Espeluznante means hair-raising or horrifying, and it’s such a great word that if you haven’t been using it you should drop everything and start using it right now. It means something that makes your hair stand on end, something eerie, creepy, or even bloodcurdling. I can’t say something smart here about the etymology, but clearly the “pelu” of espeluznante comes from pelo. Though hair-raising is surely the translati0n that best conveys both the literal and figurative meanings of the word, I’ve never said hair-raising and I’d venture to say that not many people do. Come to think of it, nor do I ever say or write that something made my hair stand on end. (Though maybe I should.) Espeluznante, on the other hand, is fairly common.
Speaking of raising hair, I mentioned raising someone’s hackles in the last post. I was only vaguely familiar with the phrase, but I ran into it enough times while writing that I had to include it. What are hackles? If someone were to raise mine, I wouldn’t know where to look to smooth them back down again. Hackles are the hairs on the back of the neck and the back of a dog, cat, etc., which rise when the animal is angry or afraid.
Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, in a response to the latest scandal from the “competition” (both in who will be in power and who can come out with the most stomach-turning scandals) issued a statement in which he said, among other talking points, “Quedé espeluznado con el video.” Hm, I’d never thought about the fact that the verb espeluznar must exist, that by nature of its structure espeluznante has to mean que espeluzna.
The RAE gives three meanings for espeluznar.
1. To ruffle or dishevel (hair, fuzzy fabric)
2. To bristle, make stand on end (hair, feathers)
3. To scare, horrify
Though hair imagery is what comes to mind with espeluznante, it’s hard for me to make it work here. I’d probably translate it as, My blood ran cold when I saw the video. (You can also say se me heló la sangre or se me heló la piel.) Or my blood turned to ice. If we want less poetry, maybe, I was aghast. I don’t know. How to convey that sense of shock and terror in a way that’s natural? Oh, what the heck, maybe, My hair stood on end when I saw the video, is best. Or, The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. In any case, this is all hypothetical and I don’t have to translate the sentence; it’s just an excuse to share the nuances of an interesting word with you.
Ponerle a uno los pelos de punta also means to make someone’s hair stand on end, and it’s much more colloquial. I like colloquial speech, but I also love it when literary, formal, and archaic speech is briefly resuscitated in everyday life, e.g., quedé espeluznado. Absolutely the only good thing I can take away from the lousiness of Colombian politics in the past few days: when life gives me lemons, I can almost always squeeze out some linguistic lemonade to savor and share.