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Culture around Spanish language

The most beautiful words and expressions in Spanish

Spanish is the second most studied language in the world, and although it is difficult to say precisely, it is estimated that it has about three hundred thousand words in its lexicon. Let’s consider the combinations of these and the uses by the different variants of Spanish. We are talking about a vibrant language, where even conversations between speakers of different variants of Spanish cannot be understood so easily by each other.

There are also lovely words that have yet to have an exact translation in other languages. Today, iScribo invites you to see some of them and have fun getting to know part of Spanish speakers’ culture through their use of their language.

The fact that there are expressions or words without a precise translation is not a phenomenon unique to Spanish. It happens a lot between different languages. The reason for this is that language is the communication tool of a community, and what is essential for one is not necessarily crucial for others.

To be or to be? That is the problem

Languages have the words their speakers need: no more, no less. Therefore, learning a language implies being aware that you are also learning how to live the life of the culture corresponding to said language.

Let’s start with a beautiful distinction between ser and estar verbs. In Spanish, unlike English, we understand that in life, you can ser and you can estar, which are not the same thing. While estar implies occupying a space or becoming visible and includes a property susceptible to change, ser suggests some way of giving existence meaning. Ser transcends estar since it gives it meaning. It is the difference between essence and attribute; an attribute can change, but the essence cannot. I am a human being (essentially), and I am living on planet Earth, for example.

A fascinating use colloquially in Chile makes the difference between dejar ser (letting be) and dejar estar (letting be). When someone tells me dejé estar (I let myself be), he/she means that he/she did not do anything he should have done. On the other hand, when he/she tells me dejé ser (I let myself be), he/she means I freed myself, or I let myself go, something like the Beatles’ Let It Be.

Beautiful words without translation into other languages

The Spanish words in this selection are related to the culture around food and taking a walk, and some are linked to the night.

Sobremesa: everyone practices it, particularly on weekends. Millions and millions of families and friends spend a great time sharing at the table after eating. That pleasant moment is the after-dinner meal.

Provecho: I love this one, also because it has some controversy. For some, it is not polite to say it, while for others, it is a good wish. Anyway, there is something nice about it: by saying “provecho” or “buen provecho”, you are wishing the person who is eating, or with whom you are sharing the meal, that the meal will be pleasant. Isn’t that a good feeling towards each other? Its equivalent in French is “bon appetite”.

Now let’s move on to the night: has it happened to you that you are tired and try but can’t sleep? Well, that is what in Spanish is called desvelar(se): it means to prevent sleep or to lose sleep due to the inability to fall asleep.

Trasnochar: Are you one of those who likes to stay late? So, you are someone who usually stays up late. Some people do it only on the weekends when they go out to party, but some live a life that way because they are more productive; anyway, with them, we use the verb to stay up late.

Madrugada: refers to the moment when night and morning merge. It is before dawn and after night.

Estrenar: If one goes to the premiere of a movie in English, the verb release is used, but in Spanish, estrenar also refers to wearing a piece of clothing for the first time. It is a particular activity for many people: hoy estrenaré un vestido nuevo.

Vitrinear: It is somewhat related to the previous concept. Vitrinas are the shop windows where stores display their products. Vitrinear, therefore, is the verb that indicates going out to browse the windows without necessarily having the goal of purchasing. Let’s go window shopping is an invitation to go out and visit stores without necessarily buying. It is more of an invitation to walk.

Here comes a bonus track: la vergüenza ajena is amusing. Not all cultures have it, but the expression is understood. It is a borrowed feeling because here, one does not feel ashamed for what one did but instead for what someone else did. In English, it would be something like feeling embarrassed by someone else, although it is not precisely the same since, with that phrase, what is being done is rationalising the feeling.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Keep visiting the iScribo blog to learn more about the world that revolves around a language as beautiful as Spanish. Here we are, waiting for you with more topics of interest!

Categories
Culture around Spanish language

Swear words and idiosyncrasies in Spanish-speaking

Swearing, profanity, rudeness, or insult. Call them what you want. You shout them, you release them, you throw them into the air in moments of fury. They remove your tension after a blow. They slip out unintentionally, occasionally, and most of the time, it feels very liberating to say them.

The RAE defines palabrota (swearing) as an “offensive, indecent or rude saying” and insultar (insulting) as “offending someone by provoking and irritating them with words or actions.” The insult, then, is a speech act that attempts to attack or humiliate a person at a given moment. For this reason, insults are outside the social norm.

But insults are not only speech acts that attack the positive and, in some cases, negative image of the interlocutors, but they are also capable of reflecting what attitudes, beliefs and qualities are evaluated as negative or positive by the members of a specific speech community. In this sense, insulting statements are part of a particular speech community’s linguistic and cultural heritage and can reflect specific social (anti)values. In this way, the insult, born from words (linguistic terrain), is also extrapolated to the social and cultural terrain.

Although swearing is outside the social norm, it is not always “purely impolite speech acts” since the use of identification of a particular group is also observed. In these cases, they do not have an offensive semantic load but instead fulfil other functions, such as creating solidarity, strengthening ties of camaraderie and friendship, emphasising, and intensifying statements, expressing surprise, drawing the attention of the interlocutor, and identifying the participants in the interactions as members of a group. As in the case of “¡Buena güeón, tanto tiempo! (Chile) (Hey, mate, long time!) or “¡Pedazo de cabrón, cuánto tiempo! (España)  (You piece of bastard, how long!).

The linguistic taboo

Not all cultures consider the exact words offensive, but they all have in common that they consider taboo words abusive. The forbidden always arouses social interest.

Three significant taboos are repeated as a theme within swearing. First, there is the eschatological sphere. Rudeness that refers to excrement, dirt, bodily secretions, or the parts of the body that produce them are very common. Then, the sexual sphere. A good part of the bad words refers to the sexual act, especially if, in a particular culture, it is a rather shameful topic. Something curious about Spanish, both Hispanic American and European, is that there are quite a few insults related to those who practice prostitution (hijoputa/hijaputa, hijo de puta, hija de puta) (son of a bitch, daughter of a bitch). Still, none refer to who pays for sex.

Religion and everything related to the sacred are topics that are not expected to be raised outside of a context of solemnity, so creating rude words from this type of word is genuinely transgressive.  It corresponds to the third great taboo: the religious sphere.  Christianity explicitly says: “Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain,” so bringing up sacred objects in everything mockery is very provocative.

Another type of insult is the one that refers to someone’s low intellectual capacity. On the other hand, in Latin American cultures, it is standard to insult someone by referring to their mother. Here, you can watch a video about linguistic taboos on swearing.

The types of swear words according to countries

[Warning: If you are in a public space where they speak Spanish, I do not recommend reading this part of the article out loud, or more than one person will look at you mean.]

In Spain, it is striking how the religious sphere occupies a vital place regarding insults. For example, they have expressions like “hostia” (host), “me cago en la mar” (I shit in the sea) or “me cago en la hostia” (I shit in the host) or other stronger ones like “me cago en Dios” (I shit in God). On the other side of the Atlantic, in Chile and Argentina, there is a tendency to insult mainly with swear words that allude to the sexual sphere, such as “concha”(shell: a vulgar way to refer to the vagina), “pico” (beak: a vulgar way to refer to the penis), “chucha” (a vulgar way to refer to the vagina), “raja” (a vulgar way to refer to the ass) or “concha de su madre”.

These differences in themes are fascinating because they tell us about what is uncomfortable for a society like the Spanish, Argentine or Chilean and how, through insults, they can release -in part- what they repress as a society.

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