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Favorite words in Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

It’s been quite a while, I know, but I’d like to get back into the swing of things without too much ado. To start, I want to post some of my columns from The Bogotá Post over this past year. This one combines two of my most popular blog posts, and the definitions are much improved. Which one is your favorite?

I just got back from vacation, we’re all busy watching the Olympics now, and we’re in the languorous dog days of summer. So, these summer doldrums are the perfect time to heed the advice of my chief linguistic takeaway from my recent visit to Colombia’s coast: cógela suave. That is, let’s take it easy in this column.

Therefore, para variar un poco, I hereby present you some of my favorite words in Spanish. Some of them because they’re beautiful, others because they’re fun to say, others because I like how they’re used or their meaning, others because I get a kick out of their translation in certain dictionaries (indicated by quotes), and others because they just have a je ne sais quoi about them. All are words that I’ve gradually come across via conversations, books, and life over the years—no cheating and thumbing through the dictionary or looking up someone else’s list of favorite words. A few are Colombian Spanish or particular to other regions; others may be highly literary or old-fashioned. The definitions are not exhaustive. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy this tantalizing smorgasbord of the Spanish language.

(I know that many native Spanish speakers also read this column, some of whom speak outstanding English, so I tried to include some really rich and colorful English words in the definitions for your linguistic pleasure and learning.) 

acuarela (watercolor)

acuatizaje (water landing)

albaricoque (apricot)

almohadilla (ink pad; paw pad; small pillow; pincushion)

amanecer (dawn; to dawn; wake up in the morning; spend the night somewhere; stay up all night)

andariego (full of wanderlust, footloose; wanderer)

apenas (barely, hardly; as soon as)

ay (oh; ow, ouch)

bambalina (stage curtain)

bobalicón (nitwit, twit, dolt)

(a) borbotones (bubbling, gushing; abundantly)

cacharrear (to fiddle with something until you figure it out, tinker)

cachimba (smoking pipe; hookah)

cachivaches (knickknacks, odds and ends; junk)

cantimplora (canteen, flask)

casquisuelto (sexually promiscuous person, womanizer, Don Juan, floozy, man-eater)

chichiguas (pittance, petty amount)

colindar (to adjoin, abut)

cumbamba (chin)

curiosear (to poke around, snoop; to glance at, look around)

decembrino (related to December)

diluir (to dilute)

embebecer (to fascinate)

empiyamado (in one’s pajamas)

ensimismado (lost in thought; absorbed, engrossed; self-absorbed)

escuincle (kid, child)

feligrés (parishioner)

flojera (laziness; weakness)

floripondio (“gaudy decorative flower,” “great flowery thing”; rhetorical flourish)

friolento (cold-natured)

fulano (whatshisname; some random person)

golosina (treat, candy; incentive)

gordinflón (fatty, fatso; chubby, tubby, pudgy)

hediondo (smelly, foul, reeking)

hijueputa (son of a bitch, bastard)

horripilante (hideous; horrifying)

imagínate (just imagine)

inmiscuirse (to interfere, meddle, stick your nose into)

kumis (kumis: kind of yogurt)

lentejuela (sequin)

locuacidad (loquacity, talkativeness)

maracuyá (passion fruit)

memorioso (having a good memory)

mequetrefe (good for nothing, schmuck; busybody)

mermar (to reduce, turn down)

mijo/mija (my son/daughter, “sonny boy”; sweetie, darling)

mismísimo (the very same, itself/herself/himself)

mojigato (strait-laced, goody two-shoes; holier-than-thou, self-righteous; hypocrite, two-faced; prude, prig)

murciélago (bat)

nalgadas (spanking)

natalicio (birthday; commemoration/observance of a famous person’s birthday)

ningunear (to ignore, brush aside; to look down one’s nose at, treat like dirt)

noctámbulo (nocturnal; night owl)

ojalá (let’s hope, hopefully, God willing)

papanatas (sucker, dupe)

papeleo (paperwork; red tape)

parvulario (nursery school, kindergarten)

pecueca (stinky feet smell; bad; brat)

piquiña (itching; envy)

pluviosidad (rainfall)

porquería (junk; dirt; mess; filth, smut; shoddy work)

primíparo (college freshman; first-timer, newbie; primípara: first-time mother)

pues (well; um; then; because, since)

quiubo (what’s up?; hey)

renacuajo (tadpole; nosy)

rosaleda (rose garden, rose bed)

tampoco (neither, nor; come on)

tararear (“to la-la-la”; sing to oneself)

tertulia (get-together, gathering; cultural/literary salon, circle)

tinieblo (secret lover; unofficial or unannounced partner)

tiquismiquis (petty details; bickering, squabbles; fussy, finicky, persnickety; stickler, fusspot)

tulipán (tulip)

vaina (thingamajig, whatchamacallit; headache, drag; pod; sheath, case)

verdulería (produce store; vegetable stand; mayhem, chaos; obscenity)

ya (already; now; enough; right)

Now you have 75 splendid words to season your Spanish with! I hope you enjoyed them and are now thinking about the words that have always struck you as lovely or nifty. What a treat to be able to speak such a beautiful language.



July greetings

The blog was on vacation for the past several months and is now officially back, refreshed and reinvigorated. I’m still living in Bogotá, and I still have lots of ideas and words to share. Along with translating, I’ve continued writing a monthly column for The Bogotá Post, and despite the silence on the blog I have no problem regularly writing 700 or so words on whatever topic the newspaper requests. Request being the operative word, there; my inspiration has hit somewhat of a wall, and their suggestions make everything so much easier for me. So if you have a request for something you’d like me to write about here on Vocabat, be sure to let me know.

I hope everyone’s Spanish studies are going splendidly and that you’re all enjoying your summer, winter, or in-between season, whatever the case may be. ¡Chau!


Colaborar, redux (The Bogotá Post)

Before I share something new, let me (re)share something old: my second column from The Bogotá Post. I first wrote this post in October 2011, but this version is revamped, improved, and definitely more accurate than the first go, thanks to a sidekick who’s helping me out, I mean, collaborating me.

Let’s make a collaboration!

At first glance, colaborar and collaborate seems to be one of those translation pairs we like best. One means one thing, the other means the same thing, and everything’s hunky-dory, right? But then you come to Colombia and you start hearing colaborar used left and right, whereas in English it’s one of those words you hear rather infrequently. What’s going on? Are Colombians just a particularly collaborative bunch? Are they renowned for playing well with others?

In English, “collaborate” gets bandied about in power breakfasts between businessmen, trade deals between governments, and newspaperese. Not being a company bigwig, politico, or journalist largely exempts me from using this word in my day-to-day parlance, though. Spanish, however, does use this word quite often, and Spanish speakers will often reach for colaborar when we would use a more run-of-the-mill word such as plain old “help,” “work together,” or even “volunteer.”

What does this mean for you, oh-so-diligent Spanish learner? Well, make sure you realize that it’s used much more in Spanish, meaning you should be using it more often. Don’t worry; you won’t sound excessively fancy. Whereas in English it generally means working together on some kind of intellectual effort, joining forces and brainpower to attain mutual goals, in Spanish it just means two or more people co-laboring on . . . well, just about anything.

As you can see, it’s often used with the more watered-down meaning of “to help.” To whittle it down even further, Colombians like to dispense with the prepositions. Thus, people regularly say the Spanish equivalent of things like “I collaborated her” or “Will you collaborate me?”, treating the word as if it acted like “to help,” instead of “I collaborated with her” or “Will you collaborate with me?”.

¿En qué le puedo colaborar? ¿Le colaboro en algo?

Can I help you? Be prepared to hear this from ten different salespeople when you walk into stores. Note that in these constructions the phrase is colaborar en, but it’s otherwise colaborar con.

¿Te colaboro?

Do you need help? Here, let me give you a hand.

Con mucho gusto les colaboro con las traducciones.

I’d be happy to help you with the translations.

If you’re the one in need, a smooth ¿Me podrías colaborar? will be sure to elicit the aid you’re looking for. As the word is so vague, context and body language will convey the nature of the favor you’re looking for.

¿Usted me podría colaborar acá con una empujadita?

Would you mind helping me out and giving it a push?

Image by Omega Man, from Flickr Creative Commons

Oye, ¿me colaboras un momento con estos libros?

Could you hold these books for a second?

Mona, ¿me colaboras con una monedita?

Hey, blondie, can you spare a dime?

The noun form –colaboración– is also very common.

Cualquier colaboración será bienvenida.

We appreciate each and every donation, no matter how small.

Necesito su colaboración para poder entregar los documentos a tiempo.

I’m going to need everyone to make an extra effort so we can turn these documents in on time.

Rather unkosher, but the word colaborar also tends to show up when, say, someone tries to dodge a ticket from a police officer.

Uy, ¿y será que usted no me puede colaborar con eso?

Isn’t there a way we could work this out between the two of us?

Or, when you’re just a few decimal points shy of passing your class and need to beg your teacher for some leniency.

Uy, profe, colabóreme ahí, por favor.

Come on, please help me out! Just this once!

You generally use colaborar with a stranger or with someone with whom you speak formally (like a boss, for example). It’s a kinder, softer way of phrasing things, and it slyly includes the listener in the action so you’re not just asking for a favor point-blank. It’s also A-OK to just use ayudar. To use colaborar with someone you’re close to could sound a bit cold and formal, as if you’re trying to signal distance all of a sudden. When you’re annoyed with someone you’re close to and want to let off some steam, it’s an ideal word to use.

Oiga, pero colabóreme porque llevo todo el día haciendo aseo y usted en un segundo llega con las patas cochinas a ensuciarme todo.

Hey, how about a little help now and then? Here I am cleaning all day, and then you just track mud in and make it all dirty again.

When pressed to explain why one would choose colaborar over ayudar, an old boyfriend once told me that ayudar sounds more formal around here. Sure, you could just say ayudar, but wouldn’t it be more exciting to collaborate, as if you’re working together on the problem instead of you just looking for a handout?

Vocabat on FB

The big 0-2 is coming up for Vocabat, and I want to make a lot of changes to the site. I’m also going to have a lot of free time on my wings in October, and what better use of my time than improvements to the blog? One thing I just added is a Facebook page. ¡Ya era hora! Losing Google Reader back in July was devastating (both as a blogger and as a blog reader), but Facebook is still as convenient and useful as ever. Scroll down and click on Like (or Me gusta) on the right side of the page, and you’ll find an easy way to stay abreast of new posts. ¡Gracias! There are a lot of exciting things in the works for Vocabat, so you definitely want to stay in touch.


Déntrese Firulais

I couldn’t resist coming up with a Spanish version of yesterday’s comic.