Friday, 22 June 2012

Words, words, words.

In the supermarket, just the little Froiz down the road, nowhere special, I found a packet of biscuits labelled, “Cookies gigantes, con grandes chunks de chocolate”. Since when have “cookies” and, more especially, “chunks” been Spanish words? Cookies is an Americanism which, I suppose, may become universal, like “cappuccino”. This language exchange is a bit hit and miss. You might say that “tortilla” has gone into the English language, except that it’s the Mexican and not the Spanish “tortilla”. When I make a “tortilla”, and I mean the Spanish one, and call it by that name my small grandson corrects me and tells me that a “tortilla” is a “wrap”. His big sister, however, who has been eating my “tortilla” since she was about two, never makes that mistake. A “wrap” is another funny expression: it used to be a shawl but is now something you wrap smaller food items in to eat them, instead, I suppose, of making a boring old sandwich. Give me a good old fashioned sandwich any day. 

You have to be careful how you say things, of course, in this age of political correctness. According to Isabel Allende, my current source of interesting odds and ends, the Chileans find it hard to understand political correctness. The idea of talking your way round something instead of calling a spade a spade is very alien to them. She had to live in California for some years before she got used to the idea and even then she made mistakes. She wanted to adopt (there you go with the political correctness: give a home to) one of the dogs that she had read about which had been undergoing training as seeing-eye dogs for the blind but had not made the grade. So she wrote to the organisation concerned and told them she would like one of the “rejected” dogs. The reply she received barely thanked her for her offer but did tell her off for the terminology she had used. Such dogs are not “rejected”; they are described as “having changed their career”. Wonderful! 

Ms Allende also introduced me to a new (to me) Spanish expression. Some time ago I learned to say in Italian, “Non vedo l’ora”, meaning “I can’t wait”, expressing excitement and anticipation. Literally it means “I can’t see the hour/the time”. There was Isabel Allende writing, “No veía las horas de volver a Chile”: “I couldn’t wait to go back to Chile”. Almost exactly the same expression transferred from one language to the other. It’s not really surprising when you remember that both languages come from the same Latin source, but it doesn’t always work and can sometimes lead people astray. 

As regards the Anglicisms, I’m used to the French doing it. I wasn’t really surprised when I went to meet old friends at the Alliance Française earlier this week and was told, “Tu as changé de look” Well, I was surprised because I didn’t think I had changed my “look” but not surprised at the use of the expression. They do it all the time. 

The chemist has also given me linguistic food for thought. Phil developed a cold, coughing and sneezing all over the place. What we needed was Lemsip, the universal cold cure in the UK. So I went along to the chemist, asked for something for a cold, described the symptoms and explained what I was really looking for. And the chemist instantly produced something called “Frenadol Hot Lemon”. Yes, that’s right: HOT LEMON. In English. Everything else on and in the packet is in Spanish but clearly “Hot Lemon” is more appropriate than “Limón Caliente”. 

Perhaps it’s more politically correct.

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