If you ever want to pay me a big compliment, you should tell me that I’m sincere. (If you sincerely believe that, of course.) Sincerity is one of my all-time favorite qualities, and you’ll win a million points in my book if you show me that you value it as well. Too bad it gets such faint praise in our culture.

Not in Spanish, though. In Spanish, you’ll hear the words sincero/a and sinceridad significantly more than you ever hear them in English. I think this is because in addition to sincere, sincero encompasses other adjectives in English that we think are different and important enough to deserve their own word: upfront, genuine, plainspoken, candid, honest, etc. And maybe, just maybe, Hispanics really do value sincerity more. Americans, not so much.

I learned a few weeks back that you can say to be sincere as a verb in Spanish by saying sincerarse, and this came as a most welcome piece of news. Here was the sentence, courtesy of the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo.

Sincerémonos, mientras haya quienes paguen, el que se cuele en TransMilenio es un ladrón.

Let’s be perfectly honest: so long as there are people who pay, anyone who sneaks onto the TransMilenio without paying is a thief.

I was so happy to learn this word. Sometimes I wonder which is better to focus on: who I am, or what I do? Which is more important? Which is more honest and essential? I always used to put so much emphasis on who a person was, but now I’m leaning more and more toward favoring what one does and seeing that as an irrefutable reflection of the kind of person they are. How wonderful to know that in Spanish I can make my sincerity into an action. Soy sincera, me sincero, en fin. At least, I long to be this way. I’m sincere . . . except for when I’m not. Except for when I’m a chicken, basically. Surely there’s so much more to potentially gain from just coming out and saying it, right?


In high school, my locker was next to the locker of a guy named Sincer. He was Indian-American, and he told me that his parents had picked out the name Sincere for a daughter. When he came instead, they just lopped off the last letter. He was a great guy, always with a big smile. I also remember that he was the first person to tell me about the World Trade Center attack on September 11 at our lockers in between classes. How sincere was Sincer, really? How sincere are any of us?

I’m reminded of the last two stanzas of one of my favorite poems, William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other:

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Even when I first read this poem as a featherbrained high schooler, somehow I registered just how important sincerity really was and what the stakes were. Especially when I now consider how much of my communication is in Spanish, a language I’ll never fully master and whose intricacies and secret nuances will always be just beyond my grasp. As I can never share a mother tongue with native Spanish speakers, it would seem that sincerity and plainspokenness are particularly important. So often, though, I insinuate, I tantalize, I encrypt. Since I still make mistakes and am not aware of all the implications and connotations of what I say, naturally everything that sounds suggestive can be conveniently chalked up to oh, maybe she didn’t realize how that sounded. I almost always do, though. I’m extremely deliberate, and sometimes I do just play dumb when it suits me. So, that’s my confession of the night; my resolution is to be more sincera and sincerarme on a much more regular basis. Who’s with me?

En serio, soy muy sincero y me tienes sorprendido con tu buen español.

Believe me, I’m very honest and I’m amazed by how good your Spanish is.

Es bueno hablar de las cosas sin pelos en la lengua, y decir simplemente lo que se piensa; porque si hay sinceridad, creo que todo se desarrolla mejor y de una manera más natural.

It’s good to be straight up and simply say what you think because I think that everything develops better and more naturally when there’s sincerity.

Yo, en compañía de todo mi equipo, te envío un abrazo
sincero colmado de agradecimientos y gratitudes; además extensivo a tus familiares, colaboradores y amigos.

I, along with my entire team, send you a heartfelt hug filled with thanks and appreciation that I also wish to extend to your family, partners, and friends.

Entre todos los títulos traducidos al inglés, te soy absolutamente sincero, no hemos vendido más de 100 unidades.

For all the books translated to English–I’m being completely honest with you here–we haven’t sold more than 100 units.

I think that whatever the dilemma, the answer is the same: Sincerémonos.


11 responses to “Sincerémonos

  1. Carlos Vitelli

    Amazing !!!


  2. I’m glad I found out about this word too! :)

    And about what you say there…
    “So often, though, I insinuate, I tantalize, I encrypt. Since I still make mistakes and am not aware of all the implications and connotations of what I say, naturally everything that sounds suggestive can be conveniently chalked up to oh, maybe she didn’t realize how that sounded. I almost always do, though. I’m extremely deliberate, and sometimes I do just play dumb when it suits me.”
    I am unfortunately guilty of the same thing…though for me it’s in French. Glad to know I’m not the only one. But sometimes I don’t deliberately want to mislead someone; instead I say something that I regret later, and then hope that they thought I didn’t mean it. Sigh…


    • Thanks! You speak French? In what capacities do you use it? Just socially? I rarely want to deliberately mislead anyone, but sometimes there are things I want that I’m too afraid to just ask for outright. And then my speech becomes full of allusions and suggestions. I feel like this is unfair in general (and not to mention ineffective), but especially unfair with someone whose mother tongue is different. Things that sound pregnant with meaning or perhaps intentionally ambiguous can always be written off (by either side) with the excuse that there’s a language gap. I guess I feel that my Spanish is at the point where this excuse doesn’t really hold water anymore. I need to mean what I say and say what I mean.

      Glad you’re still following the blog and leaving great comments :)


      • I did my engineering studies in France, that’s how I came to speak French. That was also where I learned a bit of Spanish (2 semesters of Spanish class) Now that I’m back in Malaysia, I don’t really use French any more, which is rather unfortunate. :| But dipping into so many languages has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of words and how people say things differently in different languages :)


        • Oh my goodness, how many languages do you speak? Very impressive. So happy to have another international reader with diverse language-related experiences to share with us :)


          • Well, all Malaysians learn Malay and English in school. I speak a Chinese dialect as well, being of Chinese origin, but unfortunately I don’t read Chinese. I had the chance to learn French and Spanish when I furthered my studies to France, but my Spanish is unfortunately really rudimentary. I guess I can’t ask for too much!


  3. alexanderschimpf

    This is both linguistically and philosophically fascinating. I’ll agree with your final suggestion,Sincerémonos, in the sense of saying clearly what we mean when whenever we do express ourselves. But if you also want the connotations of being more “authentic” and “letting it all hang out,” then I start to get worried. There is some stuff that others just really don’t need to tell me about!


    • Thanks. No, no; I don’t mean letting it all hang out. I think that falls more under tact. What I mean with sincerity is simply striving to communicate as honestly and clearly as possible. No intentional ambiguity, no mind games, no manipulation, no passive-aggressiveness. It’s a tall order for all of us! :)


  4. When I was growing up speaking English at school and Spanish at home (or at least hearing it) I was constantly surprised how one word could have so many different (if only slightly different) meanings in Spanish while there seemed to be an English word to describe even the slightest difference. As someone who loved to read and write I loved this…there are so many words in English, so many more than Spanish, and there are few times when I can’t find the exact word I’m looking for.

    In Colombia and even Panama, and through and my experience with my Colombian family in Bogota, whenever someone said to me “Te voy a ser sincera,” I knew this meant they were going to take a brief break from politeness to tell it like it is. I think that Americans and Latin Americans are sincere in different ways. In Colombia, no one will hesitate to tell you if they think you’ve gained weight, even three pounds, but here in the U.S we don’t say anything to anyone, even if they weight 500 pounds. I think we fear this kind of honesty because independence and autonomy are so highly valued whereas Colombians are more communal and these kind of comments aren’t considered particularly rude…mostly just your friends/family looking out for you.

    It was funny because my family in Colombia would often warn me over and over that Colombians, in general, were not sinceros and were untrustworthy. They probably saw me as a naive American who had to be protected, and I can’t tell you how many warnings I received from my grandma and aunts telling me that the vast majority of Colombians have ulterior motivations and to not fall for the sweet,sing-songy accent. This was also my Mom and Dad’s, and my Colombian family here’s, biggest fear when I told them I was moving to Colombia. I can remember my mom telling me, “I grew up there, I know how to judge people, but you guys think everyone is good.” And as my grandma used to say, “Mucho bla bla bla y nada.” Throughout my time in Colombia, I constantly received warnings about Colombians from Colombians. At the bus stop, on the transmilenio, from my students, from my boyfriend and his family, from random people on the street, etc. When I was with my boyfriend, a family friend said “Hay, pero los gringos son tan lindos y sinceros…son tan simplones pero son mejores maridos.” I’ve never had an American husband so I can’t really judge here, but a lot of Colombians seemed to associate being American with being honest…which when I think of the things the U.S has done in the third world, I can’t help but disagree with, at least on a certain level

    Now that I’m back in the U.S, I can’t say that Colombians are less sincere than Americans. I think you can and will find people with ulterior, impure motivations anywhere. What I do remember thinking when I came back is that when Colombians are insinceros, they were so wonderfully polite and sweet about it. You might never realize what’s happening if you haven’t been completely ingrained in the culture for a significant amount of time. When I initially came back I remember thinking, “Man, I’m so glad to be here…everyone is so straightforward and honest.” But really, I think it’s just two different styles of going about things and the American way of speaking just lends itself to sounding more straightforward. Spanish speakers allow for so much more intonation, so many flourishes, diminutives, etc, English, despite its vast vocabulary, does not lend itself to so many flourishes and intonations (unless you want to sound crazy). I think things might be a little different with British English.


  5. Oh, Jisel. Once again, you leave an amazing comment and prove yourself to be in my inner circle of favorite Vocabat readers :)

    Yes, sincero is often used to mean what we Americans would call blunt. Honest, and setting aside conventions like politeness and minding one’s own business. Sinceridad assumes that the person will be better off for your frank and harsh observation–this, of course, will depend on the receiver. Most people’s defenses go immediately up when they receive any negative feedback. Exactly–loved ones looking out for you.

    I didn’t feel like getting into a long discussion of whether Colombians are more sincere than Americans (like my cursi post), throwing around generalizations and anecdotes. I gave myself a break and just said maybe. I will say that I struggled with my skin down there, and I remember several times when people pointed out to me that my face was broken out. My landlady, this student of mine named Alejandro, even my ex the last time I saw him. Well, he asked me how my skin was doing. I was speechless–seriously???? It’s not like we were at any loss of things to talk about. I remember my reaction, too– ¡Pero qué comentario más colombiano! I was super tempted to ask him a personal and embarrassing question about his body, but I took the high road and decided to just leave it. People are strange. Cultures are stranger.


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