How was your Halloween? ¿De qué te disfrazaste? I was a queen bee–abeja reina–and my friend was a beekeeper–el colmenero. We went to a costume dance party and basically won the costume part, but since we’re not great dancers but merely good, another couple won overall. So much fun! Here are some pictures, though unfortunately a bit blurry.

Homemade DIY queen bee beekeeper costume disfraz abeja reina colmenero

Homemade DIY queen bee costume disfraz abeja reina

The yellow outfit was the uniform from a dance team that I used to be on, and I painted the black stripes on it with the help of masking tape. Bought the tights, made some pseudo-antennae, and made a crown but didn’t wear it much. For a day there, I was Vocabee. What did you dress up as? Did you buy or make your costume?

OK, now I’m thinking about bees, so let me see if I can’t drum up some relevant Spanish vocabulary.

In Colombia, abeja is a very common and colloquial way of saying that someone is slick, clever. This can be in a good way as in business, or it can indicate someone who takes advantage of others–wily, crafty, sly. Standard synonyms would be listo and astuto, and interestingly enough another way of expressing this is avispado (avispa means wasp). Downright libelous for bees and wasps, if you ask me.

Pilas con Orlando, que ese man es muy abeja.

Watch your back when you’re with Orlando because that guy’s sly as a fox.

Want to say that you’re busy as a bee? Although abeja will convey that idea in some countries, in others hormiguita (little ant) will do it much better.

The word above for beekeeper, colmenero, comes from colmena, which means beehive. When I lived in Bogotá, my first bank account was with Banco Colmena. (It no longer exists.) After always assuming that Colmena was a made-up brand name like Pantene or Cheetos, I was quite surprised to learn one day that I’d been banking with Beehive Bank all along, something that sounds like it came straight from Richard Scarry’s Busytown. I could have been banking with a place named Banco Colchón (Mattress Bank) and been none the wiser.

Banco Colmena

Why a beehive? I guess the cells of a beehive are supposed to be evocative of how a bank has separate accounts for people’s money to grow and be safe. There used to be another Colombian bank called Conavi whose mascot was a much-loved, iconic bee for several decades. Considered the Colombian Mickey Mouse, la abejita Conavi could be seen everywhere from sporting events to classrooms. A bee was chosen as the symbol of the bank because the insect collects, saves, reinvests and multiplies pollen, honey, and wax for the future use and survival of the bee colony. A beehive also symbolized the thrift and industry of many humble workers. But this bank also merged with another one over time, and the bee disappeared. Told to buzz off, I assume that bees have entirely disappeared from the banking landscape.

Abejita conavi bee banco

And what about honey? I wrote about miel de maple a long time ago, but that’s not really honey; it’s maple syrup. Here are some phrases that talk about the real deal.

Miel sobre hojuelas–I’ve never had hojuelas, but apparently they’re a delicious fried pastry in the shape of leaves. (Hojuelas de maíz is the proper name for corn flakes, but people usually just say confleis.) Although they’re already a scrumptious delicacy in their own right, to drizzle honey over the hojuelas instead of just sugar allegedly ratchets their deliciousness up to an almost unfathomable level. So the phrase miel sobre hojuelas is used to indicate that a good situation was just made even better.

Voy a escribir una novela este mes para el NaNoWriMo, lo que será muy gratificante para mí y un buen reto, y si encima algún editorial acepta mi manuscrito y lo publica, pues miel sobre hojuelas.

I’m going to write a novel this month for NaNoWriMo, which will be very rewarding for me and a good challenge. And if on top of that some publisher accepts and publishes my manuscript, well so much the better.

Todo era miel sobre hojuelas hasta que vi que le daba like a su propio estado, ahí un gran abismo nos separó para siempre.

Everything was as peachy as could be until I saw that he liked his own status–then an enormous abyss separated us forevermore.

No todo es miel sobre hojuelas en el matrimonio, pues a veces hay rachas cuando uno no puede ver a su pareja ni en pintura. 

Not everything about marriage is a bed of roses–sometimes there are periods when one can’t even stand the sight of their partner.

Another phrase I like is dejar (a alguien) con la miel en los labios or quedarse con la miel en los labios. To leave someone with honey on their lips means to leave them hanging, to leave them wanting more, to tantalize them and then stop right before the best part. Imagine someone smearing honey on your lips but you can’t reach to taste it. (Because you have a short tongue? Because your lips are sewn shut? No idea.) Or they give you just a taste and then cruelly whisk it away. Someone builds up your expectations, makes you positively salivate while anticipating it, and then they don’t follow through at the last minute.

Miel en los labios honey on your lips

No nos dejes con la miel en los labios, cuéntanos ya lo que pasó esa noche entre tú y la japonesa.

Don’t just leave us hanging here; tell us what happened that night between you and the Japanese woman.

Aunque había soñado con ganar, Mario concluyó cuarto en la carrera, así que se quedó con la miel en los labios. 

Although he had dreamed of winning, Mario placed fourth in the race, leaving him disappointed and frustrated.

Maybe the idea isn’t that someone has dripped honey on your lips and that you can’t reach it; maybe the point is that that’s all they did. You wanted the dessert–let’s say it was a mouthwatering piece of baklava that oozed honey–and they waved it in front of your face and even brushed it against your lips, but just as you opened your mouth they snatched their hand away. All you’re left with is the trace of honey on your lips to then savor. While it’s better than nothing, the sweetness would be so brief and piquant that the ache of longing and sense of loss it would provoke would cause unbearable pain.

Finally, a truly wonderful and erudite bee phrase that I definitely need to dust off after having shelved it around age ten: None of your beeswax!

But, of course, that’s not true– what I write here about Spanish and Colombia is all of your beeswax. Let me know if you can think of any other bee-inspired vocab, and definitely share your costumes with us.

13 responses to “Abuzz

  1. Well, my party was on Friday (Nov. 1st), my last night in Bogotá. My improvised costume was that of a hippie. Had a big fro and fake bell bottoms, among other things. Never had so much hair in my life, but the contrast is particularly striking now :) Can’t match the grace of you and your costume, though.

    As usual, I’ve had a few laughs reading your blog. Never heard the expression about miel en los labios. Miel sobre hojuelas might be related to pastry as in a milhoja or baklava, right? Eating corn flakes was never common in Colombia (afaik), let alone with honey. But it sounds good, so I’m sure there are quite a few fans of the combination. This reminds me of an expression that I’ve heard here: the land of milk and honey. I always found interesting that some cultures think so highly of milk and honey. I like both, but never thought too much about it.

    I have to finish with something related to both your post and my costume: me quedé con los crepos hechos. And by the way, I couldn’t defend the Spanish language when asked about the difference between a disguise and a costume. The reaction was, of course, what? You don’t make a difference between the two concepts in Spanish? Well, I couldn’t come up with a good answer but then I thought that Vocabat might.


    • So glad you dressed up!

      Miel en los labios was new for me, too. You know, ed, you and I have to break this awful Colombian bias we have and give the other countries a turn in the spotlight as well ;)

      Yes, apparently the hojuelas in the miel sobre hojuelas phrase refer to a pastry. I’m pretty the sure the land of milk and honey comes from the Bible. I remember it from a song I grew up singing (oh, I’m gonna feast on milk and honey one of these daaaaaays, hallelujah) :)

      I wrote about quedarse con los crespos hechos here: http://vocabat.com/2012/03/04/friday-five-cubas-novias-culatas-patas-y-vacas/

      Let me think about disguise and costume. Not that I’ve ever done so, but I’ll see if I can come up with something pseudo-erudite. ¡Mi especialidad! Jejeje.

      And I can’t remember when you started reading me, but in case you missed it, here’s where I dressed up as a bat last year: http://vocabat.com/2012/10/31/feliz-halloween/


  2. Oh, Katie, you didn’t capitalize my name? What did I ever do to you? :) OK, I know, that’s not even my name, but just a generic placeholder for my real name, which is… (signed at the bottom but I’m sure you don’t need help figuring it out). I am with you that we have to break with this Colombian bias, but you are the creative one here, so that is all on you.

    Loved you costume from last year. Now you got me thinking of other ways of using an umbrella. Sometime in the future, I am sure that something handy will come up at some critical juncture. I also read the other post with the saws (I do crosswords so , once in a while, I can come up with an unusual word in English :) ). I always heard “no le busque tres patas al gato porque le va a encontrar cuatro,” meaning, if you keep looking for trouble you are going find real big trouble (no busque lo que no se le ha perdido). This idea is a little different from the one in that older post, which is more directed at advising not to overcomplicate things, as you are just wasting time and energy, but there is not overt warning or threat about the consequences. As to the “correctness” of the saying, tres patas vis-a-vis cinco patas, the tres patas version appears in El Quijote (actually, tres pies). Here is a quote for your enjoyment:

    (Empieza hablando un comisario):
    “Vayase vuestra merced, señor, norabuena su camino adelante, y enderécese ese bacín que trae en la cabeza, y no ande buscando tres piés al gato. Vos sois el gato y el rato y el bellaco, respondió Don Quijote; y diciendo y haciendo, arremetió con él tan presto, que sin que tuviese lugar de ponerse en defensa, dio con él en el suelo mal herido de una lanzada; y avínole bien, que éste era el de la escopeta.”

    Here is a link to chapter XXII, in case you want to read more http://www.elmundo.es/quijote/capitulo.html?cual=22 There is something just for you in the header of the link: it says “vigésimosegundo.” I think that, while vigésimo has a tilde, the compound word should not. That do you think?



    • I knew your name ;)

      LOL, saw. I don’t even know what that means, but OK. Yes, that’s another good use for the tres patas phrase. Don’t go looking for trouble.

      I still haven’t read El Quijote, and I think that if that info fell into the wrong hands it would be my swift undoing. I really, really want to read it, though, and I also want to read several English translations because I’m actually quite up on their differences.

      I think the tilde looks appropriate and necessary there…. no le vayamos a buscar tres patas al ya sabes qué :)


  3. You mean, no le busquemos tres patas al Patas? You know about El Patas too?

    Agree, maybe you should stay away from Don Quijote. As it is, you have enough information already. An interesting thing of the quote above, you probably noticed, it the use of “vuestra merced.” That’s the original sumercé, I guess.


  4. Great link! I always thought that el Patas was just the devil, and I think that’s true for many people. But after reading the link, I did a little bit of additional research and I found out the el Patas in nobody but the mismísimo Putas. I don’t remember ever using el Patas, but el Putas… that’s another story. And now I see the connection of all this with el diablo.

    El putas, as you might know, is the reference for the very best (usually) but also for the very worst. If somebody is great at something, he or she is el putas. Usain Bolt (holder of the world record in the 100 and 200 meter distances) is un putas para correr. If somebody is great at something, then s/he is un putas or un puticas. Something that nobody knows or can’t do, no lo sabe/no lo hace ni el putas. You did poorly in your exam? Me fué como al putas. Something you won’t ever agree on doing… ni por el putas (or the real thing: ni puel putas). But if you want to be family friendly then you would say ni puel diablo. You have a nice sweater? That sweater está del putas. Again, there is the “decent” version, which is el chiras: está del chiras. There is a clothing boutique in Bogotá called “Chiros del chiras,” meaning really nice clothes (I am sure you can come up with a much better translation to this).

    Who knew this putas/patas thing was so powerful. You uncovered it for me, thank you! :)


    • Omg, I think I should just hand my blog over to you! Since I clearly have jumped ship, though not really. I have a lot of things to say and announce, but my inspiration well has run a little dry! Your examples for el putas and el chiras are del putas. Que gracias!!!! I knew del putas was f’ing awesome, but didn’t know all the nuances. Chiros are rags, right? By any chance in the world, will you be in Colombia in January? I want a Vocabat meetup party, and I want it now :) (I just had a birthday, I’m allowed to talk that way)


      • Also, llevado del putas.


      • It’s not easy to keep writing a blog, and I have nothing but admiration for your consistency, your witty and ingenious writings, and mostly for how you seamlessly connect English and Spanish, not just in terms of the formality of the languages but mostly for your cultural insights. Whatever happens to Vocabat, I will enjoy it while it lasts (maybe I should write this in the past tense? I hope not…yet). You might need a break or it might be time to move on; you know what’s best at this time.

        Unfortunately, I just came back from Colombia less than two months ago. I seldom go in January, except for occasional birthday parties (lots of January birthdays in my family). I would have love to be there to celebrate your belated birthday but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it (work always gets in the way). When are you going? Hopefully, some other time not too far in the future (you probably have my email from the blog?). In any case, Happy Birthday.

        Yes, chiros are rags. I’m not sure where chiras came from in this context. There’s also, esta del carajo. Oh yes, llevado del putas. Of curse, things tend to drift with time and you hear things like me fue como a las putas, o como a los perros en misa. I wrote this on an iPad so I hope there aren’t many unnoticed and embarrassing auto-corrects.


        • Oh, the blog’s not going anywhere- not to worry! :)

          Many thanks for your lavish praise.

          I’m confident that we’ll meet at some point. I have a wonderfully positive track record for meeting people in real life with whom I’ve formed online friendships.


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