Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: babasteve

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! We hope you’re enjoying the holiday surrounded by those you love! We are so thankful for many, many things this year, but especially for the awesome bilingual and bicultural community you’ve helped us create. ¡Gracias!

I’ve been wanting to write this following post for a while and then I realized today’s the day because the Thanksgiving menu lends itself perfectly for this. The variations in the Spanish language have always interested me. As I’ve mentioned before, I collect dictionaries and thesaurus, and as a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by words. This is not the first time I write about this topic — and it probably won’t be the last — but I did promise the next time I’d write about food.

For those of us who have worked as translators, it’s no secret that translating food terminology from English to Spanish can be a challenge, to put it lightly. The main issue is the amount of different words that exist in Spanish for just one word in English. This has to do mainly with the fact that each Spanish-speaking country, or at least it seems that way, has a different way of calling a particular food item.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients in a traditional Thanksgiving menu:

  • Turkey
  • Yams
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Pecan pie

Let’s start with off with the main ingredient in a Thanksgiving dinner: the turkey. I’ve always called it pavo in Spanish, but when I first got to this country, I made a lot of Nicaraguan friends and when they invited me over for Thanksgiving, I almost died laughing when I heard them call it chompipe.

So, it turns out there are a lot of other ways to call this bird than I ever knew, even though Spanish is my first language:

  • Pavo — Latin America
  • Guajolote — Mexico
  • Chompipe — Nicaragua and other countries in Central America
  • Chumpe — El Salvador

Then there’s my favorite Thanksgiving side dish, yams with marshmallows, but we all have different ways to call this tubérculo:

  • Camote — most of Latin America
  • Batatas — Spain
  • Boniato — Cuba

How about cranberry sauce? Finding the correct term in Spanish for any type of berry in English is extremely difficult, mainly because some of these varieties don’t really exist in Spanish-speaking countries. In fact, I’d never heard of cranberries until I moved to this country. Apparently, the names for these in Spanish are:

  • árandanos (which I thought were blueberries)
  • árandanos agrios
  • árandanos rojos

The same thing can be said about nuts. There are so many variations that are native to North America that there are really no names for them in Spanish. How do you call pecans in Spanish? I call them pecanas, but when I said this to Ana’s husband — who is Mexican — recently, he thought it was the funniest thing. Turns out they’re also called pacanas, but some people just called them nueces — but that would be just nuts!

Finally, this is not really about a food item, but it’s about the name we call our actual meals. Recently, we had agreed to go have an early dinner with some Mexican friends. I called in the morning to confirm and I left a message saying something similar to: “Entonces nos vemos más tarde para comer” — which should have translated to “We’ll see you later for dinner then.” An hour later I got a message from my friends saying that they thought we were going to get together for dinner (“para cenar, no para comer“), but that they could still make it for lunch. What? I was so confused! In Spanish, I call my meals desayuno, almuerzo y comida or breakfast, lunch and dinner. But for some people, including my Mexican nanny and my Spanish friends, almuerzo is the equivalent of my breakfast and cena is dinner.

What a mess! But that’s what I love about my beloved Spanish! Please feel free to add your own versions and of the words above so we can all learn more variations of the same word.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy your cócono!

Recent Posts