Photo by ms. Tea

Photo by ms. Tea

On a recent Friday while we were under house arrest thanks to a major snow storm in the middle of the spring, the following conversation took place at the dinner table:

Papá: ¿Lo quieres con aguacate? – wanting to know if Vanessa wanted a tortilla chip with some avocado.

Vanessa: ¿Ah?

Papá (realizing that’s not the word Vanessa knows for avocado): ¿Lo quieres con palta?

Vanessa: Papá, ¿qué dijite? – Huh?

Papá: Aguacate.

Vanessa: ¿A-GUA-CA-TE??

Papá: Si.

Vanessa: ¿Qué eso?

Papá: Es lo mismo que palta.

The wheels of my daughter’s brain start turning as she tries to process what just happened. Palta is the same thing as aguacate. Just another name for it.

Papá: Aguacate es lo mismo que palta.

And then my husband goes on to explain that there is only ONE country in the world that calls an avocado a palta. It’s not true, but w-h-a-t-e-v-e-r. That one country happens to be the one I hail from, so that’s all that matters.

All kidding aside, though, this is an actual topic of debate in our house. My husband, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, taught Vanessa to say ‘bobo‘ (binky) and I had to give in because as a baby, that was an easier word for Vane to pick up than ‘chupón‘ – as we say it in Perú.

Unlike English which has variances depending on whether you’re British, North American or Australian; Spanish has as many variances as the countries where it’s spoken. In other words, the word for pig, for example, could be chancho, cerdo or puerco – depending on which country you’re from (Perú, México, Puerto Rico – respectively). Oh, yeah, I forgot marrano.


  • timón||guia — steering wheel
  • plátano||guineo (we actually use banana – kind of universal, no?)
  • chupón||bobo — pacifier
  • palta||aguacate — avocado
  • poto||nalgas — butt
  • calata||desnuda — naked
  • arete||pantalla — earring
  • foco||bombilla — lightbulb
  • basurero (tacho)||zafacón — trash can
  • paraguas||sombrilla — umbrella
  • naranja||china — orange
  • autobus||guagua — bus
  • cometa||chiringa — kite
  • cañita||sorbeto — straw

The list goes on… And I haven’t even included the dozens of words which are completely innocuous for some of us and are vulgarities for others. Such as bicho which means any type of insect for Peruvians and lots of other Latin Americans, but the crude name for male genitals for Boricuas, like my husband. Still, I find it kind of crazy that I couldn’t tell Vanessa “Cuidado con ese bicho,” if there’s an insect near where she’s playing…

What to do? Apparently, nothing. It’s really no big deal, except that it’s kind of difficult for me to call something a name I have never called it for the sake of not confusing Vanessa. In other words, I can do it, but it doesn’t come natural. The interesting thing is that now that she’s a bit older and has started to figure a lot of things out, she actually likes to ask: ¿tú cómo lo llamas? - which I find utterly amazing.

Kids… what can I say?

So, even though when she was younger I used to cave in to go with the easier-to-pronounce word, I am able now to teach her that there are actually many ways of saying the same thing in Spanish and furthermore, that there are lots of ways of saying the same thing in different languages…

Can you share the words that are on your list and how you are dealing with it?

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