Pouf, Jumper, Panty, Slip: More Linguistic Giggles

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Pouf, jumper, panty, slip, and cueca all have in common? No…whatever it is you’re thinking… just stop right there! It’s cross-culture language confusion time again folks!

A guy friend from England said, “You left your jumper in my car,” and I stared at him in disbelief. I haven’t worn a jumper since I was about 14, and I most certainly never left one in ANY guy’s car!

I leaned over to a Chilean amiga and whispered, “me gusta tu panty,” and winked at my gringa friend Eileen, who giggled complicitly.

The clerk in an Illinois menswear department does the drop-jawed eyebrow shoot (quickly replaced by the diplomatic blank face) when a Chilean man tells him he needs a slip. “Lingerie is on the 3rd floor,” he finally drawls. Cue befuddled Chilean.

A Brazilian woman accepts a drink from a guy in a Chilean bar. Everything’s all life’s good warm and tingly and they’re just about to the what’re you doing on Saturday part when he asks if she likes the cueca. She gets up and walks away. “O que é um esquisitão.” What a weirdo, she’s thinking.

Do you know why?

These are all examples of cross-cultural linguistic misfires. Two people are hearing–even spelling–the same word, but understanding two very different things. And you don’t even need to switch languages for the fun & confusion to begin.

In England, a jumper is an additional piece of clothing worn to keep warm. In the US we call that a sweater, and to us, a jumper is a sleeveless dress meant to be worn over a blouse (example: the girl’s school uniform in Chile).

‘Panty,’ in the US, where it is generally used in the plural (panties), is women’s underwear. I have no idea (nor do I want to know) whether my friend was wearing a bikini or thong, but was, in fact, complimenting her on the cool design on her pantyhose (yes, you probably learned medias in school).

In Chile, men wear slips under their clothes, but not the kind your English-speaking grandmother did—here in Chile that’s called an enagua (and just try and find one of those these days—but let’s not go there now), but guys—you want to buy briefs in Santiago? Buck up and try not to blush when you ask for a slip (although it may console you to know you’ll have to pronounce it “sleep”).

And then there’s the cueca. Sure it’s Chile’s national dance, and while a well-danced cueca brava may be sexy as hell, be aware that a Brazilian’s first thoughts turn to men’s underwear.

Confused? Sure, why not! It’s part of what makes inter-cultural language such a challenge—and fun!

Poof! Goes the Wicker Pouf

Yesterday a native Spanish-speaking editor and I lingua-sparred over poufs. The native Spanish-speaking translator from Chile had called a pouf de mimbre a ‘wicker pouf.’ I changed it to ‘wicker ottoman’ and he (from Spain, and with an excellent command of English) wanted to know why.

“Because it’s not English,” I replied.

“It comes from the French pouf, and there’s no reason not to accept foreign words into another language.”

“Of course, as long as it’s a word that people understand, and English speakers won’t get furniture from pouf.” (It’s pronounced poof, by the way).

He asked, “If I say I love your new pouf, what would you think?”

“First I’d be confused. Then I’d look in the mirror to see if my hair had suddenly gotten all big and round. And then I’d check to be sure my skirt hadn’t poofed up like a pumpkin. But what I wouldn’t do is offer you a place to sit!”

But he insisted, and I insisted, and WE insisted, (we’re editors both, and clearly enjoy taking these things very seriously). It was time to pull in the native-speaking troops.

I called Matt W, who nearly choked when I asked him what he understood a pouf to be. “What the hell are you working on?” he wanted to know—it seems that in addition to many other things, in England it is a derogatory reference to a gay guy. Or a big leather seat with no back.

“Oh, so if I said a wicker pouf, you would conjure up one of those things they make in Chimbarrongo (Chile’s mimbre/wicker capital)?”

“No, a pouffe (as the Brits spell it) is soft—and wicker is not.”

(I just love it when I’m right)

But—have I told you I’m also very stubborn? I wasn’t done with this one. This was poll-worthy—so I Tweeted it—and Facebooked the same I’m loving your pouf question.

Hair was the number one response (especially from the US). And there were a few “seats” in there—mostly from the other side of the Atlantic. But when I questioned the seat people, no one was buying the wicker idea.

So there you go. Wicker is for footstools, hassocks or, most definitely, OTTOMANS. And the editor was convinced.

And I thought it was all settled, until today, when I came across a new option… Anyone sat on a wicker tuffet lately?


42 responses to “Pouf, Jumper, Panty, Slip: More Linguistic Giggles

  1. Slip is the UK term for briefs as well, which is probably where the chilenos got it. And I laughed as soon as I saw you’d called Matt to ask him about a pouf. One I’ve run into lately is “skipping” for what I’ve always known as high-knees at sports practices (jogging but lifting your knees up as high as possible), which is not what I would call skipping. It really is funny how words can mean different things.

  2. Hi Emily- REALLY? a slip is men’s underwear in the UK too? (I really DO learn stuff every day!) So what do they call an “enagua”? Or do you have slips for women and slips for men?
    Skipping? yeah, I suppose I could see where that comes from, although I probably wouldn’t call it that myself either.
    I swear there’s always fun on the language beat!

  3. Being an old-fashioned guy, I use, not “slips” but calzoncillos.

  4. ya know, I’ve always wondered why women wear calzones (not to be confused with the Italian snack food) and men wear calzoncillos. Wouldn’t you think that men’s should be bigger and the diminutive suffix “illos” should go with the generally small women’s version?

  5. When I was a kid, a slip was called “underskirt”, unless you were British and then it was a “petticoat”.
    But the word I wrestle with is what we easily call “toilet”, although the Britts have other words for it. In fact, I think THEY are the source of some of the confusion here, starting with “wáter” (from ‘water closet’). “Inodoro” it isn’t, and “retrete” seems to imply an outhouse. Using “excusado” seems to get you there, but only Brazilians seem to catch on to the euphemistic “trono”.

  6. Oh! I had forgotten about underskirt! But isn’t that the same as a “half slip”? And I always thought that petticoats were to make your skirts stick out (hm–poufy!), whereas a slip was flat and smooth and just kept your dress from clinging or being see-through.
    “Water” (pronounced WAH-tair) or “Taza”…

  7. For one brief moment in my life, I thought I’d be able to master English. Do you think you’ll be able to master Spanish with the same ability you write and speak English? And I thought online marketing was tough!

  8. I’ve never heard slip for men’s briefs, only calzoncillos. One time I made the mistake of calling my calzones calzoncillos…I was told that calzoncitas is ok for girls, but not calzoncillos.

    I 100% agree with you about the pouf…I didn’t know it was a piece of furniture until I moved here!

  9. Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet!

  10. I used to work at a British company in Beijing with founded by several lovely gay men. Several times a day, they’d say, “I’m going out for a fag, dear.” And I’d burst out laughing. Of course, they meant a cigarette. But my American brain never internalized that connotation. Too funny!

  11. @John-the answer is NEVER, of course–but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever give up hope!!
    @Abby- See? I’m NOT the only one who thinks it’s backwards!
    Barb–Miss Muffet has been much on my mind of late!
    @Leslie–That’s RIGHT!! In England you can smoke a fag, but in the US, it has OH such a different meaning! (FYI everyone else, in the US, “fag” is a derogatory term for a gay guy–so it always catches us off guard when a Brit says they’re going out for a fag… ¿cachái?)

  12. @Margaret. It is doable. My family had an exchange student from Ohio, and he lived in Chile for close to a year. He is the only gringo (American) I have ever heard who had at the end of his stay, had no Spanish accent. This guy was almost as bright as you, 🙂

  13. Flatterer!
    My daughter also spoke without an accent–it has much to do with the age one starts to speak the new language!

  14. BTW- I once heard a diplomat say “The only people who speak without a foreign accent are native speakers and spies–and I am neither” !!

  15. I was waiting for you to say that. My understanding is that we can learn any language easily up to age 5. After that it’s all uphill.

    BTW, I am not a flatterer! A flatterer is insincere and goes around paying compliments to most people. I do NOT do that, and I am quite selective about whom I falter.

  16. Not “falter’! but Flatter!

  17. Wow it’s all kicking off here.
    For me in UK, ‘slip’ is an underskirt and mens underwear are underpants (aka Y fronts or jockey shorts).This could be a generation gap thing. A slip can also be a pre cursor to falling on your slip covered bum.
    ‘Panty’ is half a ladies knickers, as you say, usually worn in pairs.
    I’d forgotten about ‘tuffet’. A ‘pouf(fe) can also be called, in the NW of England anyway, a buffet, to rhyme with ‘tuffet’
    A sweater can be a jumper or a ganzie or ganzy, A sweater with no sleeves is a pullover.
    And don’t get me started on ginnels, japs, becks or lakin.

  18. @John-I chuckled at the falter/flatter, but knew what you meant! And thanks again for the compliment!

    @Jack I bet it is a generational thing because others have commented that slip comes from Britain! And a BUFFET?? That isn’t a special cabinet in the dining room? And I confess I have NO idea what ginnels, japs, becks, and lakin are!!

  19. The first three are from Lancashire in the NW of England as far as I know. Ginnels are narrow alleyways, not to be confused with snickets which are narrow paths linking two other more major paths or roads. A jap is a small cake, layers of flaky pastry and creamy stuff rolled is crushed almonds. Becks are small streams. Lakin, playing, is from Yorkshire as in ‘Art t’comin aht lakin’ i.e. are you coming out to play. Any news of other uses of these will be welcome.

  20. I am also planning on having faggots and peas for my supper. Alone!

  21. My parents are British but my brother and I grew up in the US. We always had problems with words we used in the house that were different in school.
    Roll-neck, instead of turtle-neck, Flask, instead of Thermos. Braces/suspenders is another one that can get confusing.

    Then when we went to school in the UK, and the kids in class said, “pass us your rubber”, we almost died! UK rubber is an eraser, in the US it is a condom. hee hee.

    Isn’t language fun!

    Oh, and in our house, poof is usually something smelly, as in “ooooh, who did a poofy!”

  22. @Jack-one of the things I like about going to the movies in Chile is that all non-Spanish films have sub-titles–and I really need them from some that come from Great Britain! (Remember Train Spotting? didn’t understand a word!!)
    Also had to look up faggots and peas–sounds “offal” (sorry, couldn’t resist)
    BTW- in Spanish a fagot (one g) is a bassoon!

  23. @Spider: I bet that made for all kinds of fun and confusion in the house! As if the inter-generational communication gap weren’t big enough already!The roll-necks and flasks were probably easy enough to sort out–but braces and rubbers are a whole different thing! And poofy–funny–but bet that’s a family thing rather than a regional thing!

  24. Hello!! I think that women’s “calzones” used to be bigger than men’s calzoncillos. They used to cover the leg down until the knee and even bellow. That was many years ago, of course. What would our great-grandmothers think of the very popular “colaless”?? ;o)

  25. Hm- good point! “points” really, because I can just imagine how scandalized my grandmother would be at the thought! And yes, the bloomers of old! But didn’t men wear long underwear in those days too? Hm–I bet someone, somewhere has done the entire history of underwear! Bet there’s even an underwear museum somewhere!

  26. “Slip” in Spanish is pronounced esleep, not sleep. See http://buscon.rae.es/dpdI/SrvltGUIBusDPD?lema=eslip

    “Pouf” in Spanish to me is a big soft seat with no back. A wicker pouf to me seems to be a contradiction. Here there is a typical pouf http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Sitzsack-Studio.jpg

    There is a special kind of “pouf” called “pouf pera” or simply “pera”. A typical “pouf pera”: http://images01.olx.cl/ui/11/04/18/1305669238_180739618_1-Fotos-de–pouf-pera-estandar.jpg

  27. Hi Pedro–thank you yet once again for your contribution. Interesting that Spanish has formally incorporated the preliminary e before the s. I tend not to even notice it anymore because most Spanish speakers tend to add it up front–for example, my last name is often pronounced “Es-snuk” (adding the e sound up front and, by the way, changing the oo sound from one that rhymes with book/ hook/ cook, which does not exist in Spanish to the oo (u) sound in cool/ school/ fool.)

    That wicker item seems to problematic all ways around then! Your definition of pouf agrees with what British English speakers described, with “soft” being essential… What would YOU call this item? http://www.autoctona.cl/?p=4007
    Also curious what others would call it in English??

  28. Monica Guerrero Pino

    What about the word chal to put on our shoulders? I didnt have any idea it came from the english shawl!!!!

  29. Monica Guerrero Pino

    What’s the diffrence between a jersy and a cardigan?

  30. Monica Guerrero Pino


  31. Hi Monica- I just checked the etymology it seems that both chal and shawl come from Persian “shal”.
    jersey and cardigan–I think we have another “depends where you come from” thing. For me a cardigan is a long-sleeved sweater that buttons up the front and a jersey is the special T-shirt that athletes wear to identify their team and themselves (ex: football jersey). Apparently in England it also refers to a type of sweater that fishermen wear. Formal definitions definitions describe it pretty broadly as anything from a T-shirt to a jacket or a sweater, but the common denominator seems to be that it has to be knitted or from a stretchy knit fabric. The formal definitions of cardigan seems to consistently back up my idea of buttons up the front.

  32. Sari Pooh is just right on calzones/calzoncillos puzzle.
    I’m in a position to certificate it!!!

  33. Thanks Paul… and may I ask how/why you are in that position? (just curious!)

  34. Since you mentioned misunderstandings between chileans and brazilians, try telling a brazilian that you or somebody else wants to “transar” with him or her…. Better not do it though, the meanings of “transar” in Chile and in Brazil are quiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite different.

  35. This is a funny coincidence. Just this weekend, I met a friend for lunch at a place called Aladdin’s Cafe – a Middle Eastern place. There were tables set up and then in the back, behind a sort of half-curtain, were some low cushioned benches and some…well, what to call them? She called them ‘tuffets’, which I’d never heard of. My thoughts immediately went to ‘pouf’/’pouffe’ because they were soft and reminded me of the ones sold in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and which were quite popular among the British ex-pats, who of course called them pouffes. Not really having another acceptable alternative, I started calling (and spelling) them pouffes, not ottomans. Those are either hard or they are cushioned but on wooden legs.

    And here’s the funny part. When my Turkish friend learned that I called the piece of furniture on which I’d rest my feet an ‘ottoman’, she laughed and said that in Turkish, they call the whole set up (chair + footrest) an American armchair!

    But you were right: a pouffe is soft. Wicker is not; therefor, it is not a pouffe.

  36. It seems that the poor wicker thingie is doomed to remain nameless in English!
    Very funny that Turkish people call it American and people in the US call it an ottoman!

  37. http://www.autoctona.cl/?p=4007 to me is a giant wicker orange.

  38. Pingback: Weekly Speaking Latino Links: 20 November 2011 | Speaking Latino

  39. Hi,
    I just found your blog and I am really happy I did! I found it by googling toilet paper and Chile, one of my pet peeves and fodder for a long rant.
    I have just moved to Chile a few months ago with my family and we are adjusting to our new life. Having lived in North America and England I am having a really good laugh reading your posts on language, how the Spanish is not the same in different Latin American countries the same way English differs between the US and the UK. Look forward to reading your older posts and as well as new ones to come.

  40. Hi Margaret! I’ve been enjoying your blog.

    I’m a bit puzzled about the word ‘pouf’ though… I’ve heard it quite a lot in the HGTV channel… And here is an example of what they refer to: http://www.crateandbarrel.com/furniture/ottomans-cubes/marrakesh-pouf/s193944

  41. larutadelpicnicTom

    Soy Chileno y el pouf lo uso rara vez para sentarme, por lo general pongo las PATAS encima.

  42. ¿Tiene otro nombre cuando está hecho específicamente para subir los pies?

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