Posted by: janecronin | April 23, 2017

English mutations

Languages are not static things: their natural state of one of constant flux, with new words and expressions appearing and old ones disappearing constantly.  For some reason, a lot of us strongly dislike changes in language, and it seems that the older we get, the more we hark back to the “correct” language of the past.  A typical example of these changes in English is that wonderful way in which we turn nouns into verbs.   A recent example was in the Olympics when all of a sudden people were trying “to medal” or “to podium”.  I for one cringe at this, but it no doubt sounds normal if you’re under a certain age, just as “to hand”, “to chair” or “to man” probably sounded excruciating to some previous generation.

In Spanish, it has become increasingly trendy to introduce English into everyday speech.  Sometimes English words are used because they express concepts that do not exist in Spanish; sometimes they are used to sound intellectual when perfectly good Spanish equivalents exist and often their meaning alters slightly in their new language – a fact that can create some confusion for native English speakers.

Spellings start to alter informally because of pronunciation difficulties.  This is true of the following examples I’ve seen recently.  Can you work out what they are?  “táper”, “fotochó”, “potcas”, “feisbuk”.  Well, of course!  They are “tupper”, which we call “Tupperware”;  photoshop, podcast and Facebook.   Another strange computer one is “pendrive”.  I learnt to use this item in Spanish first so was surprised when an English speaking person who knows about computers didn’t understand me.  It turns out that in real English a “pendrive” is a “memory stick”!

Here’s another cluster of terms which I find intriguing: “performance”, “show” and “boy”.  Our understanding of performance is “actuación” in Spanish, but when the Spanish say “performance” they are referring to some kind of avant garde, spontaneous public display (like nude protesting or those videos of opera singers in metro stations, also known as a “flashmob”).  We all know what a “show” is in English, but I was intrigued to read in Spanish the other day about an actor’s humble beginnings doing “shows”.  It turns out it meant working as a male stripper!   This takes me to the word “boy” which refers to the same activity.

Moving back onto safer ground, what about “friki”? This comes from “freak” but doesn`t actually refer to Victorian circus creatures, more just people who are a little bit strange!   And finally, there is a lot of talk these days about “fairplay” in Spanish sport.  We pride ourselves on this British attribute, something to do with cricket, but you’d better know that both Real Madrid and Barcelona have been awarded for their “fairplay” in the game of “fútbol”.  Wonders will never cease.



  1. Have received awards – or have been recognised (perhaps)?!

    Made me smile, Jane, wondering whether Spaniards pronounce ‘fair play’ correctly so that its second syllable rhymes with ‘pay’ or ‘day’ – or, more probably, to rhyme with ‘eye’ as in the Spanish word ‘playa’. Not heard it yet but will be listening out! 🙂

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