A few posts ago, I said that there might be more ways to say popcorn in Spanish than any other word. “But for my money, I think the word that might have the greatest number of regional differences is popcorn.” Fortunately, the sum of all my money isn’t very much at all, so I haven’t lost too much in this wager. “Think” also should have been a great tip-off to the fact that I was spouting malarky. Retiro lo dicho, or, better put, retiro lo blogueado, and I now posit that styrofoam might have the most possible translations in Spanish.
Yes, styrofoam. What a weird word. Though it seems kind of obvious now that I think about it, I didn’t know it was a trademarked name. Styrofoam™. There. Owned and manufactured by The Dow Chemical Company, Styrofoam is apparently closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam (thermal insulation, crafts, etc.), but we use it in the U.S. and Canada to refer to mere expanded polystyrene foam (disposable cups, packing peanuts, etc.). A misnomer, I guess. We can’t even tell the difference between extruded and expanded (at least I can’t). Oh, we sad, sad, ignorant North Americans! You’d think that Dow would be happy to have its trademarked name attached to products it doesn’t make, but they’re not. Here’s what they have to say.
Please do not confuse STYROFOAM Brand Foam with the many generic foam products available, including foam cups, coolers, meat trays, packing peanuts, packing foam, and others. These generic foam products are not made from STYROFOAM Brand Foam and are not made by Dow.
So next time you get a cup of java to go, remember, you can’t drink coffee from a STYROFOAM cup – because there is no such thing!
I had no idea! I’ll do my best to stop saying Styrofoam, but I’m not making any promises. But what about in Spanish? How do you say Styrofoam (OK, OK, polystyrene) in Spanish? Well, how much time do you have? It’s the translation that keeps on giving.
Take a look at the Wikipedia page here to see all the ways to translate Styrofoam in Spanish. I don’t think there’s a single word shared between any countries. Well, besides durapax in Honduras and El Salvador, and foam and hielo seco in Panama and parts of Mexico. What a nightmare for a translator! From what I can see, it looks like all you can really do is write poliestireno and hope that readers will know what you’re referring to. But, would they? Personally, if someone asked me for a polystyrene cup, I’d have no idea what they were talking about.
Various countries use some derivation of espuma, so I think it would be a good word to go with in a pinch. What, is a person really expected to memorize that whole list of translations for Styrofoam? I say just memorize the term for the country whose culture or people you interact with the most. In my case this is obviously Colombia, and there they say icopor for Styrofoam (from the name of its manufacturer: Industria Colombiana de Porosos). I think I came across this word a long time ago, but I’d forgotten it. Then, on Monday, we had another rendezvous as I read an article in El Tiempo.
“Viva Pasto, carajo”, gritaba uno de los participantes de la delegación de Nariño, arropado con una manta azul tradicional y agitando un cuy de icopor.
“Long live Pasto, dammit” shouted one of the participants from the Nariño delegation, wrapped in a traditional blue blanket and waving a styrofoam guinea pig.
I had to look up icopor, and then . . . well, you know the rest. The idea of a styrofoam guinea pig (life-size?) being bandied about as a show of regional pride was both touching and absurd to me. I couldn’t find any pictures of styrofoam guinea pigs, but here are some chocolate cuyes, some chocolate guinea pigs from Nariño (a southwest department of Colombia that borders Ecuador and the Pacific Ocean).
And look at this sign for the health care system in Nariño with a guinea pig doctor and the super cheesy line, Cuyda de ti. ¡Carajo!, indeed. Guinea pigs obviously mean a lot to them. I’ve never tried cuy (popular in the Andes), but I have eaten chigüiro–capybara. Mm, rodents.
Back to foam: I often had the impression that Colombians were very crafty (as in arts and crafts, not astutos), and I met several who made and sold crafts with EVA craft foam. They called this fomy/foamy/fomi.
So, I’m now straightened out on the styrofoam question, which included learning that I was not just ignorant of the Spanish but even using the word wrong in English. I’ll keep poliestireno and icopor in my back pocket and maybe unicel as well, which is the most common way of staying styrofoam in Mexico. What I’d really like to keep in my back pocket, though, is a little styrofoam guinea pig. Now that I’ve read about them, I just have to have one! Well, when I make it to Pasto one day, I’ll know just what to look for. Let me know if you want one, too–we could make it the next cool thing, the international symbol or mascot of Spanish enthusiasts. Or styrofoam bats–we need something, ¡carajo!