Category Archives: Language (In English)

Chilenismos #2: Calling Someone an Animal

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If you´re a human being, is it okay to behave like a pig? What does it mean to act like a frog? Jumping around?  How does one make a cow? If you´re confused, don´t worry. I´ll let you know what these animals have in common. Welcome to the second episode of how to understand a Chilean.

A saying in Spanish is called modismo or dicho. They are born out of a socially determined usage that gives new meaning to a certain group of words. Many are used all over the Spanish-speaking world, just like any other language. If you don´t understand where they come from culturally, it can´t be translated literally and won’t make much sense. Most regions have their own typical phrases. In Chile they can be called chilenismos.

As I previously explained, there are many reasons for the great variety found in Chile. I also believe that the humorous people in Chile are very quick-witted in conversation, continuously inventing new uses for the Spanish language. Many refer to animals.

Let´s begin with two not so nice examples. Do you know anyone who always wants to know everyone else´s business? Here this is called ser sapo, or acting like a frog. This could stem from frogs and their giant eyes, seemingly capable of seeing all things. If you try to overhear a telephone conversation or read email over someone´s back you are being sapo. The best snoops do this without being detected so as to avoid being pegged with this unsavory nickname.

Next we have hacer perro muerto, or pulling a dead dog. In English we would often call this “dine and ditch” AKA leaving a food or drink establishment without paying the bill. As it appropriately sounds in Spanish, this is nasty business, clearly not recommended in any country. If one does this in Chile it is possible the owner will “Sacarte la cresta.” The cresta is the crown of the rooster. Removing this part from someone implies potential or threated violence.

Now for two lighter sayings. In Santiago there are a boatload of cafes and restaurantes, but you get what you pay for. The expensive ones can be fantastic, but one must be much more discerning when it comes to the inexpensive places. This has resulted in many Santiaguinos knowing very well how to cook a delicious dish at home, particularly the younger crowd who are beginning to move out on their own at a younger age instead of staying home until marriage (people marry late here, if they do marry at all).

Hacer una vaca, or making a cow does not mean fashioning your very own ruminant out of clay and water. When friends want to have a BBQ (an asado), picnic in the park or a big spread for dinner everyone throws in some cash. Between two and three thousand Chilean pesos per person (about five USD) you can make a real food festival without anything going to waste (echarse a perder) in the fridge (refri).

Lastly, one of my favorites is pasarlo chancho. Chancho means pig and can be a term of endearment between a couple or family members. Mothers say to their babies upon eating their entire meal “Eres mi chanchito!” or, you are my messy little piggy! This saying, to pass the time like the pigs do means to have a wicked good time at a party or asado, drinking, eating, dancing and telling jokes. If you have such a wonderful time, lo pasaste la raja! as well.                      More Chilenismos coming pronto…

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Patiperros on a World Tour

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In Santiago de Chile, I witnessed a dog get on the bus and ride for several blocks only to get off at what appeared to be his or her stop. I told a friend. This friend, too, had once seen a dog take that exact route. Same dog? Could have been. Dogs traipsing about town is a common site in many cities and have inspired the word patiperro ​in Chile, a combination of patas or paws and perro, which means dog of course. People now use this word to describe those who like to travel and can’t sit still, so I get called this frequently.

If the idea of street dogs upset you, I’d just like to add that many of them have homes but spend their days outside while their owners are at work. Most of them run around content and well-fed. A lot of people buy dog and cat food to feed animals that aren’t their own and get bonus guard dogs hanging around their home or business. Many times a dog will choose to protect you, walking you to the train station or your front door. They will bark at anyone who tries to approach. It is quite adorable, and they get rewarded with treats or a new sweater.

INCONVENIENT – A Poem by Humberto Costantini

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Translating requires different things, depending on the text. I translate a lot of technical documents, which requires research and an understanding of the subject. Poetry is an entirely different beast. You have get into the person’s head, match their tone and style in another language which will likely not have a direct equivalent for many words and phrases. It’s entirely fun, so here is a poem by Argentinean author Humberto Costantini. More information on him here in Spanish. The original Spanish poem follows.

INCONVENIENT

Written by Humberto Costantini
Translated by Sharlene Newman

I am not going to say that I was in the best possible world
but at least I had an archive
with all of its moons perfectly sorted,
the primrose folded four ways in the center drawer
here and there absurdities rest
off to the side of the bureau.

I do not claim to have been in the best possible world
but at least three or four friends delighted in my wine,
and three or four lovers delighted in my bed,
and my publisher truly believed in my novel,
and at a quarter to six
the timid ghosts quietly returned to chat with me.

I will not say that I was in the best of all possible worlds
but my future went on for at least a week out
wherein one could foresee one hundred and twenty lines written,
at least one insignificant inebriation,
as well as five minutes of daily exercise.

I was not, I will admit, in the best world possible
but generally things were reasonably clear;
fireflies did not hang from the roof as they do now,
nor did trains keep a wakeful vigil until dawn,
nor did September arrive declaring its presence
the wind did not show up in order to laugh to death at my face.

I do not wish to say that I was in the best of possible worlds
but this giant, trembling moon,
this unusual smitten moon,
this terrible red stop light of a moon,
this moon made of insomnia and small verses…
how maddening Lord,
how barbaric.

INCONVENIENTE

Escrito por Humberto Costantini
Traducido por Sharlene Newman

Yo no voy a decir que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero al menos tenía un bibliorato
con todas las lunas perfectamente clasificadas,
la primavera plegada en cuatro en el cajón del medio
y alguno que otro disparate
a un costadito del bargueño.

Yo no digo que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero tres o cuatro amigos apreciaban mi vino,
y tres o cuatro amantes apreciaban mi cama,
y mi editor creía firmemente en la novela,
y a las seis menos cuarto
dócilmente volvían a platicar conmigo los fantasmas.

Yo no diré que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero tenía un futuro hasta de una semana
donde estaban previstos ciento veinte renglones,
alguna intrascendente borrachera,
y hasta los cinco minutos diarios de gimnasia.

Yo no estaba, lo admito, en el mejor de los mundos
pero en general las cosas eran juiciosamente claras;
no colgaban luciérnagas del techo como ahora,
ni velaban los trenes hasta la madrugada,
ni septiembre llegaba con nombre y apellido
ni el viento venía para morirse de risa de mi cara.

Yo no quiero decir que estaba en el major de los mundos
pero esta enorme luna estremecida,
esta insólita luna enamorada,
esta terrible luna rojo stop de semáforo,
esta luna de insomnios y versitos…
qué trastorno Señor,
qué cosa bárbara.

Unitedstatesian?

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This word doesn’t technically exist in the English language, as it does in Spanish: estadounidense. When asked in English, I say I’m from “The States”. I just prefer to avoid using the word American, as I realize it irritates some folk. When people refer to me (and any person pale of skin from a foreign land) as gringa, I don’t love it either. They may not understand why, as they say they use it con cariño. I recognize this, so I choose not to get pissed off. Still, when you know something bothers someone, why not avoid it if there are other options? A student asked me the other day if people from the US refer to themselves as American out of egotism. Egotism? What does this mean? Well, we are all Americans – from Chile to Canada. This is very true, but there is a catch – a trick of the language, or rather, a hole in the language. I posit that egotism it is not, but the simple availability of terms. I asked him, do you call yourself Chilean, while you are also American? Yes. Are you South American? I can accept that term, too. What about Latin American or Latino? Both work just fine. That’s a lot of options.

A pointed out a linguistic conundrum. The nation usually referred to as Mexico is officially titled The United States of Mexico (although there has been talk of late to simplifying that to only “Mexico”). Could Mexicans get offended by the use of the term Unitedstatesian? They could if they wanted to. It is part of their country title after all. But what about The United States of America, it can’t shorten it’s name to America without angering people? The difficulty is America is the name for three continents as well. One can be Asian, and more specifically Korean or Thai. One can be American, but more specifically South or Latin American, and even more to the point Chilean, Argentinian, Colombian etc. Whilst my choice is to be an American from North America, unlike a Mexican or Canadian from North America.

Within South, Central and North America, we are all Americans. Some of us get other fun place names, whereas some of ours are redundant. It’s not egotism, it’s what’s on offer.

Chileans Say the Darndest Things

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A Mexican pal of mine who lives here in Chile told me that he couldn’t understand anything his first few months living in the southern cone. He wanted to cry daily because he couldn’t understand these people speaking his native language! As a non-native speaker that made me feel a lot better. I would leave an academic class taught in Spanish feeling as if I understood everything, but outside of that room everything would change. Colloquial language is nothing like the formal business. Additionally the Spanish-speaking world has so many shades and variations between regions, countries and even cities. Think Mobile, Alabama meets NYC or Wales. These differences are very marked in Chile; for example, between the super-arid, driest desert in the world northern part and Patagonia at the bottom of the country/world. Even inside Santiago, the capital, there are a lot of differences between the classes. Someone from the barrio alto has a particular type of pronunciation and lilting intonation that indicates I am cuico! Cuico is sort of like snob and describes those who look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t have the same kind of cash or last name as they do. On the other side of the spectrum is a totally different type of speech or coa that includes a lot of idioms that not everyone can understand outside of that group, sometimes called flaite. Brand name clothing tends to make the flaite stand out. In fact, it is believed that the word flaite comes from Nike’s swoosh logo as it sounds like the word flight. I was robbed once by a pair of flaites. I couldn’t understand a thing they were shouting at me. I understood they wanted my stuff, which included exactly two dollars, my ID card, a used pair of earplugs and a Winnie the Pooh notebook. Ha! All my valuables were safely ensconced within secret interior pockets. Double ha!

Do you speak Spanish? Give this one a whirl. A possible conversation between friends passing through a local fresh produce fair in Chile:

“Oye, hue’on. Teni plata que me prestai pa’ comprar unas paltitas?”

“Sí, poh, obvio. No se’ ahue’ona’o. Cuanto querí, y cuando me pagai?”

“De’pue’ de la pega. Me llamai como a la’ cuashro. Si no me pesquai, me busquai en la casa de mi polola.”

“Ya, bacán.” “Chaíto!”

And you dear language learner, cachai? Translation from “Chilean” into Spanish:

“Oye amigo. Tienes dinero que prestarme para comprar unas aguacates?”

“Sí claro. No seas ridículo. Cuanto quieres, y cuando me pagarás?”

“Despues del trabajo. Llámame como a las cuatro. Si no contesto, búscame en la casa de mi novia.”

“Ok, excelente. Adiós!”

Just a little different, huh?

After learning Spanish I learned Chilean, although it does change all the time. Chileans tend to be very creative and funny with language. It seems that its geographic location would affect its difference as well. This country is as long from top to bottom, as the US is wide, snaking it’s way from the South Pole up to Peru along the spine of South American. The Andes Mountains separates it from Argentina to the east. The western border is the Pacific Ocean. With the dessert, sea, mountain range and the frigid pole, Chile is a little bit isolated. There was also a fair amount of political and cultural isolation going on during the dictatorship from 1973 to approximately 1991 when the country began to open up more. Chilean music, movies and slang are flowing out of the country at a faster rate every year, and increasing numbers of foreigners come to Chile to live, work, study or vacation as well. I have a blast trying to figure out what everyone is trying to say, sometimes laughing my ass off all by my lonesome, looking like an insane foreigner. Come on down!

More Fun Chilenismos

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If you´re a human being, is it okay to behave like a pig? What does it mean to act like a frog? A lot of jumping maybe. How does one make a cow? If you´re confused, don´t worry. I´ll let you know what these animals have in common. Welcome to the second episode of how to understand a Chilean.

A saying in Spanish is called modismo or dicho. They are born out of a socially determined usage that  gives new meaning to a certain group of words. Many are used all over the Spanish-speaking world, just like any other language. If you don´t understand where they come from culturally, that can´t be translated literally and make any sense. Most regions have their own typical phrases. In Chile they can be referred to as chilenismos.

As I previously explained, there are many reasons for the great variety found in Chile. I also believe that the humorous people in Chile are very quick-witted in conversation, continuously inventing new uses for the Spanish language. Many refer to animals.

Let´s begin with two not so nice examples. Do you know anyowe who always wants to know everyone else´s business? Here this is called ser sapo, or acting like a frog. I guess this stems from frogs and they´re giant eyes who seem capable of seeing many things. If you try to overhear a telephone conversation or read email over someone´s back you are being sapo. The best snoops do this without being detected so as to avoid being pegged with this unsavory nickname.

Next we have hacer perro muerto, or pulling a dead dog. In English we would often call this “dine and ditch”. As it appropriately sounds in Spanish, this is nasty business, clearly not recommended in any country. If one does this in Chile it is possible they the owner will “Sacarte la cresta.” The cresta is the crown of the rooster. Removing this part from someone implies potential or threated violence.

Now for two happier sayings. In Santiago there are a boatload of cafes and restaurantes, but you get what you pay for. The expensive ones can be fantastic, but one must be much more discerning when it comes to the inexpensive places. This has resulted in many Santiaguinos knowing very well how to cook a delicious dish at home, particularly the younger fold who are beginning to move out on their own at a younger age instead of staying home until marriage (people marry late here, if they do marry at all).

Hacer una vaca, or making a cow does not mean fashioning your very own out of clay and water. When friends want to have a BBQ (an asado), picnic in the park or a big spread for dinner everyone throws in some cash. Between two and three thousand Chilean pesos per person (about five USD) you can make a real food festival without anything going to waste (echarse a perder) in the fridge (refri). Lastly, one of my favorites is pasarlo chancho. Chancho means pig and can be a term of endearment between a couple or family members. Mothers say to their babies upon eating their entire meal “Eres mi chanchito!” or, you are my messy little piggy! This saying, to pass the time like the pigs do means to have a wicked good time at a party or asado, drinking, eating, dancing and telling jokes. If you have such a wonderful time, lo pasaste la raja!