Saturday, 18 July 2015


Out and about recently, we came across a bar which declared itself to be an "areparía, tapería". What was an "areparía"? we asked ourselves. And then we went on our way and forgot about it for a while. And then, on another occasion, we saw "arepas" in the list of items available on a menu somewhere. Clearly these two words, new to us, were connected. But we had never even seen them before. Phil wondered if "arepas" were connected in some way with "wraps", that item of Mexican food that has become popular as an alternative to sandwiches. Was "wrap" an Anglicisation of "arepa"?

I was not convinced but further research has shown that he could well be right. I finally got round to looking it up in an online dictionary. Naturally enough, the word does not figure in the small Collins paper dictionary that we have here. And there it was, large as life and, in my opinion, just an unappetising: "una arepa - a corn pancake". So, despite the fact that the supermarkets here sell "wraps", for once it may well be that the word has gone from Spanish to English in an altered form. Not too strangely altered, it has to be said. After all, the English speaking world would not relate to "arepas" but "wrap" simply describes the process of filling a pancake with cooked meat or vegetables or whatever and folding it nicely to make the kind of food that you can eat as you walk down the street. Which, sadly, seems to be what so many people want nowadays. 

More about words. In Spanish, adding "ón" to the end of a word usually indicates a larger version of the original word. Often it's a feminine word that becomes masculine in the process of adding the letters. Sometimes the meaning changes slightly as well. So "caja", meaning "box", becomes "cajón", meaning "large box" and also "drawer". After all a drawer is just a large box that fits into a piece of furniture. Similarly "mesa", meaning table, becomes "mesón", now used as one of the words for "restaurant" but originally, I think, used for an inn, back in the days when travellers sat round a large table to eat in an inn, rather than at individual small tables. 

And then the language sets out to confuse you by turning the rule around on its head. "Rata" means "rat" but "ratón" does not mean "large rat", as logic would indicate, but "mouse". When Spanish children lose their baby teeth, they leave them under their pillows, not for the tooth fairy to take away but for "Ratoncito Pérez", "Pérez the little Mouse". I am unsure which is more unsavoury, the idea of a supernatural creature spiriting away baby teeth or the idea of a little mouse scrabbling around under your child's pillow. Still it could be worse; a Mexican friend of mine had an interesting necklace. Friends would ask her if these were pieces of ivory hanging from a gold chain around her neck. Perhaps the necklace was some kind of Southern or Middle American totem? No, these were her children's baby teeth, mounted on gold and suspended from a gold chain. Quite gross! 

All this reflection on language came about as a result of my seeing an advertising hoarding for shellfish. "Namórate dun galego", it implored. "Fall in love with a Galician". The Galician in question was a mussel, "un mejillón". And I found myself thinking about those "ón" words. Was "mejillón" derived from "mejilla", which means "cheek" (not insolence but the part of your face)? It seems unlikely until you consider the shape of mussel, out of its shell. It could just about be a rather fat cheek! 

The other kind of cheek, by the way, insolence, is "cara", the word for face. When we say, "What a cheek!" or "You've got a cheek!", the Spanish say "¡Qué cara!" Or "¡Tienes mucha cara!" But then I have heard English people talk about someone have "the face to do such and such a thing". 

Interesting stuff, language.


  1. Anthea and Phil

    Anthea and Phil are in Vigo again,
    escaping from Britain and it's typical rain.
    Anthea likes to jog and swim,
    as Phil plays chess and hopes to win.

    It's not the first time that they have been,
    they are up to date with the Gallego scene.
    Anthea writes her adventures in a daily blog,
    she often reports about the rain and fog.

    Their adventures take them far and wide,
    and their disappointments they never hide.
    I've been reading her blog for several years,
    and she often writes of her hopes and fears.

    Even though she is here on her vacation,
    she'll be checking my spelling and punctuation.
    Anthea was a teacher you see,
    a fact she has never hidden from me.

    Eamon Doran 19th of July, 2015.