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—ote, —ota, and encajar: Too big to fit?

We learn many things in the sixth installment of actress Natalia Oreiro's biography. One is that she's not a Tom Cruise- or Winona Ryder-sized wee thing. She's tall -- for an actress. And that was actually a worry at first, her friend Rosa tells us. Here's a snippet of the interview:

Le dijeron… que era como muy grandote y no encajaba

They told her... that she was like too huge and would not fit

[Captions 9-10, Natalia Oreiro > Biografía > 6]

Rosa has a colorful way of speaking. The first of the two words we highlight above --grandote-- is formed from the adjective grande ("big, large") and the augmentative suffix -ote, which amplifies the meaning of grande, making our best translation "huge." Adding -ote or -ota "often adds a note of contempt to the idea of bigness," according to The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice (published by Passport Books).

Note that augmentative suffixes can be applied to pretty much any noun or adjective. Some augmented words merit their own dictionary entries, especially if they take on a special meaning, while others don't. For example, consulting a few sources, we found entries for:

ojotes (root word: ojos, "eyes"): "bulging eyes, goggle eyes"

palabrota (root word: palabra, "word"): "swear word, dirty word"

animalote (root word: animal, "animal"): "big animal; gross, ignorant person"

In Spanish, augmentative suffixes are not quite as popular as diminutive ones (-ito, -ita, -cito, -cita), but you will hear them peppering the language for emphasis. (For some more on diminutives, review our previous discussion of poquitito some weeks back. To learn more about suffixes in general, About.com has a helpful list.)

Moving on to the second word we highlighted above: It's encajaba, from the verb encajar. It, too, is a compound word, formed from the prefix en- ("in") and root word caja ("box"). The verb encajar means "to fit." It can suggest a physical fit (e.g., pieces of a puzzle fitting together), or a more thematic one (e.g., a transfer student fitting in to his new school). Rosa is using the second sense of the word, when she describes the fears that her friend wouldn't fit in to the acting world in Buenos Aires.

For more on compound words in Spanish, see: About.com's Colorful Combinations.

Grammar

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