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Spanish Food Idioms

In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge contrastive phraseology nerd 1. So today I’m bringing you a collection of 10 Spanish food idioms. ¡Que aproveche! 2

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A problem or task “es pan comido” when it can be easily solved. Whereas in English something can be “a piece of cake”, Spanish speakers describe it as “eaten bread”. Why? Because bread is one of the most basic food items worldwide. It’s easy to make and even easier to consume, since you don’t even need cutlery or special abilities – as opposed to other goods that might require some skills and patience, such as seafood.

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When you “give someone pumpkins”, you are not offering them a squash snack but turning them down. Legend has it that pumpkins were considered an anti-aphrodisiac in Ancient Greece, and they were administered to folks in order to reduce their libido. Likewise, pumpkin seeds were recommended in the Middle Ages to ward off lascivious thoughts during prayer. The idiom “dar calabazas a alguien” made its way into Spanish in the context of courtship, and nowadays it’s used to reject someone’s amorous advances.

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The idiom “ser un chorizo” literally translates as “to be a spicy pork sausage”, and it describes people who steal from others. Contrary to popular belief, the etymological origin of this expression is not food related. In caló 3, the verb “chorar” (to steal) gave way to the noun “chori” (thief), and so did the idiom that Spanish speakers currently use – mostly to refer to their politicians.

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Yummy as it may be, this caramel custard dessert is shaky and wobbly as hell. If someone is trembling, shivering or extremely nervous, you can fairly say they “are like a flan”.

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The idiom “to be the (lemony) pear” emphasizes someone’s or something’s extreme coolness. But are pears inherently awesome? Not really! In order to unravel the origin of this expression, we shall travel back to 17th century Constantinople, specifically to Péra 4. Back in the day, this bustling district enchanted European merchants and visitors with its marketplace: spices, silks, perfumes, exotic products and handmade goods. Péra was definitely the pinnacle of awesomeness!

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Are you an attractive, good-looking person? Then it’s safe to say that “you are like a cheese”. Yummy and nice to relish in. Need I say more? Fun fact: what do cheese (English), Käse (German), kaas (Dutch) and fromage (French), formaggio (Italian), formatge (Catalan) have in common? The answer is caseus formaticum, which is Latin for “shaped cheese”. Mind-blown!

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“Having bad milk” doesn’t exactly mean that your dairy went bad, but rather, that you are a sour, grumpy person. It originated in the Middle Ages when wealthy ladies resorted to wet nurses who would feed their newborns. Wet nurses were picked meticulously, for it was thought that any psychological imbalance or poor cognitive skills could be passed on to the newborn through their “bad” milk. Ah, what a time to be alive!

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Whereas some people are dumb as rocks, Spanish speakers get “to be a melon”. The origin of this idiom is unclear. One theory suggests that it was brewed in a context of political disputes in Puerto Rico, when the Popular Democratic Party started referring to their rivals as “melons”, due to the emblematic color of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. If someone calls you “melón”, I suggest you look for new friends!

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What was first, the coconut or the head? The idioms “comerse el coco” (lit. to eat your coconut) and “comerse la cabeza” (lit. to eat your head 5) mean to overthink. Besides the fruit name, coco is colloquial for head, and both items are understood as containers where thoughts roam wild.

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Blushing is part of our fight or flight response. When we are embarrassed, adrenaline speeds up our heart rate and dilates our blood vessels. So we turn visibly red, or if you speak Spanish, you “become (like) a tomato”. Because come on, is there anything redder than this fruit?

Eso es todo, amigos. If you enjoyed this post, check out these hilarious German idioms.

Do you like my comics? Consider tossing some virtual coins into my art supply jar. ¡Hasta pronto!

Nahuatl Loan Words

I have been looking into indigenous languages lately, so today I’m bringing you some Nahuatl loan words that you probably use every day. But first things first:

  • In Nahuatl, <tl> is pronounced /t͡ɬ/ 6.
  • It belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family 2.
  • Nahuatl literally translates as “clear or pleasant sound”.
  • Nahuatl used pictographs and ideographs, and later on acquired the Latin script, which was used to record a large amount of poetry, prose, administrative and legal documents.
  • Nowadays Nahuan languages are spoken by about 1.5 million people, most of whom live in central Mexico, and the different varieties are not always mutually intelligible.

The Spanish language has tons of words of Nahuan origin, and some of them made it into English through a process of secondary borrowing. Let’s take a look:Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Tomato was borrowed from the Spanish tomate in 17th century. It’s a compound of tomohuac (swelling, fatness)  and atl (water), used to refer to spherical fruits or berries with many seeds and watery pulps.Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Avocado was borrowed from the Spanish aguacate in the 17th century. Popular opinion suggests that ahuacatl means testicle due to the the shape of avocados. Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Jalapeno was borrowed from the Spanish jalapeño in the 20th century. This type of pepper is native to the Mexican municipality of Jalapa, named after the Aztec Xalapan. The latter is a compound of xalli (sand), atl (water) and pan (place).Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Chili 3, the loan word for spicy peppers, was introduced in the 17th century. By the way, there are a few theories that explain the etymology of the toponym Chile, none of which is related to the spicy condiment. Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Xocoatl was introduced into Spanish and French in the 17th century. It’s a compound made of xococ (bitter) and atl (water), and it originally referred to the drink made of water and cacao seeds.

That’s all for now! If you are into linguistic curiosities, check out more illustrated articles here.

Virelangues · French Tongue Twisters

This week, French gets its turn with an illustrated collection of tongue twisters or virelangues.

Tongue twisters are somewhat humorous phrases that rely on alliteration 4, rapid alternation between similar but distinct phonemes 2, and other phonetic devices that make them fairly difficult to articulate, even for native speakers.

Due to their phonetic complexity, tongue twisters are a fun way to train your ear and pronunciation in foreign languages. They can help you differentiate minimal pairs, train muscle placement and develop clearer speech patterns.

Thanks to my friend François, you can listen to the pronunciation of each virelangue. Just click on the audio track below each illustration. Allons-y!

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Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

C’est fini! Do you have a favorite virelangue, or maybe one that is impossible to pronounce? Do you know more tongue twisters? Leave me a comment!

Spanish-Italian False Friends

A few months ago I started learning Italian. Why not? Learning a language that is so close to your own has a ton of perks. It can also be a recipe for fun misunderstandings, so here’s an illustrated collection of Spanish-Italian false friends.

These false friends have the exact same written form in both languages, but different meanings in Spanish (left column) and Italian (right column). The last one is definitely my favorite!

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Do you know other false friends? Leave me a comment!

#ilmioviaggiolinguistico

The Devil is in the Minimal Pairs

Communicating in any foreign language can be an arduous task, especially when the language you are trying to speak contains phonemes 3 that are absent in your L1 2. This is the case and struggle of Spanish speakers when they learn English, and my dad is no exception…

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These amusing happenstances occur because the devil is in the minimal pairs: two words that have a very similar pronunciation, but differ from one another by one phoneme in the same position in each word:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

Whereas Spanish has one phoneme for <i>, English has a long /iː/ and short /ɪ/ one. No wonder Spanish speakers are confused when they start learning English. This madness would the phonetic equivalent of going to bed with two feet and waking up with four. One needs some practice to figure out how to navigate the world with additional extremities – or extra phonemes one had never had before.

To make matters worse, you will stumble upon words that contain the same graphic vowels, yet each one is pronounced differently:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

But don’t fear, dear language learner! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you can train your ear to the different phonemes of the English language with online resources like this super cool interactive phonemic chart. If you are unsure how one word sounds, look up the pronunciation in dictionaries that include the IPA transcription and sound clips, like WordReference.

In conclusion, I think English learners should get more credit for their Herculean efforts.Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

In fact, anyone who stumbles upon words like these ↑ and doesn’t give up, deserves a standing ovation.