, peaceful campesinos feeling this way, and then try to imagine the decades of abuse and neglect it must have taken to bring them to this point. The strikes just ended and agreements were drafted, but it will take time to see if they have any teeth to them. Amanecerá y veremos.

It appears that alebrestarse is often used in the negative to tell worked up people to chill out. No te me alebrestes = no te me aceleres, no te pongas histérico, no te me emociones. Get a grip, get a hold of yourself, calm down. Stop bugging me about it. Just . . . chill.

No te me alebrestes, ya te dije que me des unos días más. Tranquilo.

Don’t get upset; I already told you to give me a few more days. Just calm down.

Etymologically, alebrestarse comes from a + liebre. A liebre is a hare. Ahhhh. So alebrestarse is something like to act like a hare, to bounce around like a hare, to buzz with pent-up energy like that of a hare. The white rabbit who was running late in Alice in Wonderland is surely an alebrestado if there ever was one. I know, I know; he was a rabbit. But let’s not split hares.

There was a place in my old neighborhood in Bogotá called La Liebre, and here’s proof via our flamante Google Street View. As their specialty was fuel injection, I can’t say it was my favorite neighborhood haunt or anything. You can’t really tell, but there’s an image of a speeding hare at the top of the sign.

La Liebre, Bogotá

I remember being pleased with myself for knowing what liebre meant, and I only knew it because I had learned the phrase meter gato por liebre. Do you know it? It’s a great one. Meter gato por liebre (or dar/pasar/vender gato por liebre) means to rip somebody off, to trick them, to dupe them. If you have an elephant’s memory, you may recall my post on tumbar from many moons ago. Same idea. Literally, meter gato por liebre is if someone were to sell you cat meat and convince you that it was hare.

Turning to medicine– which is where I live now– interestingly enough, a harelip (cleft lip) is expressed the same way in Spanish: labio leporino. Deriving from the Latin, leporino is the adjectival form of liebre. I don’t know if the animal association is as immediate, though.

Apparently some small buses in Chile are called liebres? I wonder if they really do whiz through the city or if the name is mostly ironic.

Rabbit is, of course, conejo, and I remember that in Colombia hacer conejo means to run out of a restaurant without paying your bill. No experience with that, but there is one foul memory I have of a restaurant in downtown Medellín where I kind of wish I had run out before paying (and sampling).


Madriguera is a word I use surprisingly often which means den, burrow, hideout, and, most usually, rabbit hole. Again, think of Alice.

Another wonderful rabbity word is gazapo. No, not gazpacho. Gazapo. A gazapo is a young rabbit, and it can also be a typo, misprint, blooper. Perdón por el gazapo wrote a Facebook friend of mine the other day after a typo in his previous comment. I don’t know how widespread this word is, though. I’ve used it with Peruvian and Ecuadorian friends, and I might as well have been speaking Chinese to them. I know it’s used in some other countries, just not sure which ones. The ones where they can own up to making blunders, I guess. Love to think that my mistakes are just wayward bunnies. If you ever spot a bunny in my blog, definitely let me know! I’ll guide him back to his madriguera immediately.

Had your fill of rabbits and hares yet? If not, I have an excellent short story to suggest. It’s called Carta a una señorita en París, and it’s from Julio Cortázar’s collection Bestiario. Centered around a man who vomits rabbits, the story is weird, disturbing, and mesmerizing. Súper recomendable. 

Any rabbit/hare vocab I missed that you think is crucial? Let’s multiply our vocabulary like rabbits and hop to it.


12 responses to “Splitting hares

  1. Hi Katie! Thanks for this excellent post. I’ve learnt a couple of new expressions in English (: As for hares and rabbits, I can think of a couple of expressions in Spanish: “ser un conejillo de Indias” – servir de prueba para comprobar algo desfavorable o peligroso (guinea pig); “levantar la liebre” – desvelar algo oculto (let the cat out of the bag, spill the beans… if I am not mistaken).


    • Hi, thanks for your kind words! And, thanks for reading! Glad you learned some English. I also thought of conejillo de Indias, which also has many other names. And I saw levantar la liebre in the dictionary, but I wasn’t familiar with it. I like it, though. Thanks for sharing. The title of the post is a play on words of the phrase to split hairs. I don’t know if you know it– it means to quibble or make petty distinctions. Thanks again for the comment :)


      • “To split hairs” is exactly one of the phrases which were unfamiliar to me. I had to look it up and everything became clear (: My dictionary says that there can be also “straws” instead of “hairs”. Do you actually use it in that version?… The other expression I learned was “have had your fill of something” (have had enough)… And, once again, I really enjoy this kind of lexical research you’ve done in this post. I often do something similar in my blog: collect vocabulary related to a certain topic. Although it is written in Russian in most cases, you can still have a look and see the lists of words and expressions (marked in blue) and examples in Spanish. These posts are in “Español coloquial” and “Linguo-Mix”. And I always ask my readers to participate in adding things (;


        • No, I’ve never heard or said to split straws. I’ll take a look at your blog. Happy to be connected to another Spanish lover :)


          • I’ve recalled another rabbit related word: agazapar(se). I’ve come across it several times in my recent readings: “un miedo de animal agazapado” = atrapado, “el perro se agazapaba (a sus pies)” = se acurrucaba…, but I didn’t associate it with “gazapo”… and, suddenly, I’ve made the connection (;


            • Very nice! Yes, I thought of that word, but forgot to include it. So, what do you read? And is Spanish a part of your profession/studies?


              • My latest readings in Spanish were “El río que nos lleva” by José Luis Sampedro and “El jinete polaco” by Antonio Muñoz Molina, and currently I am reading “Contra el viento” by Ángeles Caso. And what about you? By the way, are you familiar with this Colombian author? http://ruspanglish.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/el-olvido-que-seremos/ (the book review is written in Spanish, in case you’re interested ;)
                Spanish is my hobby that began almost 5 years ago and brought me some strong connections with Spain. Now I’m trying improve and develop my skills. I’d love to make it my profession, but I already have one and it’s not that easy to switch :)


  2. Great post, again. I had no idea that both “alebrestarse” and “labio leporino” were both related to liebre. About gazapo, I remember that there was a section in the newspaper with that word in the title, and it was about errors found elsewhere in the paper in recent editions. It probably doesn’t exist anymore. I see so many editorial errors in El Tiempo that I feel “verguenza ajena,” like you said in some other post.

    About “meter gato por liebre,” there was a story related to this in some book, maybe “Papillon.” The gist is that somebody who had a cat was invited for dinner somewhere and he was served rabbit. Later, he discovered that he actually ate his pet. Apparently, the bones of a cat look similar to those of a rabbit or a hare. Maybe it was not Papillon; I can’t imagine a situation in that book that would lead to the above.

    The fall is here, finally. Enjoy the beautiful weather!


    • Happy to teach you something! If the campesinos knew what the word was really saying, they’d surely be miffed. Alebrestados?? More like atigrados, aleonados, avisponados (from mad as a hornet). As a pack of mad hares isn’t very threatening, they’re easy to ignore.

      And, yeah, that doesn’t surprise me that labio leporino doesn’t conjure up the image of a hare. I think that even for many English speakers, they’d think it was actually hairlip! I don’t think the animal imagery and allusion is quite as strong as, say, pigeon-toed.

      Oh yeah, I find gazapos constantly in El Tiempo. Pero, constantly!!! Sí, da pena ajena. I wonder how the word gazapo for bunny came to be used to mean error.

      Wait, I just found out– look, straight from the horse’s mouth (the DRAE):

      (Derivado regresivo de gazapatón).
      1. m. coloq. Mentira, embuste.
      2. m. coloq. Yerro que por inadvertencia deja escapar quien escribe o habla.

      And gazapatón is:

      (Del grecolatino cacemphăton, dicho malsonante).
      1. m. Expresión malsonante en que se incurre por inadvertencia o por mala pronunciación.
      2. m. coloq. Disparate o yerro en el hablar.

      (It sounds like it would mean big-footed bunny)

      I’ve seen the movie Papillon. Thanks for sharing the story :) I guess hares would/should be a big fan of the phrase (and practice) of meter gato por liebre. It makes me think of those stupid Chick-fil-A billboards with the two cows telling people to eat more chicken. (Do they have those where you live?) I can picture two giant hares trying to convince people to eat more cat :p

      Yes, the weather feels great!! You enjoy it, too.


  3. My suegra uses the word gazapo when she mutters about misbehaving children.

    Chamaco gazapo, ¡le pegó a mi hija!
    Chamaco gazapo, está de grosero.

    Who knew alebrestarse would lead to so many interesting words? :)


    • Nice! According to WordReference, gazapo can also mean sly fellow or liar. So maybe it’s something like, that sneaky bugger…

      Who knew alebrestarse would lead to so many interesting words? :)
      – Oh, I had a sneaking suspicion. That’s kind of the pan de cada día of this blog and I love it! Thanks to all of you for teaching me way more than I could ever hope to teach y’all (I live in the South, forgive me) ;)


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