Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: tajai

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.

For example:

- 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!

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