I once read somewhere that we should try to extend our vocabulary on a regular basis, a few new words every week. I used to try to encourage my A-level French and Spanish students to aim for five a day at least (like the UK government and fruit and veg) and I do know an idealistic young History teacher who has his “word of the week” which he encourages his students to use.
Well, in the last few days I have been extending my vocabulary, just a little, in both Spanish and French.
First of all, in the television news I came across a presenter using the verb ningunear, a new word for me but one whose meaning soon became clear.
Now, ningún is a word that means not any, as in ninguna idea – no idea. In other circumstances it is one of the ways to say no-one or nobody. I didn’t know it could be converted into a verb. Maybe Spanish is developing that very English habit of adapting the grammatical use of words – nouns to verbs to adjectives in a very free and easy manner.
What happened was that the (female) vice-president of the Spanish government, Elena Salgado, presented a budget proposal which was voted on in the cortes, the Spanish parliament. The leader of the opposition, Mr Rajoy, commenting on her report, began by saying he had nothing against la vice-presidenta personally but he wanted to address his remarks to the president, Mr Zapatero. Ouch!!!! He was disregarding her, bypassing her completely; so this is what they meant by ningunear.
Lots of discussion ensued about whether he was being macho and, interestingly, whether Ms Salgado was “hiding behind her femininity” when she presented her report. I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of the politics and economics to comment on how good her report was but Mr Rajoy’s remarks do seem rather sexist to me. And I tend to agree with one of the pundits interviewed on the television that, regardless of any gender issues, Mr Rajoy was in fact belittling the very post of vice-president by speaking as he did.
Be that as it may, I now have a new word and need to find an opportunity to use it.
My other linguistic acquisition came with the purchase of a printer. We finally decided that it’s a real nuisance having to go to a cybercafé to print documents – boarding cards when doing on-line check-in for RyanAir for instance. So we took ourselves off to A Laxe shopping centre and bought a reasonably priced printer from MediaMarkt.
The box is labelled in French and English and informs us that the machine is économique et performante (economical and reliable) and gives impression rapide et performante (quick and detailed printing. This word performante seems like a useful one to include in my vocabulary, covering efficient, effective, reliable, detailed and no doubt almost anything that expresses performing well. Once more the French appear to have taken an (almost) English word and adapted it to their own idiosyncratic usage.
I don’t like it quite as much as relooker (meaning to revamp, to restyle) which I came across a few years ago in a car advert but, almost certainly in spite of protests from the purists in the Académie Française, this word seems like a good addition to the language: positively performante.