The more I learn about languages the more I love those silly little idioms that we use all the time without giving them a second thought. I am especially fond of those that feature animals.
One day I looked up the word “chicken” in an English to Spanish online dictionary, because I was curious to know if chickens are equally as vilified as being cowards in Spanish as in English. Turns out they are and you can call someone a chicken or a gallina in both languages.
Dictionaries are great (nerd alert) because they can send you down a whole rabbit-hole of new meanings, expressions and idioms. In this vein, while on the page for “chicken”, I came across the phrase: Cuando las gallinas meen. Literally: When chickens pee. Idiomatically: When pigs fly.
Then I found this phrase: Estar como una gallina en corral ajeno. Literally: To be a chicken in a farmyard that belongs to someone else. Idiomatically: To be a fish out of water.
Falling a little further through the rabbit-hole, I remembered this one that a teacher at school had told me: Beber como un cosaco. Literally: To drink like a Cossack. Idiomatically: To drink like a fish.
So there we go. A few new fun animal idioms (except for the Cossack one. Don’t know what they did to earn that saying.) to think about.
Technically it’s no longer Wednesday here as it is past midnight but I’m still counting it as a Wordy Wednesday. One another note, it’s amazing (and a little scary) to think that this time in two weeks I will be in London. Where did these five months go?? It seems like only yesterday I was writing about being halfway through. However the date on that post and my nearly empty second tube of Vegemite can attest that it was most definitely not yesterday.
Speciality shops in Spain generally have titles that end in the suffix “-ería”. For example: “panadería”, a shop that sells bread (“pan”), or “papelería”, a shop that sells paper (“papel”) products. If you want to sell something in Spain just take the name of the product, add “-ería”, get yourself a sign made and you have your own niche market. When I first saw shops labelled “Ferretería” my first instinct was to cut it straight down to the English word “ferret” and assume that ferrets were very popular pets in Spain and consequently that there were numerous speciality stores selling them. I thought this was unlikely however, and decided that perhaps it was the word for a general pet store.
When I finally got around to looking it up I discovered that a “ferretería” is a hardware store or an ironmongers (although I don’t think those really exist anymore.) It is from the Latin root “ferrum”, meaning iron (which is where we get the “Fe” symbol for iron in the Periodic Table) and, disappointingly, has nothing to do with ferrets.
Now the question is, why in English do we use a word with a Latin root meaning iron as the name of a small, furry creature?
Tonight I can certainly use this expression about myself: ¡Estoy pez! However the first time I heard this phrase over here in Spain it would be fair to say I was more than a little confused.
Imagine you are sitting in the English department with some teachers when one of them with whom you have been chatting in English (with a bit of difficulty) bursts out with: ¡estoy pez!
Literal translation: I’m fish.
Naturally you would think you mis-heard somehow and just smile along like you usually do when something goes right over your head. Well, I didn’t mis-hear, the teachers explained it to me and now I can explain it to you.
Essentially you exclaim ¡estoy pez! when you are feeling brain-dead and as though you know nothing at all. You are having a total mental blank and suspect that there is no cerebral activity whatsoever going on upstairs. Often connected to exhaustion, which is generally the culprit of these sorts of days where nothing in your brain works.
So tonight, sitting down to write this, I have been totally struggling because ¡estoy pez! (Side note: you may have already known that Spanish uses double exclamation marks. Something new, as you have seen here the first one doesn’t have to come at the beginning of the sentence, it comes at the beginning of the exclamation. Kind of sensible really, other times just tricky. But that’s a post for another day…)
Well, I have just made my self-imposed Wordy Wednesday deadline, it is still Wednesday here. Of course, for all of you home in Australia it is already Thursday morning. Have lovely Thursdays and if anyone can help, could you please tell me where the weeks go?!
So I´ve decided to try to create a little feature post that I hope to write every second week or so. It´s called Wordy Wednesday, from which you will have undoubtedly deduced that I will post these on Wednesdays and that the posts will deal with words. I plan on writing some brief tales about vocabulary and grammar, the differences between English and Spanish, and my experiences learning Spanish in Spain.
This week my word of choice is jubilación.
English and Spanish share roots to more vocabulary than you might think. Often when a word in English ends in the suffix `-ion´ there will be a similar word in Spanish with the suffix `ción´. For example, nation/nación, ambition/ambición, creation/creación and so on.
So, looking at the word jubilación you wouldn´t be silly to assume that the English translation was jubilation. Dear reader, welcome to the language student´s world of false friends/falsos amigos!
Jubilación means retirement.
I find this highly amusing as it leads me to conclude that perhaps this isn´t a case of false friends after all… If a Spanish-speaker were to incorrectly assume that the English word for retirement was jubilation, would they really be wrong?
PS: If you do want to say jubilation in Spanish, the word is júbilo.