June 3, 2012 | Review Period

Vocabulary Observations

A cross-language word examination.

Yesterday I came across the word for “tool” in French. It is outil.

Look at the Filled-In Potholes! I Texted a Complaint and They Filled Them Right Up!

Look at the Filled-In Potholes! I Texted a Complaint and They Filled Them Right Up!

I have learned and relearned that word before, but I don’t remember previously noticing its resemblance to “utility” in English, or útil (“useful” in Spanish). Very cool. 

An etymological note from about “utility”: according to Random House Dictionary, the origin is 1350-1400, from Middle English utilite, which arrived via Old French utelite, which came from Latin ūtilitās, which I guess means “useful” or “is useful”? I have no Latin to speak of, which shocks some people, but there it is: I never took it.

For some time now I have been mulling over a future project to remedy that situation…

Okay, this kind of vocabulary thing can really mess with your head. Here’s “baby” in three languages:

  • bebè (Italian)
  • bebé (Spanish)
  • bébé (French)

My accent marks are chaos.

How cute is this: in French, “headhunter” is chasseur de têtes (literally, “hunter of heads”), which amounts to the same concept as the English term, but somehow sounds so much more aggressive with a prepositional phrase in there.

Spanish Made the DMV (Almost) Pleasant

Spanish Made the DMV (Almost) Pleasant

Two days ago I did a ton of Spanish grammar waiting in lines at the DMV. I needed a new license. My old one expired back in November, and I never even noticed. Don’t worry; I don’t drive here in New York, so no laws were broken. But I did get past a lot of security desks and guards in New York City buildings without anyone’s saying a word.

Anyway, while hardly pleasant, the DMV was much more pleasant than it would have been without Spanish Verb Tenses by Dorothy Richmond. Grammar kept me happy and distracted. It did not prevent me from noticing the extraordinary rudeness of two out of the three DMV employees I had to deal with while there, but without a grammar pacifier things could have been much worse.

In Spanish, comerse means not “to eat oneself,” but rather, “to gobble up.” 

In my verb tense book, I instinctively translated the sentence “The cat was black and white” as “El gato era blanco y negro.” Meaning I reversed the colors in Spanish. When I looked at the answer key, I saw that they had, too. So in Spanish is the idiom always “white and black”? That sounds so wrong in English, but so right in Spanish.

In a translation exercise about an insect exhibit at a zoo, I was informed that “mashed spiders” in Spanish is puré de arañas. Ah, the things one learns. (Or rather, reads and then maybe forgets.)

“Scammer” is chanchullero (or chanchullera). That sounds very scammerish in Spanish!

Also in Richmond’s book, I read, “The conjugated form of haber and the past participle are not—and cannot be—separated by any other words.” This shocked me! I don’t think I try to separate them, but I am not familiar with the notion that they can’t be separated. Is that really really true? No adverbs can ever intervene?

“Bubble” in Spanish is burbuja. Some words are just inherently cute.

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