Spanish may be beautiful, but it cannot compete with English when it comes to doing magic tricks. English, it seems, is a regular Houdini.
This is because English has the capacity to transform – bibbity, bobbity, boo – one part of speech into another part of speech. This saves us a whole lot of “of” and “for” phrases.
This capacity not only allows us to take shortcuts, it also gives us rich vocabulary possibilities and a flexibility not available in Spanish.
Let’s take a look at some of these marvelous English magic tricks and how, for better or for worse, they might translate into Spanish.
First of all, English has the capacity to take a great many nouns and convert them into adjectives, whereas Spanish often must tack on “de” or “para”:
city park parque de la ciudad
coffee cup taza para café
crime scene escena del crimen
love song canción de amor
magic show espectáculo de magia
Sometimes, the two words are written as one; nevertheless, it is the same operation:
fingernail uña de la mano
sunglasses anteojos para el sol
To be sure, in some cases, Spanish can be just as brief or briefer than English:
cell phone teléfono cellular
police car patrulla
television set televisor
And since a gerund, such as “sewing,” which is a verb form, as in “I am sewing,” can also act as a noun, as in “I like sewing,” it follows that it can also be transformed into an adjective in the same way:
sewing machine máquina de coser
sleeping bag slipin
reading light luz para leer
And it doesn’t end there. English can also
combine a noun with a verb, present participle
or past participle to create a more precise
verb or participle. These are especially
inclined to be written as one word:
brainwash lavar el cerebro
handmade hecho a mano
sunbathe tomar el sol
sunburned quemado por el sol
troubleshoot resolver problemas
water skiing esquí acuático
windswept barrido por el viento
In all fairness, Spanish sometimes performs a similar trick by combining a verb and a noun to create another noun:
Quitaesmalte polish remover (“it removes enamel”)
Tomacorriente electrical outlet (“it takes current”)
In yet another maneuver, English puts an adjective in front of a noun, adds -ed to the noun, as if it were a verb, then converts the whole thing into a participle that acts as an adjective! You don’t believe me? Try these:
kindhearted de buen corazón
Then, English can put a noun in front of an adjective and create a more specific adjective:
boy-crazy loca para los muchachos
dust-free libre de polvo
nationwide por toda la nación
top-heavy más pesado arriba que abajo
And if you think that English can never combine two verbs, then you’ve never learned how to blow-dry your hair, tie-dye a shirt or hang glide.
Finally, the most remarkable thing about all this is that these transformations can be used to carry out even more transformations.
For example, English can take the nounnoun combo out of which we created an adjective and noun and use it to create yet another adjective, as long as we connect the extended adjective with hyphens:
cell-phone call llamada de teléfonocelular
city-park bench banca del parque de la ciudad
community- clase del colegio
college class universitario
sewing-machine fábrica de máquinas
factory de coser
And, would you believe, it can go even further:
community-college-class schedule horario de clases del colegio universitario
fingernail-polish remover quitaesmalte para uñas
sewing-machine-factory strike huelga de la fábrica de máquinas de coser
And though it can make for rather unclear English, if we really want to push it:
community-college-class-schedule error error en el horario de clases del colegio
fingernail-polish-remover intoxication intoxicación de quitaesmalte para uñas
sewing-machine-factory-strike update actualización de la huelga de la fábrica de
máquinas de coser
Would you like to try for six?
community-college-class-schedule-error correction corrección del error en el horario de clases del colegio universitario
Then, when all else fails and with more than a bit of poetic license, English allows us simply to invent transformations. Take, for example, a line in a book I am reading: “And the fishing skiffs water-bugged it over the bay.” Here, the writer has done something impossible in Spanish by taking an expression where the two nouns make one noun (water bug), then converting them into a verb. In Spanish, this would have to be translated as something like: “Los botes de pesca rozaron la superficie de la bahía como insectos acuáticos.”
Now that’s magic.