Styrofoam guinea pigs

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).

Cuys de chocolate Nariño chocolate guinea pigs Colombia

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!


12 responses to “Styrofoam guinea pigs

  1. Awesome!! But they didn’t include the dominican: “La vaina blanca pa empacar” :) :)


  2. Pensaba que ICOPOR era por Industria Colombiana de POliestiReno expandido. Como dices, un nombre comercial que trascendió a nombre genérico. Otros nombres comerciales que trascendieron vienen a mi mente: colbón, pega stick, copitos (Q-tips), aspirina, chicle, clorox.
    Creo que de algunos no sabría su verdadero nombre genérico, o cómo pedirlos en otro país latino (o cualquier país for that matter).


    • Mmmm… conocía copitos… o copitos Johnson. En el trabajo siempre les digo cotonetes o a veces hisopos. En inglés les decimos la marca más popular: Q-tips. Aspirina no es un nombre comercial. ¿Chicle??? Bueno, existen los Chiclets, y que yo sepa su nombre deriva de chicle, no al revés. Según indagué, chicle viene de la palabra nahuatl tziktli, la cual quiere decir cosas pegajosas. O a lo mejor de la palabra maya tsicte. ¿Hay otra manera de denominarle al chicle?

      No sabía bien qué era Colbón, lo acabo de buscar, pensando que era cola… y sí, veo que efectivamente la es. No sabía que se usaba de manera general.

      Y Clorox, ¿cómo? ¿Como blanqueador? Sé que muchos colombianos le dicen límpido por la marca.

      En español siempre digo Kleenex a los… ¡pues, a los kleenex! Aunque suene fatal. Mm, no creo que mi conocimiento cultural sea lo suficientemente profundo como para tener muchas asociaciones de marcas. Pero algún día sí :)

      Un ejemplo del inglés es White-out para el corrector. En Colombia, siempre escuchaba o Liquid o Liquid Paper.


  3. Creo que solo he visto Aspirinas del laboratorio farmacéutico Bayer, por lo menos en Colombia.
    Tal vez chicle sea una tercera generación de tziktli>chiclets>chicle. También existe goma de mascar, me gustaría que también pudiera decirle goma de burbujas, o de bombas, pero eso no lo he oído, solo chicle.
    Si Colbón es pegante blanco, nunca digo cola, pero si lo he oído, no sé si en Colombia.
    Tienes razón con el límpido, también es muy común, me viene a la cabeza la no muy políticamente correcta propaganda de TV de límpido. Yo le digo Clorox, jaja, tal vez es porque es el que compro en mi casa.
    También digo Kleenex, pero podrías decir pañuelos faciales (muy largo) o pañuelitos.
    Liquid paper, también es casi un nombre genérico en Colombia, originalmente producido por paper mate, marca que pronunciamos pa-per ma-te, aunque esté en la misma frase que liquid pei-per. ¡Qué curioso! Solo hasta ahora pienso en su significado. Supongo que sí, sus productos son compañeros del papel.
    Algunas marcas las pronunciamos como sonarían en español. Col-ga-te por ejemplo, me gustaría que todo las pronunciáramos en español, como hacen en España, aunque algunas cosas suenan chistoso.


    • Ah, sí, puede que chicle sea derivada de chiclets y esa a su vez de la palabra indígena. Yo no masco (mastico?) chicle y dudo mucho que lo haya hecho alguna vez en Colombia, así que es una experiencia que nunca he tenido en español. No sabía que también se decían burbujas o bombas como en inglés. Todavía me acuerdo de cuando aprendí a hacerlo cuando era niña, y de haber hecho “trampa”, usando mis manos hasta que mi lengua aprendiera a hacerlo sola. Ah, ¡la infancia! :)


  4. Katy, estoy muy feliz que encontré tu blog, voy a disfrutarlo y aprender mucho. ¡Sigue así!
    Una pregunta… “cuyda de ti” significa “taking care of you”?
    Is “cuyda” just a funny spelling of “cuida”?


    • ¡Gracias!

      Yes, exactly! It’s just a funny, cheesy spelling of cuida- obviously pronounced the same. I think it’s a sentence: EPS “cuyda” de ti. I had to think about it for a minute, too, when I first saw it :)


  5. I keep learning things from your blog. I didn’t know that Styrofoam was a form of polystyrene, and if somebody asked me for a polystyrene cup I would look for one of the of clear hard plastic ones. That’s just my image of what polystyrene looks like, although many polystyrene products are not clear hard plastic. Also, I’d heard of the cuy, but I didn’t know it was the same as cobayo (and curí) until I saw the pictures that you posted. I saw a chiguiro once but never had any for food (and probably never will). Did you like it? I heard that the chiguiro is the largest rodent on earth but never checked to see if it is true.

    Thinking about Colbón, I can’t help but noticing a similarity to “cold bond.” I bet it is one of those words adapted from another language. Also, there is “pegante Ega,” which is… guess what: Elmer’s Glue All (very similar to Colbón).


    • I learn things from my blog! (and hopefully retain at least half of them) Always tricky trying to keep one step ahead of myself :)

      Didn’t know the name curí. I didn’t know it was chigüiro until after the fact, but, yeah. I liked it. I think! I also ate chunchullo once (not knowing what it was), and I was thoroughly repulsed. Couldn’t stomach it at all. Did like mondongo. And tried my hardest to avoid and not accidentally consume bofe, ubre, and all the other weird parts. I know it’s all mental and cultural, but I happen to like my mind and culture just fine.

      I bet you’re right about Colbón. When I was a very little kid (younger than six), I remember that we had a next door neighbor named Elmer, and I used to wonder if he was the Elmer of Elmer’s Glue fame. Though, come to think of it, that’s a cow in the logo. Heh.


  6. Some of that food is really hard to stomach, even for a carnivore. I remember once that I was among French people, and I was the lone non-French. Someone managed to get something roughly equivalent to chunchullo, probably smuggled through the airport, but it smelled much worse. Everybody was going wild for it, except for me. BTW, I wouldn’t go for a chunchullo, bofe or any of that. As you well said, I understand that people like it. I comes from the culture. I did try many of those things at one point, and even liked some of them.


  7. Pingback: And another blog birthday! | Vocabat

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