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July greetings

The blog was on vacation for the past several months and is now officially back, refreshed and reinvigorated. I’m still living in Bogotá, and I still have lots of ideas and words to share. Along with translating, I’ve continued writing a monthly column for The Bogotá Post, and despite the silence on the blog I have no problem regularly writing 700 or so words on whatever topic the newspaper requests. Request being the operative word, there; my inspiration has hit somewhat of a wall, and their suggestions make everything so much easier for me. So if you have a request for something you’d like me to write about here on Vocabat, be sure to let me know.

I hope everyone’s Spanish studies are going splendidly and that you’re all enjoying your summer, winter, or in-between season, whatever the case may be. ¡Chau!


Colaborar, redux (The Bogotá Post)

Before I share something new, let me (re)share something old: my second column from The Bogotá Post. I first wrote this post in October 2011, but this version is revamped, improved, and definitely more accurate than the first go, thanks to a sidekick who’s helping me out, I mean, collaborating me.

Let’s make a collaboration!

At first glance, colaborar and collaborate seems to be one of those translation pairs we like best. One means one thing, the other means the same thing, and everything’s hunky-dory, right? But then you come to Colombia and you start hearing colaborar used left and right, whereas in English it’s one of those words you hear rather infrequently. What’s going on? Are Colombians just a particularly collaborative bunch? Are they renowned for playing well with others?

In English, “collaborate” gets bandied about in power breakfasts between businessmen, trade deals between governments, and newspaperese. Not being a company bigwig, politico, or journalist largely exempts me from using this word in my day-to-day parlance, though. Spanish, however, does use this word quite often, and Spanish speakers will often reach for colaborar when we would use a more run-of-the-mill word such as plain old “help,” “work together,” or even “volunteer.”

What does this mean for you, oh-so-diligent Spanish learner? Well, make sure you realize that it’s used much more in Spanish, meaning you should be using it more often. Don’t worry; you won’t sound excessively fancy. Whereas in English it generally means working together on some kind of intellectual effort, joining forces and brainpower to attain mutual goals, in Spanish it just means two or more people co-laboring on . . . well, just about anything.

As you can see, it’s often used with the more watered-down meaning of “to help.” To whittle it down even further, Colombians like to dispense with the prepositions. Thus, people regularly say the Spanish equivalent of things like “I collaborated her” or “Will you collaborate me?”, treating the word as if it acted like “to help,” instead of “I collaborated with her” or “Will you collaborate with me?”.

¿En qué le puedo colaborar? ¿Le colaboro en algo?

Can I help you? Be prepared to hear this from ten different salespeople when you walk into stores. Note that in these constructions the phrase is colaborar en, but it’s otherwise colaborar con.

¿Te colaboro?

Do you need help? Here, let me give you a hand.

Con mucho gusto les colaboro con las traducciones.

I’d be happy to help you with the translations.

If you’re the one in need, a smooth ¿Me podrías colaborar? will be sure to elicit the aid you’re looking for. As the word is so vague, context and body language will convey the nature of the favor you’re looking for.

¿Usted me podría colaborar acá con una empujadita?

Would you mind helping me out and giving it a push?

Image by Omega Man, from Flickr Creative Commons

Oye, ¿me colaboras un momento con estos libros?

Could you hold these books for a second?

Mona, ¿me colaboras con una monedita?

Hey, blondie, can you spare a dime?

The noun form –colaboración– is also very common.

Cualquier colaboración será bienvenida.

We appreciate each and every donation, no matter how small.

Necesito su colaboración para poder entregar los documentos a tiempo.

I’m going to need everyone to make an extra effort so we can turn these documents in on time.

Rather unkosher, but the word colaborar also tends to show up when, say, someone tries to dodge a ticket from a police officer.

Uy, ¿y será que usted no me puede colaborar con eso?

Isn’t there a way we could work this out between the two of us?

Or, when you’re just a few decimal points shy of passing your class and need to beg your teacher for some leniency.

Uy, profe, colabóreme ahí, por favor.

Come on, please help me out! Just this once!

You generally use colaborar with a stranger or with someone with whom you speak formally (like a boss, for example). It’s a kinder, softer way of phrasing things, and it slyly includes the listener in the action so you’re not just asking for a favor point-blank. It’s also A-OK to just use ayudar. To use colaborar with someone you’re close to could sound a bit cold and formal, as if you’re trying to signal distance all of a sudden. When you’re annoyed with someone you’re close to and want to let off some steam, it’s an ideal word to use.

Oiga, pero colabóreme porque llevo todo el día haciendo aseo y usted en un segundo llega con las patas cochinas a ensuciarme todo.

Hey, how about a little help now and then? Here I am cleaning all day, and then you just track mud in and make it all dirty again.

When pressed to explain why one would choose colaborar over ayudar, an old boyfriend once told me that ayudar sounds more formal around here. Sure, you could just say ayudar, but wouldn’t it be more exciting to collaborate, as if you’re working together on the problem instead of you just looking for a handout?

Vocabat on FB

The big 0-2 is coming up for Vocabat, and I want to make a lot of changes to the site. I’m also going to have a lot of free time on my wings in October, and what better use of my time than improvements to the blog? One thing I just added is a Facebook page. ¡Ya era hora! Losing Google Reader back in July was devastating (both as a blogger and as a blog reader), but Facebook is still as convenient and useful as ever. Scroll down and click on Like (or Me gusta) on the right side of the page, and you’ll find an easy way to stay abreast of new posts. ¡Gracias! There are a lot of exciting things in the works for Vocabat, so you definitely want to stay in touch.


Déntrese Firulais

I couldn’t resist coming up with a Spanish version of yesterday’s comic.

Friday Five – cubas, novias, culatas, patas y vacas

View halloo! It’s been a while, but it’s been a semana de locos, sí o no? My first full work week, we had Leap Day (día bisiesto), I moved into a new house, we marched into March, my first payday came and went, and on Friday my area was under a tornado warning and I had to huddle in the closet. Thank God it’s the weekend. Now that I’m finally amañada here, let me review how my Spanish learning is going. And where. It’s accountability time.

Where is my Spanish coming from these days? Let’s see. I’m reading Spanish texts all day every day at work. I try to talk to my partner Mónica exclusively in Spanish, whether it’s things about the work we’re doing or just chitchat. I go salsa dancing every weekend and have a great deal of Latin friends here with whom I only speak Spanish. That gives me several hours of speaking practice, although I still wish I had more, especially in groups. It’s just a matter of meeting and befriending more people. Talking to people one-on-one is way too easy for me, and the progress I can make in this area is rather minimal. I struggle in large groups, however, to catch the fast-flying Spanish, follow the ever-changing topic, and understand all the nuances of the slang and jokes. I tend to chat with several friends in Colombia and here where I live in Spanish just about every night for a good while on Facebook. And, like always, I’m always reading novels in Spanish and listening to music. To learn more and learn better, I’d really like to watch TV in Spanish, read more news articles and other non-fiction in Spanish, and, as I said before, spend more time in groups speaking Spanish. As of next week, I’m going to start listening to music and podcasts in Spanish while I work. How am I doing? Seems pretty comprehensive to me, but all the input in the world won’t make any difference if it doesn’t STICK. For me, things stick when I hear them used in authentic contexts, see and hear them repeatedly, and then USE them. I must keep hablando hasta por los codos . . . y las rodillas . . . y los ojos . . . y las muñecas and everything else. Gotta get gabby.

I know it’s not Friday, but this is synecdoche, folks, where a part (Friday) in fact represents a greater whole (the weekend). Here are some colorful phrases I’ve learned lately. Please share with me what you’ve been learning as well.

1. Estar borracho/a como una cuba – to be drunk as a skunk, to be plastered

cuba is a barrel, so just imagine how inebriated that wood would get if it had several gallons of alcohol sloshing around in it. Totally wasted, drunk off its ass. I learned this when one of my coworkers wondered out loud if “Cuba” actually meant anything, and then Mónica taught us this phrase.

2. Quedarse como novia de rancho- vestida y alborotada – to be all dressed up with no place to go, to be left high and dry, to be stood up

My Mexican friend Leonardo taught me this, and I was already familiar with some equivalents that have to do with curling your hair– quedarse con los crespos hechos in Colombia, quedarse con los churos hechos in Ecuador. With the novia de rancho, the idea is of a country girl from the old days who gets all excited and dolled up for her wedding day, and then her fiancé jilts her at the altar. It’s used more generally when you get excited about something and then get stood up or let down by someone at the last minute. The standard way to say to stand somebody up is dejar plantado/a a alguien.

3. Salirle el tiro por la culata a alguien – to backfire on someone

And this came from a Canadian friend’s post on Lang-8. Inspiration is endless! You’re literally saying that the bullet came out the butt of the gun and hit you, which makes the image much more vivid than it is with “backfire.”

4. Buscarle la quinta pata al gato – to overcomplicate things, to overthink things

I already knew this phrase, but I seem to have a constant need to use it now in my workplace. Sometimes I consciously think to myself, El gato tiene cuatro patas. El gato tiene cuatro patas. Katie, ¡no hace falta que le busques otra! The idea is that you shouldn’t waste your time or energy looking for problems that don’t exist (or just barely exist). Don’t split hairs. Don’t try to find the cat’s fifth paw. Don’t make your life or work more complicated than it needs to be. Simple!

5. El que se quema con leche ve una vaca y llora. – Once bitten, twice shy.

He who burns his mouth while drinking milk will burst into tears whenever he sees a cow. In true proverbial spirit, a little exaggerated, but you get the point. Once again, Mónica taught me this, but she had just learned it herself–she said she read it in a book and had liked the imagery of it. Surely it’s used somewhere.

I absolutely adore learning phrases and idioms in Spanish to make my Spanish more flavorful, don’t you? In my opinion, the only thing worse than speaking Spanish with mistakes is speaking bland, boring Spanish. I like to have fun with language and be as precise and playful as I can at all times. Who wants to sound like a robot? And, seriously, what could be more fun than blindsiding your listener with a Mexican fiancée, a barrel or a cat when they’re least expecting it?

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these phrases? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?