23 June 2010

Words, words, words, are made to love...

I noticed with interest some comments by observers at the recent World Cup game between Uraguay and Mexico who said that even though both countries speak Spanish, the Uruguayan players and fans and the Mexican players and fans could hardly understand each other. This is because the people of Uruguay and Argentina both speak a dialectal variant of Spanish called Rioplatense Spanish or Río de la Plata Spanish that is mainly spoken in the areas in and around the Río de la Plata basin region between Argentina and Uruguay. If you happen to go to one of those countries and want to communicate effectively you will need to add several thousand new words to your vocabulary that are used there but not very much in other places. It is the same thing with idiomatic expressions or what are commonly called "modismos" in Mexican Spanish.

Even if you stick to one Spanish speaking country in particular it is a real challenge to acquire sufficient vocabulary and idiomatic expressions to be able to jump in and hang on to every conversation. In my case, because I am classified as a technician or "tecnico", I have had to acquire a technical vocabulary as well as a conversational or "social" vocabulary that is specific to my industry. Am I finished yet? Nope! The quest never ends but it is easier and more rewarding if you work at it with a plan. When aquiring a basic beginner's vocabulary remember that you need to learn words from many categories. Here are just a few:

Parts of the body
Toilet articles
Parts of the house
Kitchen implements
Food, such as meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, baked goods, condiments, beverages, etc.
Weather and climate
Relatives such as children, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, etc.

The list goes on and on. You need to systematically make your own categories and make it a point to learn as many words associated with each category as you can. Once you have a fairly well established vocabulary of about ten to twelve thousand words you can become a word hunter like I am. By the way, if you need a way to keep track of how many words that you know I suggest the "Corn Flakes Method" that I wrote about awhile back and that you can access by clicking here.

To become an effective word hunter and vocabulary builder you must be ruthless and never let new words or idiomatic expressions escape your grasp. I always carry a pen and some three by five inch blank index cars in my pocket upon which I scribble down words and expressions as soon as I see them or hear them. I will even interrupt someone to get them to write a word or expression for me and explain what it means. You simply must do this or the opportunity will fly by and you will be condemned to be wandering around in the fog of uncertainty forever. I write down words from many sources including billboards, television commercials, newspaper articles, instructions on pill bottles, and every other conceivable source. Let's see what I have in today's catch!

The first item is an idiomatic expression that you might never guess if you didn't ask someone. The expression is "¡Patas para suando son!" Literally it translates as "Paws (or hooves) for when they are". It means "Feet don't fail me now" or in other words, "Scram, let's get out of here" or "Run for it!". There is an even stranger version that is very common locally where I live and it means more or less the same thing: "¡Patas para que te quiero!" or "Feet for that I love you!", meaning "Run for your life!". If you don't know what expressions like this mean don't just let them pass by you but stop immediately and write them down or you will never get past first base. You don't have to use them yourself but just knowing what they mean will be the difference between being included in the conversation or just somebody hanging around the fringes. At the very least you will know when to smile or frown. As for how expressions like this originated don't even ask because nobody really knows.

The next word on my cards for today is "carcacha" which means "a junk automobile".

The word "embosada" means "ambush".

"Guantes de carnaza" means "work gloves". If you look up "carnaza in your dictionary, however, it will probable say that "carnaza" means "bait" as does its variation "carnada". Technically "carnaza" is the side of an animal skin that goes against the flesh or in other words, the "rough" side. Guantes de carnaza are gloves with the rough leather on the outside.

A "cárcamo" is a pit or sump from which water is pumped. A sump pump is called a "bomba de cárcamo".

Be careful! The word "cárcamo" with an "r" is not to be confused with the word "cáncamo" with an "n". A "cáncamo" is a bolt with a ring on the end such as an "eye bolt". Not only that but what we call in English a "screw eye" like that which is used to latch a wooden screen door, in Spanish is called an "armella" pronounced "ahr-MAY-yuh". Now it just so happens that the name of my dearly departed mother is "Armella" which is spelled the same but pronounced "Ahr-MEH-lah". There is actually a Blessed Armella who was a saintly servant girl in England long ago and who is listed in the registry of Catholic saints. So how did Saint Armella become a screw eye? Go figure!

Anyway, that wraps it up for today. Now go out there and collect some words!

¡ Hasta la Próxima !

13 June 2010

How the heck can I wash my neck ?

It ain't gonna rain no more, no more,
It ain't gonna rain no more.
So how the heck can I wash my neck,
If it ain't gonna rain no more?

"It Ain't Gonna Rain No More" was one of my father's favorite songs. It was written and recorded by Wendell Hall in 1923. As a matter of fact it was the best selling record of that year and it sold over two million copies. Wendell Hall was born in 1898 in Kansas and started his career in Vaudeville. He played both the xylophone and the ukulele and later became famous for his work with the ukulele. Wendell was known as both "the red-haired music maker" and the "pineapple picador". In those days when radio wasn't yet very developed people made their own entertainment and the ukulele and the banjo were very popular. When I was a kid many of my older relatives used to reminisce about playing in banjo and ukulele bands and how much fun it was. The servicemen of World War II grew up listening to music written by Wendell Hall and his songs were great favorites. I think my father knew about one hundred verses to "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More" and he and his army buddies probably made up most of them.

For the past month I have been searching the sky for rainclouds and humming my father's old song. As it happens every year I was getting a little desperate for a nice soaking rain. Last week we had a few light evening showers in places but they did little more than settle the dust and raise the humidity. Very early this morning, in the "wee" hours on the Feast of Saint Anthony, we received our first soaking rain. The the birds and the bees and the grass and the trees are all smiling and so are the farmers. It is like taking that first swig of iced tea after a long and grueling tennis match in the hot sun. Thank you, God, for the rain...and for everything else too!

12 June 2010

I now have a clue.

Have you ever wondered about why Gringos and Mexicans have such a different perception of time? Today I was browsing Mark Frauenfelder's blog "Boing Boing" and I saw a You Tube presentation by Professor Philip Zimbardo on "The Secret Powers of Time". This presentation is very well done. It makes a lot of sense and I plan to watch it a number of times until I grasp the whole thing in its entirety and can explain it to others. I am sure that you will enjoy it. This will also be especially helpful to anyone with kids or grandkids who is interested in the future.

01 June 2010

Any day now...

May is beyond a doubt the hottest month in the Bajío (bah-HEE-oh) region of the central highlands of Mexico where I live and that holds true for most of the country. There is a window from the middle of May through the middle of June when the rainy season begins and things start to cool off quite nicely. The rainy season isn't like a full blown monsoon but we generally have some nice late afternoon or evening showers a couple times per week for several months and everything turns very green. This is the season when the reservoirs fill up so that we will have sufficient irrigation water during the winter dry season. If it doesn't rain by June 24th, which is the day celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist, it is a bad omen indeed. In the old days in Mexico many people bathed completely only on that day of the year. Often times this was a ritual bathing because Saint John is the patron saint of water. He is not only the first cousin of Jesus but according to Jesus Himself, St. John was the greatest prophet (Matt. 11:9-11) and John shares the distinction with Jesus and Mary of being the only three individuals whose birthday the Catholic Church celebrates in the liturgical calendar. The date is very close to the Summer Solstice on June 21st and the birthday of Saint John marks exactly the halfway point in the year until Christmas.

The majority of the crops in the Bajío region are watered by irrigation water from the reservoirs. There are some brave souls, however, who practice dry land farming by necessity and these are the folks to watch if you want to know when the rains will start. If they plant their seeds too soon the the bugs, and birds, and field mice will eat the seeds before they sprout or perhaps they will will sprout and then die from lack of water. If the farmers wait too long to sow the seeds the rains will come first and then it will be too muddy to go into the fields and plant except by hand and that is a very messy and time consuming process. On average, the dry land farmers get a really good crop only about one out of every three years and so for them it is a big gamble to get it right. This week I noticed that the dry land farmers have started sowing their crops. That means that the rains should be here in about ten days. It will be interesting to see how close they come to hitting the mark. I am betting that we will soon be singing in the rain. It is time to repair your "paraguas" (umbrella) and parch that hole in your "techo" (roof).

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.