The other night, my husband and I were having a pretty “heated” discussion about the right Spanish word for earring. Pretty lame, huh? But I’ve always had a fascination with words – it’s not for nothing that I chose journalism as a career path – in both English and Spanish. Anyhow, for my husband, who hails from Puerto Rico, an earring is una pantalla. To me, una pantalla means a screen or lampshade. So there we were right before bedtime going back and forth about who was right (me) and who was wrong (him). Until finally, he took out his iPhone, clicked on the dictionary app from the Real Academia Española, and proved me wrong. (If you’d like to see the definition of the word pantalla, go here.)
The main thing to point out here, though, is that according to RAE’s definition, only Puerto Ricans use this word for earring. Everyone else uses arete. (What word do you use?). I only mention this because when speaking to our daughter, Vanessa, my husband always prefaces certain words by saying its popular name and then emphasizing that it’s also called something else, but only in Perú.
- Vanessa, ¿quieres batata? (sweet potato)
- ¿Qué es batata?
- Batata es lo mismo que camote, solo que el único país en el mundo donde se le dice camote es en el Perú.
As you might remember, this is not the first time I write about our amazingly varied vocabulary in which one word can have several meanings or one object can have several names, depending on the country, and many times, even the region within just one country. Not to mention how some words, meaningless to some, can be actual insults or vulgaridades to others. Take, for example, the word papaya. To me—and to most of you out there—it’s just the word for a delicious tropical fruit which I could eat every single day. But brace yourself if you something like this to a Cuban: “Me acabo de comer tremenda papaya!” because you’d actually be saying something nasty about a female’s genitals using a pretty dirty word. ¡Qué locura! Some of this nuances, I actually learned the hard way while living more than 20 years in Miami where you can find people who hail from all over Latin America.
Recently, my husband and I attended an award ceremony, and sitting at our table there were people from various Spanish-speaking countries, including Colombia, México, Spain, Puerto Rico and Perú. For some unknown reason, the conversation turned to hair (which, by the way, is pelo for lots of us, but for others only the word cabello should be used) and I said to one of the woman at the table, “me gusta como te queda tu cerquillo“, and a whole discussion ensued about what each one of us calls bangs.
Check out what they are (and try to guess which country they hail from or add your own if it’s missing):
bangs=cerquillo, copete, flequillo, pollina, fleco, chapul, china
And, just for fun, here’s a few more objects which can be called a lot of different ways:
lollipop=chupete, chupetín, paleta
cake=torta, queque, pastel, bizcocho
bottle=biberón, botella, mamadera
pacifier=chupón, chupete, tete, chupo, bobo
Next time, I promise I’ll write something about all the different names we have for fruits, vegetables and food in general. A translator friend of mine tells me there’s nothing more difficult to translate into Spanish than recipes. I promise to pick her brain and come back with a fun list. In the meantime, feel free to leave some suggestions!
Ahá! Missing in this list are many, many of the beautiful Salvadoran words. Here you go:
–Lollipop: bonbon (or is it bombom?)
–pacifier: pepe (short for ‘chupete’)
Here is one from Ecuador:
Bottle: teta (sounds like una vulgaridad in other countries, I know)
And we call sweet potatoes “camote” too! So Perú is not the only country
Thanks for sharing!
Le dije a mi marido que no eramos los únicos que decíamos camote, al igual que varias otras palabras que estoy segura compartimos con los chilenos, bolivianos y ecuatorianos…
En México le dicen “camote” también!
Sí! Mi familia es de México y también usamos la palabra camote. And for bangs, we use copete.
El otro día tuve esta conversación con una amiga Argentina. Muchas de las palabras que usamos en México son palabras vulgares en Argentina. Resulto en una conversación muy chistosa ☺
How often this happens to me, one for living in South Florida, where we have so many Spanish-speaking populations with all their variants, and two because I myself was born in Spain but to Cuban parents, and sometimes the words vary in meaning between Spain and Cuba, too.
I think I’ve always called an earring “pendiente” or “arete” – not sure which one is the Spain variation and which one the Cuban. Hmmm.
I know that in Spain a cake is always a “tarta,” not a “torta.”
And one to cause problems is “bollo,” the word us Spaniards use for pastries, say like croissants. The other meaning is like that secondary meaning for “papaya,” if you know what I mean. Words: gotta love them!
I grew up in Puerto Rico (Irish mother, North American father) and ‘ser pendiente’ to us is “be aware of”…we use arete or pantalla for earring.
I use the Spanish keyboard on my Samsung phone and it never ‘recognizes’ words I put in.
I live in NYC now and the ONLY people who understand my Puerto Rican Spanish are, naturalmente, Puerto Ricans…Mexicans and South Americans speak a completely foreign language to me.
This is a wonderful blog – I relate entirely!!
I love this topic! As a non-native speaker, I am not too attached to any specific country’s vocabulary choices (although Mexican vocabulary usually prevails since that is my husband’s country of origin.) For five years I taught a high school class of Spanish for Native Speakers and the first day of school we would play a game in which the students had to guess the “correct” meaning of a series of words. The trick was that ALL of the words meant the same thing. They were just different words used in different countries. I try very hard to expose my boys to a variety of vocabulary so that they can easily converse with Spanish-speakers from several different countries.
Adriana, sounds like an awesome game! Do you remember some of the words – I’d love to find out what they are.
I thought of two more variations! In Spain we say “gafas” for glasses, but my Cuban parents say “espejuelos.” We also say “coche” for car, but mom and dad say “carro.”
The struggle sometimes comes in books translated into Spanish because the translations don’t always correspond to the Spanish “you” speak, do they?
We say anteojos, but my husband calls them espejuelos, too.
The same thing happens to me with books. Here’s an example, I use the word chancho for pig and so this is what I use even when the book I’m reading to my daughter says cerdo.
Isn’t this always a fun topic? Since we live far away from my family and have built up a community of Spanish speaking families from around the globe my children learn “my” word first but then hear the many variations that exist from our friends. Part of being a global community I guess!
I always love this topic. It’s part of what makes being an interpreter fun, and challenging. I interpreted at the Mayo Clinic for a year and didn’t mind interpreting during appointments with neurologists, urologists and the like, but I absolutely hated interpreting for dietitians and their patients because we always went through a long, long list of fruits and vegetables–we worked with a very diverse international population so the names were always different! It sometimes felt like we were playing Twenty Questions.
And in Costa Rica, we say “pava” for bangs–I’ve never heard that one anyone else.
Ja! Funny enough last night my husband and I had one of these friendly and funny discussions when our daughter fell and hit her forehead (it hurt, but she was fine). I saw that she had a purple bump on her forehead and I said: “Mira, le salió un chindondo.”
To which my husband started laughing hysterically and said, “Se dice Chipote, como ‘Chipote Chillón’ (Chespirito).” To which I reacted with sarcastic laughter.
We laughed and made fun of each other for a while, but in the end admitted we liked ‘chindondo’ (from El Salvador) better, just because it sounds funnier!
love, love this topic!
¿Chinchondo? Never heard that one. But it kind of sounds like chichón, the word we use for for that bump, although it actually normally refers to a bump in the head.
I’m Colombian and for lollipop I say “colombina” and for a baby bottle I say “tetero”.
I have a Mexican nanny and I find it so ammusing to learn new Spanish words from my kids. For example for chalk, I know it as “tisa” but my kids call it “giz”. I had no idea what my kids were talking about as they were asking me for “giz” when we were outside. Finally one of my kids found some sidewalk chalk and showed me. LOL.
I lived in Mexico 5 years and could never call it “giz!” In ES we call it “yeso”
Never heard “colombina” for lollipop!
@Steph, colombina is tha name of the brand, right? I know at least in Perú we do this a lot were we take the name of the brand and use it as the name of the object.
Our nanny is also Mexican, and so my daughter is always saying words to me that we don’t normally use. Good thing part of my family is Mexican..
And how about words for drinking straws – I know at least three. Popote. Paja. Pitillo.
We call it cañita (from sugar cane, I guess) in Perú. My husband, who is from Puerto Rico, calls it sorbete. Gotta love Spanish!
I have always thought it’s wonderful that people living in a certain place took the “conquering” language and made it their own. It shows how there was and is a strong, unique culture tied to that particular place.
However, as a non-native speaker, I cannot keep up with all of them!
bottle = TETA o MAMILA in my husband’s family (origin central/southern Mexico)
Oh, I love this post! Three of my long-time babysitters are from Mexico and I have learned so many different ways of saying the same thing. I always look forward to learning new ways and comparing words used in different Spanish countries. I wonder if there is a dictionary solely focused on the various ways Latin American countries refer to specific items or phrases. That would be so cool!
I’ve been wanting just such a dictionary for a long, long time. It would make a great website idea.
Here are two websites I find really useful for work: asihablamos.com and jergasdehablahispana.org. I like checking out the “palabras compartidas” and seeing what the same word can mean in different countries. They include a ton of malas palabras, which is often exactly what I’m looking for!
En Venezuela se dice sarsillo. (sp?)
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Cuando yo llegue a Estados Unidos fue para tocar con la orquesta de USM (University of Southern Mississippi) la orquesta esta formada en gran parte por latinos de distintos paises. Si bien la gran mayoria eran hondurenios, en el momento que yo estaba habia tambien mexicanos, venezolanos, peruanos, cubanos, colombianos, paraguayos, chilenos, bolivianos, 1 espaniol, algunos brasileros hablando espaniol, y mi esposo y yo (los argentinos)…todavia recuerdo con mucha gracia cuando nos teniamos que traducir entre nosotros mismos que era lo que deciamos…recuerdo que me asombraba tener que explicar que quiere decir “desprolijo”
En Argentina decimos:
earrings= “aros” o “aritos”
job/work = laburo (es una de las tantas palabras lunfardas que usamos)
Pero ademas en argentina pasa que algunas palabras cambian de generacion en generacion….no se si eso pasa en otros paises. Y obviamente, tambien cambia mucho segun la region del pais…
In Puerto Rico, we say:
head bump – cocotazo (¡Si no me dejes en paz, te voy a dar un cocotazo…sangano!)
idiot – sangano
¡Tate quieto! – Stay quiet!
glasses – espejuelos
sunglasses – gafas
drinking straw – sorbeto
earrings – pantallas or aretes
car – carro
chalk – tiza
baby pacifier – bobo
bangs – pollinas
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