San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Language Conspiracy: Cunning Cognates, Part 2

Here is the rest of my list of cunning cognates, words that are roughly synonymous with English words but have a different connotation or are synonymous some of the time, but not always (TT, June 18):

Hindú can refer to a person of the Hindu religion, but it can also refer to someone from India, regardless of the person’s religion. Someone from India can also be called an indio, a word also used to refer to indigenous people of North and South America. An American Indian is also often called an indígena (a word both masculine and feminine).

Historia obviously means “history,” but it is also the word for “story.” Even then, a short story is a cuento.

Intentar, like its English cognate “intend,” can mean “to plan” or “to want to do something.” But it is more frequently used to indicate an actual attempt and, thus, is a good translation for “to try.” In the same way, intento means both “intent” and “attempt.” Intención, on the other hand, means only “intention.”

Intoxicado and intoxicar refer to almost any kind of poisoning. To refer specifically to the symptoms of alcohol-caused intoxication, borracho, ebrio and various slang expressions are used.

Introducir can be translated as, among other things, “to introduce,” in the sense of “to bring in,” “to begin,” “to put in effect” or “to place.” For example, “Se introdució la nueva ley de tránsito” (The new traffic law was introduced). But it’s not the verb used to introduce someone. For that purpose, presentar is the correct word.

Marcar usually means “to mark” in some way, it also means “to dial” a telephone, “to score” in a game, and “to notice.” The noun marca means “brand” (with origins similar to the English “trademark”), while marco can be a “window frame,” “picture frame” or “framework.”

Misería more often refers to extreme poverty than does the English “misery.” Notorio, like the English “notorious,” means “well known,” but in Spanish it doesn’t have the negative connotation. To say “notorious,” it is necessary to use the expression “de mala fama.”

Opaco can mean “opaque,” but it can also mean “gloomy.”

Oración, like the English “oration,” can refer to a speech. But it also means “prayer” or “sentence” (in the grammatical sense).

Oscuro can mean “obscure,” but it more often means “dark.”

Parientes are all of one’s relatives in Spanish. To refer specifically to parents, padres is correct.

Regular as an adjective can mean “normal,” as it does sometimes in English, but it never means “orderly” or “customary.” More often, regular means “average” or “so-so.”

Relativo and the English word “relative” are often synonymous as adjectives. But there is no Spanish noun relativo corresponding to the English “relative” when it refers to a family member. In that case, pariente or familiar are the correct words.

Probar can mean “to prove,” but it is also used to mean “to taste,” “to try” or “to try on” clothes.

Pimienta usually refers to black or white pepper. What we call red or green or sweet peppers and chili peppers are chile dulce and chile picante, at least in this part of the Latin world. The masculine form, pimiento, may also refer to a red or green pepper but is rarely used here.

Profundo can have some of the meanings of the English “profound.” But it more often means “deep” (as opposed to shallow).

Propaganda in Spanish can have the negative implications of the English word, but it often simply means “advertising.”

Real and realismo have the obvious meanings “real” and “realism,” but these words also can mean “royal” and “royalism.” Similarly, a realista can be either a realist or a royalist. Fortunately, realidad is “reality,” while “royalty” is realeza.

Rodeo comes from the verb rodear (to go around). In the right context, it can mean “rodeo,” though there are differences between the typical rodeos of the United States and those of Latin countries. But it can also mean an encirclement, a stockyard or an indirect path. Figuratively, it also can mean an evasive reply; andar de rodeos is “to beat around the bush.”

Rumor means a low, soft sound of voices, commonly translated as “murmuring,” or any soft, vague sound like the gurgling of a creek. It is only used in a figurative sense to mean “rumor.” Rumors are usually called chismes.

Típico usually does mean “typical,” but it doesn’t have the negative connotation that the English word often has. In addition, típico also means something along the lines of “traditional” or “having the characteristics of the local area.” Thus if you see a restaurant offering comidas típicas, expect food that is characteristic for the region, not merely “typical” food.

Tipo means not only “type,” as in “category,” but is also used colloquially, with a derogatory feel, for “guy” or “character” (No me gusta ese tipo is “I don’t like that guy”). Tipo is also used in tipo de cambio, which means “exchange rate” (of currency).

Tortilla can refer not only to a tortilla but also to an omelet. It comes from the word torta, meaning “cake,” and, guess what, cakes, tortillas and omelets are all round.

Vicioso comes from vicio, meaning “vice.” Though this word is sometimes translated as “vicious,” it more often means “depraved” or simply “faulty.” Vicious, as in “vicious dog” (perro bravo), is bravo.

Violar and violador have a sexual connotation more often than they do in English.

While in English a violator may simply be someone who drives too fast, in Spanish a violador is a rapist.

So, as you can see, it all must be a conspiracy, the way language tries to confuse us!


Hacked Again!

The first time it happened, I was in the United States and got an early-morning call from Costa Rica. The second time it happened, I was in Costa Rica and got an early-morning call from the United States. Someone was sending letters to my contacts (in very bad English) frantically asking for money in my name. My e-mail account had been hacked.

The first time, I was able to recuperate the account by making a change of password, but I found that the hacker had deleted all my contacts and changed the secondary e-mail address on the account. All my efforts to remedy this were in vain.

Cranky letters to Yahoo! brought me nothing but irrelevant form letters. Apparently, there are no human beings out there in Yahoo! land.

Then I made a whopping mistake. Having not one wealthy friend who could send money, much less fall for the inept language, I reckoned that this desperado wouldn’t hack an unproductive target like me again. And I kept using my account.

Guess what? I just got hacked again. This time, everything but my name got changed. I can no longer access my account, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Dear readers, if you are still writing to me at the Yahoo! address, stop. Please write to me now at my new address: I would love to hear from those of you who have had similar experiences and what you did about it.

–Kate Galante



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