Language, Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with D-E-F (Spanish-English)

Most of the false friends beginning with D, E, or F have very different meanings, so a transliteration would produce a very inaccurate translation. For instance, Su decepción fue evidente does not mean, “His deception was obvious” but rather, “His disappointment was obvious.” If the director of a company has been destituido, he has been “fired” or “dismissed” but is not necessarily “destitute” because he may have been granted a good severance package. And the idiom en absoluto doesn’t mean “absolutely” but rather “absolutely not”.

I omitted excitar ~ “excite” because they are very close cognates, but it is important to keep in mind that excitar/excitado tends to refer to sexual arousal. “Excite/excited” can as well, but the more common meaning is “enthuse/enthusiastic.”

Decepción: “disappointment, disillusionment”
Deception: “behavior intended to make someone believe something untrue”

Desgracia: “misfortune”
Disgrace: “cause of dishonor”

Destituido: “fired”
Destitute: “broke, penniless”

Discutir: “to argue, debate”
Discuss: “converse on a topic”

Disgusto: “annoyance”
Disgust: “revulsion; cause indignation

Distinto: “different”
Distinct: “clear, obvious; different”

Dormitorio: “bedroom”
Dormitory: “student housing”

Educado: “polite”
Educated: “trained, taught”

En absoluto: “no way, not at all”
Absolutely: “for sure, definitely; completely”

En la vida: “never in my life”
In all my life: “in the sum of my experience”

Etiqueta: “tag; standards of politeness”
Etiquette: “standards of politeness”

Experimentar: “to experience; to experiment”
Experiment: “to test; to attempt something”

Fábrica: “factory”
Fabric: “cloth”

Fabricar: “manufacture”
Fabricate: “create, typically with intent to deceive”

Fastidioso: “irritating”
Fastidious: “overly picky, obsessive”

Formal: (in Colombia) “polite, helpful”
Formal: “official; methodical; conventionally correct”

Fútil: “trivial”
Futile: “activity that is sure to be unsuccessful”

Sample text using this vocabulary:
I was disgusted at the director’s deception, the evidence of which was quite distinct. It was a disgrace to the whole dormitory. The investigator, a very educated man, was fastidious in his attention to detail. During our discussion, he said, “The director must have known that his fabrications would be futile.”
“He told me that if we fired him, he would be destitute,” I said.
Absolutely,” said the investigator. “He spent all the stolen money.”

Very bad translation using false friends:
Quedé disgustado con la decepción del director, cuya evidencia era muy distinta. Era una desgracia para todo el dormitorio. El investigador, un hombre muy educado, era fastidioso en su atención al detalle. Durante nuestra discusión, dijo, “El director tuvo que saber que sus fabricaciones serían fútiles.”
“Me dijo que si lo despedíamos, estaría destituido,” dije.
En absoluto,” dijo el investigador. “Gastó todo el dinero robado.”

Back translation of the very bad translation:
I was annoyed by the director’s disappointment, whose evidence was quite different. It was a misfortune for the whole bedroom. The investigator, a very polite man, was irritating in his attention to detail. During our argument, he said, “The director had to know that the things he built would be trivial.”
“He told me that if we fired him, he would be fired,” I said.
Absolutely not,” said the investigator. “He spent all the stolen money.”

Language, Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with B-C (Spanish-English)

I was surprised to learn that in many countries, constipado means “congested with a cold” and that estreñido is the equivalent term to “constipated”. This could be important to know if you get sick in Latin America.

In a similar vein, I became confused while translating a Mexican autopsy which reported that the deceased was de complexión pesada. In English, “complexion” refers to the appearance of the facial skin, and “heavy” is not a logical concatenation. With a little research, I discovered that complexión refers to “build” or “physique.” In other words, the deceased was overweight or stout.

The list below doesn’t include it, but it is worth mentioning that the word cómodo (normally translated “comfortable”) can mean “inexpensive” in certain contexts, particularly in Costa Rica. The English word “comfortable” nearly always refers to ergonomics or to lack of stress.

Billón: “a million millions: 1,000,000,000,000, a trillion”
Billion: “a thousand millions: 1,000,000,000”

Cacerola: “pan, pot”
Casserole: “baking dish; food baked in a baking dish”

Colorado: “red”
Colored: “having color” (Formerly used to allude to people of African ancestry)

Comodidad: “comfort”
Commodity: “economic good, article of commerce”

Complexión: “physique, constitution”
Complexion: “appearance of the skin of the face”

Compromiso: “commitment, engagement”
Compromise: “agreement in which each side makes concessions”

Conductor: “driver”
Conductor: “person who collects fares; orchestra director”

Conferencia: “conference, convention; speech”
Conference: “formal meeting for discussion, convention”

Constipado: “congested; has the flu”
Constipated: “unable to empty his/her bowels”

Conveniente: “suitable, proper”
Convenient: “at hand; suited to one’s purposes or comfort”

Corresponder: “be appropriate; reciprocate; belong”
Correspond: “communicate by letter; match or agree almost exactly”

Cuestión: “issue, matter”
Question: “a sentence eliciting information”

Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with A (Spanish-English)

False friends are cognates that share the same linguistic root but have differing meanings or implications. For instance, one of the crazy things about English and Spanish is that we say “assist” for atender and “attend” for asistir.

I recently learned that the word abismal means “huge,” without the negative connotations of its English cognate “abysmal”: Los Leones realizan perforaciones y pozos para generar un cambio abismal en beneficio de los pobladores de Mali. In this example, the “abysmal change” is entirely positive and is better translated this way: “Lions (Club members) drill boreholes and wells to make a world of difference for villagers in Mali.”

Here is a table of false friends beginning with A. Spanish terms are in italics.

Abismal:  “enormous”
Abysmal: “extremely bad, appalling”

Acción: “action; share, stock”
Action: “doing something; a thing done”

Actual: “current, at this time”
Actual: “existing in fact”

Advertir: “warn”
Advertise: “announce items or services for sale; promote items or services”

Apología: “defense, justification; eulogy”
Apology: “regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure”

Argumento: “reasoning, plot of a story”
Argument: “exchange of diverging views”

Asesor: “advisor”
Assessor: “one who evaluates; tax collector”

Asistir: “attend”
Assist: “help, aid”

Atender: “assist”
Attend: “be present at”

*Some information and examples are from the following websites:;;;;;;

Music, My life

Depressed but happy

I’ve come to realize that I’m depressed. I’m also happy, by and large. It’s an odd combination. I don’t feel bad or sad, I just struggle with motivation to do anything besides hang out with Alicia.

And now she’s gone. Something came up and she suddenly needs to be in Medellín, so I took her to the airport yesterday morning, and by just after lunchtime, she was there. We’re hoping she can be back by the end of the month.

In the meantime, I plan to do a lot of work on the house. Last night I was going to get the study ready for painting. I did do a little work, but mostly I sat gloomily in my room. Tonight went better. I mowed the entire lawn (half an acre), ate some dinner, showered, and now I’m watching a Jimi Hendrix biography on a PBS station.

I can’t get enough of Jimi. Incredible skills, gorgeous music, brilliant mind, and apparently desperately insecure. I’ve watched Woodstock and Monterey Pops Festival and a couple of biographies, and would happily watch them again and again. Can you imagine that Monterey crowd, watching this largely unknown musician put on a totally mind-blowing show that culminated with him setting his guitar on fire and beating it to smithereens?

I wonder what it would have been like to see him on stage with Stevie Ray Vaughan. They’re 1 and 2 on my list of great guitarists.

One source of my depression has been my finances. The expenses of weddings, moving, bringing Alicia to the US, buying a house, and setting up our home were already pushing me deep into debt. Then having to replace the septic tank at my Texas lake house early last year, and losing the renters, has been crippling.

Fortunately, we now have a buyer for that house. It’s not a great price, but there’s no realtor involved so no commission to pay. Besides paying off a couple of debts with the equity, I won’t have that mortgage payment each month, and at least can break even. I don’t know if this will ease my depression or not. It’s got to help.

Last week I was in Oklahoma City for a two-day course with colleagues from all over the country. It was great to see them. I played ping-pong with Chinese, Egyptian, Iranian, Filipino, and American guys (won most games but got beat badly a couple of times). I had long talks with former coworkers from Dallas. It was very pleasant.

Apparently part of my depression stems from having no friends here in Tampa. Alicia and I have each other, but no one else, really. In Dallas I was always manic on Sundays when my kids came over. I’ve seen them twice since I moved here. I hope I can visit Dallas sometime this fall to spend time with them and my friends there.

So, boys and girls, having a happy marriage won’t necessarily prevent depression, although it’s a lot better than the alternatives.

Language, My life, Translation, Travel

“So you’re also from Chihuahua?”

I had an intepreting gig in Miami last week. I drove down instead of flying so Alicia could come with me. We stayed in a ritzy hotel on the waterfront. The event was held at another ritzy hotel around the corner.

I’ve interpreted for a few high-level people before, but this time one of the speakers was a political figure all of you would recognize. That was pretty cool.

It was an international conference, and the Spanish speakers came from all over Latin America and Spain. I always wonder how much gets lost in translation; while Spanish speakers can usually understand each other, there are differences in terms and accent from one country to another just as there is between English-speaking countries. You don’t realize how much you don’t understand until you have to translate it, as I discovered the first time I did simultaneous interpretation back in 2006; I had to interpret presentations given by an English woman and by a Spaniard, and some of their terms left me completely baffled.

The other two Spanish interpreters in Miami were considerably better than I, from what I could tell. They have better vocabularies and are more fluent in Spanish. The one time I got to be a hero was when a New Zealander was speaking; they couldn’t understand his accent, and I could catch most of it.

Possibly the weirdest moment in the conference was when one of the Mexicans came up to me and said, “So you’re from Chihuahua too?” I have no idea how he came to that conclusion; I used to have a Mexican accent, as the result of twelve years translating for Mexicans in Dallas, but since I got reacquainted with Alicia in 2010, I’ve resumed the Colombian accent and vocabulary I grew up with.

While we were in Miami, we had a brief visit from Doña Herlinda and her daughter Doris, who lived down the street from me in San Cristóbal (just outside of Medellín) back in the 1970s. Doris now lives near Palm Beach and Herlinda is in the US for a visit. Doris’s brothers Uriel and Chicho (real name Hildebrando, I found out decades later) used to play Kick the Can, soccer, or whatever else was in vogue (tops, kites, slingshots, yoyos) with me and my brother Danny.

Doña Herlinda and her husband once owned a well-known scenic restaurant, Los Pinos, overlooking Medellín. After her husband died, Uriel took it over and ran it for several years, until a local gang started charging him ‘vacuna’ (“vaccination”, what the Mafia called “protection”). He shut it down and turned it into a house. Herlinda now lives there, and Alicia and I visit her nearly every time we go to Colombia. Back in November 2010, when we were just getting reacquainted, we spent a lovely evening together on her balcony, so it’s a pleasant pilgrimage to remember the beginnings of a great love story.

And now we’re back in Tampa. It looks like we finally have a buyer for the Texas lake house I co-own with my ex. Getting rid of it will be an enormous relief; it has been a crippling burden for the past year and a half since the renters moved out and I had to change the septic tank and put it on the market.

Movie review

Another grumpy movie review: Equilibrium

The other night, Alicia and I watched Equilibrium, a Big Brother-themed movie starring Christian Bale.

In the dystopia pictured, all emotions are outlawed, and everyone is required to take a daily dose of a drug that suppresses emotion. Christian Bale is an enforcement officer of the Tetragrammaton, the agency that controls everything under the guidance of Father (Big Brother). At some point, he misses a dose of the drug and begins to feel emotions that cause him to question his job and the laws imposed by the Tetragrammaton. He feels sorrow and regret over the execution of his wife, who had violated the emotion law. Thereafter he hides the drugs behind his mirror instead of taking them.

He’s tasked with infiltrating the Underground resistance and bringing them to justice, but becomes a double agent, assisting the Underground in preparing an uprising and positioning himself to have access to Father so he can assassinate him.

Now here’s the stupid part: his partner (Kaye Diggs) becomes suspicious and eventually arrests him when he’s on his knees in an obvious display of emotion. But during the arrest, Diggs is gleeful, capering around, grimacing, smiling, gloating… not the behavior you would expect from someone who is emotion-free.

When they come before the Tetragrammaton, Bale turns the tables on him and reports Diggs as the high-level infiltrator that they have been looking for. Diggs is led away to be executed, only to turn up again later because he is actually on special assignment from Father to catch Bale and the Underground. But nowhere is his emotion addressed; nowhere do they say, “Well, actually we high-level guys are allowed to skip the drugs.” It’s just bad writing, bad acting, or bad directing.

There is of course a very satisfying sequence at the end in which Bale takes on several dozen guards and the Tetragrammaton and eventually Diggs and Father himself. It’s campy action, much like Kill Bill. My favorite part is the katana duel with Diggs: Bale makes a few quick slashes, Diggs stands there, falls to his knees, and turns his head to the right. His face then slides off, having been cut so cleanly you couldn’t even tell! I wonder why it didn’t fall off when he dropped to his knees.

You can see that scene here:

In summary, the movie is perhaps not as bad as The Colony (see my review here). But people who expect things to make sense will find it disappointing.

Language, Multiculturality, Translation

When no means yes, 7 = 8, 14 = 15, and 20 = 21 = 22

Translation brings to light all the odd things about language.

In Latin America, “No” is used as a general interjection like “oh” or “um”, often combined with “pues,” another interjection that has little meaning. A sentence that starts with “No, pues, es que estuvimos…” might be be translated as “Oh, well, we were…” or “Yes, but the thing is that we were…” or “No, because we were…” depending on context.

One of the oddest Spanish concatenations is the expression “No, pues sí,” which literally means “No, well, yes”:

“¿Pasaste por la tienda?”
“No, pues sí, pero no había de eso.”

“Did you go to the store?”
“Oh, yeah, but they didn’t have any.”

We English speakers all know that a week has seven days, so two weeks is 14 days, three weeks is 21, and so on. In Spanish, however, “ocho días” (eight days) to refers to a period of week. A week from today is “en ocho días” because today and next Wednesday both get counted. Two weeks is “quince días” (15 days) by the same principle.

When you get to three weeks, however, things get tricky. In Costa Rica it’s “veintidós días” (22 days) but in Colombia it’s “veinte días” (20 days).

However… four weeks is not “29 días”. It’s “cuatro semanas” (four weeks) or “treinta días” (30 days), either of which may refer either to the same day of the month (the 18th of July) or the same day of the week (Wednesday four weeks from now). Dates that far out are likely to be fuzzy in any case, so your best bet is to check a few days before to find out when you are expected (or if they even remember that you had an appointment).