It’s time for another lesson in Chilensis, in Chilean Spanish, and in those sneaky little false cognates that can trick you into saying things you really had no intention of saying at all. And as every language learner discovers, just when you least expect it, you’re bound to stumble—or even dive headlong—into the quirky linguistic pitfalls of new language acquisition. And since I’ve probably fallen into and crawled red-faced out of most of them, I thought I’d pass along a little more advice on staying out of linguistic trouble.
Once again from the “boy was my face red” school of learning Spanish by experience, I bring you yet another chapter of dumb stuff the gringa said:
We’ve already flirted with frugal and explored the cynical vs cínico, and by now there’s certainly no reason to even get into embarrassed vs embarazada (if you don’t know the difference, go look it up right now! Or you will most certainly be embarrassed, although that in itself will probably not make you embarazada).
But oh there are plenty more treacherous traps of the tongue just lying in wait. Lots more. Here are a handful for today’s giggles at the gringa’s expense.
Support vs Soportar (v): The two look pretty close, don’t they? Uh-uh. Nix-Nay-Nein, and No po’. Support, as in to hold, to help, to back up, to stand behind, to keep from falling, to provide for… right? Take a look in your bilingual dictionary and you get ayudar, apoyar, respaldar, and mantener. Not a single soportar in the lot. OK, so now try the other way. Look up soportar and you get withstand, endure, put up with, tolerate. Yikes!
How well I remember how I learned—the hard way, of course—about this seemingly innocent pair. Many years ago, when I was still pretty much a babe in the Spanish-speaking woods, I was interviewing a woman who had been the victim of human rights violations. I wanted to know what kind of support her group received from other countries and asked “¿Cómo les soportan?” She jerked upright, looked at me kind of funny, smiled to herself, and answered my question. I didn’t get it at the time, but months later—and at a much better level of Spanish—I was transcribing the interview tape and was horrified to hear myself ask the equivalent of “How do they stand you?” Lord… How did SHE stand all the Spanish-deficient do-gooders who kept showing up at her door?
And then there are those words that are probably not really false cognates in a true linguistic sense, although in the every day practical sense they work the same way. Hmm, I guess that makes them Fake False Cognates.
Ha! News Flash! I just coined a brand new expression! I just googled “fake false cognates” and got zip! Specifically:
There are a number of words that seem to be the same, and even technically ARE the same, although common usage dictates that the first sense that comes to your listener’s mind may not be the first one comes to yours.
Ordinary vs Ordinario (adj): Once again. The hard way. I made a comment to the same group of women about them being mujeres ordinarias. Even now I cringe to think about it! No, no, and NO. Do NOT say that to perfectly nice, ordinary, everyday grandmotherly type older women. They don’t like it. And neither would you. While “ordinary” just refers to some normal, usual, or common sort of person or thing, and while my friend the DRAE tells me some pretty similar things up front, it quite quickly gets to the part about bajo, basto, vulgar y de poca estimación. Even if you don’t speak much Spanish, you did get the part about vulgar, right? Yes indeed. In Chile that’s the definition they jump to first, so I basically told these kindly wives and mothers that they were pretty low class losers with innuendos of questionable virtues and loose mores. I swear it’s a good thing that there had been a long line of well-meaning language innocents who had come before me, so I’m sure they had heard it all before or worse, or they would have thrown me out right then and there!
Regular vs Regular (adj): Couldn’t possibly be more alike, right? Twins even… except one is REG-u-ler, and the other is reg-u-LAR. The first describes your average, normal (ok, ordinary) kind of things: coffee, car, style, student, grades, while in the latter (read Chilean) case, regular is just not good enough. It turns out that reg-u-LAR is pretty not-so-good. A student who is reg-u-LAR might not graduate. Someone whose style is reg-u-LAR is pretty sub-par among those who care about such things. Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone reg-u-LAR when I didn’t mean it.
At least not yet…
Want to know more silly stuff that gringas say? And hey–this is not just for laughs! This is serious stuff… we’re cluing you in on ways that YOU can avoid making the same mistakes! (And this works in both directions–all you Spanish speakers will (1) have a clue as to what we really mean to say and (2) turn it around to avoid making the mistake when speaking English!