Words, Words, Words...by Mexico Bob

June 26, 2010 by
Categories: Language, Living in Mexico

By "Mexico Bob" Mrotek

I noticed with interest some comments by observers at the recent World Cup game between Uraguay and Mexico who said that even though both countries speak Spanish, the Uruguayan players and fans and the Mexican players and fans could hardly understand each other. This is because the people of Uruguay and Argentina both speak a dialectal variant of Spanish called Rioplatense Spanish or Río de la Plata Spanish that is mainly spoken in the areas in and around the Río de la Plata basin region between Argentina and Uruguay. If you happen to go to one of those countries and want to communicate effectively you will need to add several thousand new words to your vocabulary that are used there but not very much in other places. It is the same thing with idiomatic expressions or what are commonly called "modismos" in Mexican Spanish.

Even if you stick to one Spanish speaking country in particular it is a real challenge to acquire sufficient vocabulary and idiomatic expressions to be able to jump in and hang on to every conversation. In my case, because I am classified as a technician or "tecnico", I have had to acquire a technical vocabulary as well as a conversational or "social" vocabulary that is specific to my industry. Am I finished yet? Nope! The quest never ends but it is easier and more rewarding if you work at it with a plan. When acquiring a basic beginner's vocabulary remember that you need to learn words from many categories.

Here are just a few:

The list goes on and on. You need to systematically make your own categories and make it a point to learn as many words associated with each category as you can. Once you have a fairly well established vocabulary of about ten to twelve thousand words you can become a word hunter like I am. By the way, if you need a way to keep track of how many words that you know I suggest the "Corn Flakes Method" that I wrote about awhile back and that you can access by clicking here.

To become an effective word hunter and vocabulary builder you must be ruthless and never let new words or idiomatic expressions escape your grasp. I always carry a pen and some three by five inch blank index cars in my pocket upon which I scribble down words and expressions as soon as I see them or hear them. I will even interrupt someone to get them to write a word or expression for me and explain what it means. You simply must do this or the opportunity will fly by and you will be condemned to be wandering around in the fog of uncertainty forever. I write down words from many sources including billboards, television commercials, newspaper articles, instructions on pill bottles, and every other conceivable source. Let's see what I have in today's catch!

The first item is an idiomatic expression that you might never guess if you didn't ask someone. The expression is "¡Patas para suando son!" Literally it translates as "Paws (or hooves) for when they are". It means "Feet don't fail me now" or in other words, "Scram, let's get out of here" or "Run for it!". There is an even stranger version that is very common locally where I live and it means more or less the same thing: "¡Patas para que te quiero!" or "Feet for that I love you!", meaning "Run for your life!". If you don't know what expressions like this mean don't just let them pass by you but stop immediately and write them down or you will never get past first base. You don't have to use them yourself but just knowing what they mean will be the difference between being included in the conversation or just somebody hanging around the fringes. At the very least you will know when to smile or frown. As for how expressions like this originated don't even ask because nobody really knows.

The next word on my cards for today is "carcacha" which means "a junk automobile".

The word "embosada" means "ambush".

"Guantes de carnaza" means "work gloves". If you look up "carnaza in your dictionary, however, it will probable say that "carnaza" means "bait" as does its variation "carnada". Technically "carnaza" is the side of an animal skin that goes against the flesh or in other words, the "rough" side. Guantes de carnaza are gloves with the rough leather on the outside.

A "cárcamo" is a pit or sump from which water is pumped. A sump pump is called a "bomba de cárcamo".

Be careful! The word "cárcamo" with an "r" is not to be confused with the word "cáncamo" with an "n". A "cáncamo" is a bolt with a ring on the end such as an "eye bolt". Not only that but what we call in English a "screw eye" like that which is used to latch a wooden screen door, in Spanish is called an "armella" pronounced "ahr-MAY-yuh". Now it just so happens that the name of my dearly departed mother is "Armella" which is spelled the same but pronounced "Ahr-MEH-lah". There is actually a Blessed Armella who was a saintly servant girl in England long ago and who is listed in the registry of Catholic saints. So how did Saint Armella become a screw eye? Go figure!

Anyway, that wraps it up for today. Now go out there and collect some words!