Spagnolo Lezioni

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Ni Papa: It ain't no thing

...yo no entiendo ni papa.
[Caption 53, Si-Sé > entrevista > Part 1]

When Carol C. of Si*Sé says with a shrug, yo no entiendo ni papa, it's easy enough for us to understand by the context that she doesn't understand a word. She could also have said no entiendo nada, which means "I don't understand anything." [Remember: you use the word nada ("nothing") instead of algo ("anything") after no in negative expressions in Spanish.]

But here singer C.C. chooses a common Spanish phrase for emphasis -ni papa. Ni means "not even" or "nor." That much is straightforward. But papa is one of those words with an almost comic array of meanings -from "Pope," as in
más papista que el papa ("more papist than the Pope"), to "potato," as in papas fritas ("french fries"). Well, one of the many meanings of papa comes from the Latin "pappa" and it means "baby food," "mush," or "pulp." And that's the meaning most commonly associated with the phrase ni papa (literally: "not even mush").

No puedo ver ni papa
"I can't see a thing."

Él no sabe ni papa
"He doesn't know a thing."


Related:

Es una papa.
It's a piece of cake. [It's easily done/easily accomplished.]

No te preocupes por el examen, es una papa.

Don´t worry about the exam, it´s a piece of cake.

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Dar: It's the land giving

y sembrar sus cositas por ahí... lo que da cebolla, tomate, al pimentón, el ají, y otras cosas pues, por ahí.
[Caption 22-23, José Rodríguez > La Finca]

Have you noticed that the verb dar, which we usually take to mean "to give" seems to be used a lot in reference to the growing of fruits and vegetables. Well it turns out that what is doing the "giving," and sometimes it is implied, sometimes more explicit, is la tierra, "the land." Here we find José Rodríguez talking about people in the area "planting their little things around here... producing onion, tomato, red pepper, chili peppers, and other things, around here."

It's not the first time we find dar used in this way. If we check back with our friend Rafael discussing Guatemala:

la tierra... la tierra de las verduras... porque ahí hay... da buenas... verdura, como repollo, zanahoria, cebolla... tomate...
[Captions 11-14, Rafael T > Guatemala Hermosa]

"the land... the land of vegetables... because here there are... [the land] produces good... vegetables, like cabbage, carrot, onion... tomato..."

Digamos en la costa... también da buenas frutas... como la naranja, la sandía, la papaya
[Captions 15, Rafael T > Guatemala Hermosa]

"let's say the coast... also produces good fruit... like orange, watermelon, papaya"

Another example:

Este año, mis tierras no han dado una buena cosecha.
This year, my lands didn't produce a good harvest.


In all of the examples above, dar takes a direct object ("cabbage", "oranges", etc.). However, the reflexive darse can be used as well, with no direct object, and the meaning is "to grow," or "to come up." (This "reflexive" usage, as per the examples below, is somewhat more common in Spain than Latin America.)

He plantado aquí tomates, pero no se dan.
I planted tomatoes here, but they aren't growing (or "aren't coming up").

Las palmeras no se dan en Noruega.
Palm trees don't grow in Norway.

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Que: It also means "because"

Pero no te quedes ahí dándole vueltas a la cabeza, que tanto pensar no es bueno.



[Caption 29, De consumidor a persona > Short Film > Part 1]



Que most often means "that." Slap an accent on the final e and we have qué, used to ask the question "what?" -- add por before qué and you have ¿por qué?, which asks the question "why?" ¿Por qué? is two words, but if we push the two together, without the accent on the e, we have porque, which is one word, and it means "because."







You may just know all that. What you might not have known is that que can also mean "because," or "as," and that's the meaning it takes in the line above:







"But don't stay there making your head spin, because [or "as"] thinking so much is not good."







Other examples:







No comas más, que no es bueno antes de ir a la cama.



"Don't eat more, as it's not good before going to bed."







Obedéceme, que si no lo haces, te vas a arrepentir.



"Obey me, because if you don't, you are going to regret it."







No corras, que el piso está mojado.



"Don't run, because the floor is wet."

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En Aquel Entonces: Back then

Mi papá fue maestro de escuela, director de las escuelas, de las compañías petroleras Shell, en aquel entonces.
[Captions 6-9, Emiro > La historia de Emiro]

On the beach in Eastern Venezuela, Pimienta Café proprietor Emiro tells us about his family history. To tell us about life "back then," Emiro uses the phrase en aquel entonces, which might seem to mean "In that then," if taken literally. But this common expression of time is better understood as "in those times" or "in those days," giving us:

"My father was a school teacher, director of the schools, schools belonging to the Shell Oil company, back in those days."

Note the use of demonstrative adjective aquel here. Remember that in Spanish there are three demonstrative adjectives to say "this" and "that": este, ese AND aquel. The last of this demonstrative trio is sometimes translated as "that...way over there," implying more distance than a simple ese (or, "that"). So you should get a sense that Emiro is talking about what happened "way back when."

Faithful readers might remember that we recently discussed a similar construction of time. You see, Hoy en día means "nowadays" even though it may appear to mean something like "today in day" if taken literally (and awkwardly). [Look for Emiro's use of hoy en día in caption 28 of this same video.]

Trivial aside: It was an interview with
Oscar-winner
Gustavo Santaolalla that prompted our discussion of hoy en día just a few weeks ago. Well, the seemingly ubiquitous Santaolalla happens to be the producer of La Vela Puerca's aforementioned album featuring the song (and our featured word) Zafar. We warned you this was trivia, right?

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Zafar: Getting out and getting by

¡Yo de ésta no puedo zafar!
[Caption 76, Provócame > Pilot > Part 17]

Later, in the same scene, our heroine Ana has another breathless exclamation worthy of a closer look. In it, she uses the verb zafar, which can mean "to escape," "to free" or "to untie," according to the authoritative Spanish dictionary from the La Real Academia Española. Along these lines, a current popular song by the Uruguayan band La Vela Puerca is titled Zafar, in the sense of "To escape." The song discusses the fumes and smells of the city and is punctuated by the refrain: ...estoy zafando del olor ("...I am escaping from the smell").

In neighboring, Argentina, you hear the verb zafar all the time on the city streets, with a more modern, slangy meaning: "to get by." For example, if you ask an Argentine how he's doing, he may answer, estoy zafando, meaning "I'm hanging in there."

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Ver la cara: Taking for a fool

¡Te vieron la cara!
caption 65, Provócame > Pilot > Part 17

A literal translation of Te vieron la cara would seem to mean "They saw your face." However, there is an expression in many Latin American countries that goes me/te/se/nos vieron la cara de idiota, which translates literally to something like "they saw my/your/his/her/our face as the face of an idiot" but which is best taken as "They took me/you/him/her for a fool." The ending de idiota is often dropped and merely implied, so when Ana declares ¡Te vieron la cara! she means "They took you for a fool!" (By the way, while this expression is found from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, you are not bound to hear it in Spain.)

Depending on the context of the situation, the phrase can also mean they took you for something else besides a fool. For example, if you are charged a hefty sum for a street taco in downtown Tijuana, you might suspect "They took me for a tourist," Me vieron la cara de turista.

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Monte de Piedad: Merciful pawn shops

Monte de Piedad
[Caption 4, Control Machete > El Apostador]

Monte de Piedad translates litterally to "Mount of Mercy," which sounds like a religiously inspired exclamation use to punctuate this tale of gaming overindulgence; it is in fact the name of Mexico's facinating chain of state-run and state-controlled pawn shops. These exist throughout the country and are actively used by a surprisingly large percentage of the Mexican population on a fairly regular basis.

An excellent write-up including a modern account and full history:
http://www.mexconnect.com/MEX/jrose/jjrpiedad.html
Also worth reading:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1280276,00.html

(Oddly enough, while there is talk of a comebcak and current debate, Mexico has not had full-time legal casinos since 1935 -- so Control Machete is either way ahead of the curve or got their inspiration north of the Rio Grande.)

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Che, Boludo: Argentinian 101

Che boluda... ¿qué te pasa?
[Caption 3, Cuatro Amigas > Pilot > Part 3]

Our third installment of Cuatro Amigas -- a very Sex and the City-like Argentine drama -- opens in the ladies' bathroom, where we get a chihuahua's eye view of Elena and Rita's taste in intimate apparel. They are chatting intimately, addressing each other with che in caption 3 (cited above) and again in caption 13. In Argentina, che means "hey" between friends, or even "yo." Basically, it's a familiar, informal attention getter... che, got that?

If you watched 2004's Motorcycle Diaries, chronicling the cross-continent journeys that raised the consciousness of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, you know how Che got his famous nickname. For the rest of you: The Chileans were simply making fun of young Ernesto's Argentine habit of saying che all the time. (For more Che lore, look for an upcoming biopic called Guerilla, with Benicio del Toro as a very convincing Che.)

Back to the quote cited above, which is translated as, "Hey silly, what's going on with you?" But we put a special note next to our translation of "silly" because that's not the whole story. Boludo or boluda is a slang word in Argentina that roughly means something more like "jerk." Use it with caution in the streets of Buenos Aires because it can be quite an insult, depending on the context. But between girlfriends, it's almost another way to say "hey... you."

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Bien: Well, OK

Bueno... está bien, Tere.
[Caption 21, Verano Eterno > Fiesta Grande > Part 9]

Bien, usually meaning "well" or "OK," has a plethora of uses that can change slightly in meaning depending on the context. Here, Tere's mother tells her that "it's OK" for her to take piano lessons with Juan. "OK" is a fairly typical translation for bien.

Es ahora bien buena madre
[Caption 40, José Luís Acacio > Simón Bolívar]

The word bien, when placed before an adjective, tends to emphasize the meaning of that adjective. Here, that emphasis is perhaps best translated as "very" or "such a" to give us "Now, she's a very good mother" (or "such a good mother").

Note that when it's not used to describe your mother, bien buena, on it's own, most often means "really hot" or "really fine," (in the colloquial sense) and is used referring to some sexy thing.

¡Mamacita, estas bien buena!
"Girl, you are damn fine!"

Tenemos un dialecto bien bonito.
[Caption 31, Rafael T. > La cultura Maya > Part 2]

Sometimes that emphasis that the word bien gives to the adjective it precedes seems to be best translated as "quite," which in this case gives us: "We have a dialect that is quite beautiful."

Bien is used for emphasis in a variety of sayings that are common among younger speakers often prone to exaggeration:

Cantas bien mal.
"You sing really badly."


Keep your eyes open for many more interesting uses of bien!

Yo no me acuerdo pero bien pudo ser.
"I don't remember but it well could have been" (or, "easily may have been").

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Amamantar, Mecer y Arrullar: Motherly Words

Y después de amamantarlos...

[Caption 43, José Luís Acacio > Simón Bolívar]

José's patriotic tune personifies Venezuela as a mother and in so doing introduces us to some great words for motherly attention.

Amamantar
means "to nurse" or even more literally "to breast feed" (coming from the root for mammary glands, mama), and so here we have "And later to nurse them...". This really reinforces the notion of amor carnal ("bodily love") that Madre Venezuela shows her people.

Meciéndolos en su hamaca

[Caption 46, José Luís Acacio > Simón Bolívar
]

Mecer means "to cradle," "to swing," or "to sway." So here he sings of Madre Venezuela cradling or swinging her children "in their hammock."

Los dormía y arrullaba

[Caption 47,
José Luís Acacio > Simón Bolívar]

Arrullar means "to lull' or "to coo" (refering to the noise made by pigeons and that made by mothers to lull their babies). Therefore, "She put them to sleep and lulled them."

So a late afternoon routine for a mother might go like this:

En la tarde, la madre amamanta el bebe si tiene hambre. Después para que sea quieto, le arrulla en sus brazos. Entonces, cuando ya está más quieto, ella pone el bebe en la cuna ("cradle") y le mece hasta que entra el sueño.

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Gustar: To like, to please, to taste

Llegan a estos lugares, porque les gusta, les fascina esa clase de vestuario...
[Caption 19, Rafael T. > La cultura Maya > Part 2]

Gustar means "to please" or "to be pleasing," and so when Rafael says porque les gusta, he is literally saying, "because it pleases them." The common English verb equivalent, of course, is "to like," but the subject and object flip places ("they like it"). Therefore we translate Rafael's phrase above as "They come to these places, because they like them, they are fascinated by this type of dress..."

For example, you'd say me gusta Rafael to say "I like Rafael," but literally you're saying "Rafael is pleasing to me." But sometimes we might want to use other variations of "gustar" that are heard less frequently:

¿Sabes que?...Me gustas.
"You know what? ...I like you (you are pleasing to me)."


"Tengo una pregunta, ¿te gusto?
I have a question, do you like me? (am I pleasing to you?)"

las mujeres ya andan con el pelo corto. Se hacen colocho al pelo, o... bueno, depende el gusto...
[Captions 7-8,
Rafael T. > La cultura Maya > Part 2]

Also, we see Rafael using gusto, the noun, to refer to the different tastes for hairstyles women in the city have. So above we have "the women now have short hair. They curl their hair, or... well, it depends on the taste [they have in hairstyles]..."

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Arrugas: Backing out--No wrinkles!

¿No me digas que arrugaste?
[Caption 9, Verano Eterno > Fiesta Grande > Part 8]

In the same scene, Benjamin rekindles the fire of the apuesta ("bet") to see whether Mauro has won the heart of Violeta. At one point, he asks Mauro if their bet is still on. To do so, he uses the verb arrugar, which means "to wrinkle" or "to crumble" in other contexts. But in the context of their bet, arrugar would mean crumble in a way, but a more straightforward translation is "to back out."

Keep your eyes open in the cosmetics section to find una arruga used as a noun meaning "a wrinkle," and often in the plural as arrugas .

When learning Spanish gets tough, ¡No arrugues!

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Poquitito: A wee little tiny bit

¿No te pareces un poquitito tarde para abrir?
[Caption 1, Verano Eterno > Fiesta Grande > 8]

If un poco means "a little," and un poquito is the diminutive form (meaning "just a little bit"), what is un poquitito? Yup, it's the diminutive of the diminutive. It's kind of like saying: "Just a wee little bitty bit" for an exaggerated effect. In the opening line of this installment of Verano Eterno, Benjamin is giving Mauro a hard time. Using a diminutive of a diminutve helps him exaggerate his sarcastic comment for effect.

There's one other diminutive of a diminutive that's commonly heard: Chico, as in "small" can be made "very very small" by saying chiquitito. (Note that in both cases, the "c" turns to a "qu" to retain that hard c/k sound before "i.")

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U for O, E for Y

 

un segmento de una hora u hora y media

a period of one hour or one hour and a half

Caption 40, Rafael T. La Cultura Maya - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

Sooner or later we all notice cases where u replaces o ("or") or where e replaces y ("and"). These conjunctions change when the word following them starts with the same letter sound. Therefore in the example above, o changes to u because the beginning sound of the next word, hora, is [o] (note that the h is silent).

The rule of thumb is pretty simple: With the conjunctions o ("or") and y ("and"), the vowels change if they are followed by the same vowel sounds.

Here are some examples of the vowel change in action:

¿Vas a comprar siete cervezas u ocho?
"Are you going to buy seven beers or eight?"


¿Quieres cervezas o gaseosas?
"Do you want beers or sodas?"


and...

Julieta e Ignacio estudian la medicina.
"Julieta and Ignacio study medicine."


Yasmil y Javier tocan a la guitarra.
"Yasmil and Javier play the guitar. "


Try speaking the sentence without changing the vowel and you should hear that it sounds funny to say the same vowel sound twice. That should help you remember this simple rule.

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Ir+a+Infinitive: Going to an alternative to future tense

Somos dos, nunca sola vas a ir.
[Caption 17 & 28, Liquits > Desde que]

Somos dos, juntos vamos a vivir.
[Captions 19, 31 & 33, Liquits > Desde que]

A quick word about the future tense in spoken Spanish: In many cases, it's simply not used. Instead, you commonly hear the present tense of ir (voy, vas, va, vamos, van) followed by a, followed by an infinitive of a verb (such as, ir or vivir). In this song by the Mexican group Liquits, the construction makes for some catchy refrains ("We are two, never alone you are going to go," and "We are two, together we are going to live.") In practical life, non-native Spanish speakers who know their ir may be grateful to buy some extra time to think of just the right vocabulary to express themselves. Voy a... voy a... voy a aprender a hablar con más fluidez, you might finally come out and say. The same sentence using the future tense? Aprenderé a hablar con más fluidez.

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Hoy en día: Nowadays

...hoy en día la música en general
caption 41, Javier García > EPK > 2

More generalizations. This time, we're hearing about music "nowadays" from Javier García producer Gustavo Santaolalla -who just won an Oscar for best original score for "Brokeback Mountain" (marketed as Secreto en la Montaña in Spanish). Yes, hoy en día is how you say "nowadays" in Spanish, which you will make note of if you ever want to be as fluent in both languages as Santaolalla is. In his Oscar acceptance speech last week, LA-resident Santaolalla dedicated his Oscar to "todos los latinos." He said both "gracias" and "thank you," which played very well in Latin American newspapers. (To save you time, the article linked describes some Latino papers' reactions--from Miami to Mexico, Brazil to Chile.)

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Ser Ganso, Ir a los bifes: Don't be a fool--go for it!

Cuando las minas te piden tiempo, lo que en realidad quieren decir es que no seas más ganso y que vayas directamente a los bifes.
[Captions 4-5, Verano Eterno > Fiesta Grande > 7]

¿Que quieren decir? Ok, here's a generalization about men: Whenever you hear men make generalizations about women, be very skeptical! In our newest installment of Verano Eterno, unemployed Juan offers his unsolicited advice about minas (that is, "women" in Argentine slang) to his lovestruck buddy Mani. According to the wisdom of Juan (captions 4-5, as quoted above): "When women ask you for [more] time, what they really mean is stop being a fool and go for it."

Of course, Juan is young and speaks casually to his friend, so there's some slang to decipher to get his precise meaning. Ganso, which literally means "goose," is easy enough to understand in context. But it may help to know that hacer el ganso generally means "to play the fool," and so, naturally, ser un ganso, is "to be a fool." But what about the end of the statement? ir a los bifes In a way, it too follows its literal meaning: "To go to the meat" -er, more or less. Checking in with native speakers, the phrase vayas a los bifes more commonly means "go for it".

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Darse Cuenta: The real "realize"

¿No te das cuenta que este caballo me quería atacar?
[Caption 9 > Pilot, 16 > Provócame]

An age-old mistake amongst English speakers is to want to use the verb realizar as a means of conveying "to come to know" or "to realize." Of course, most of you know by now that this is a false cognate and that realizar usually means "to achieve," "to bring into fruition," and the like. In fact, the correct way to say "to realize" is darse cuenta. What Ana Laura is asking in caption 9, then, is "Didn't you realize that this horse wanted to attack me?"

¡Me robaron y no me di cuenta!
"I was robbed and I didn't notice!"

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