Saturday, October 1, 2011

Language games in a Mexican-American-Extraterrestrial family

It's normal for families to have at least a few special words just within the family. These might include names of family members garbled by a toddler and picked up and used by adults, like "bubba" for "brother," or a mispronounced name for a food they like, like "spaghetti" (which might be pronounced "pesketti").

The family of Matt and Ana Darcy Méndez is different only in degree. For one thing Ana comes from another planet, and her language is now extinct on Earth! Not only do the parents speak four or five languages, and not only are they eager students of language (Matt majored in English), they made a special effort to teach their twins to read well before kindergarten, and to grow up multi-lingual. The whole family is language conscious and they love nothing better than to find a new, imaginative use for an old word, or to turn words around to catch other family members by surprise.

Some of the Méndez family words originated in the conventional way, in the attempt of a toddler to pronounce a word. They love to drink a "foofy," for example, which is known to most people as a (fruit) "smoothie," a word their young daughter was unable to negotiate. Even after their daughter was older, they continued enjoying foofies. Their son renamed another dish, chicken fried steak fingers, which his grandmother called "steakies." The boy thought she said "snakies," which had a certain logic, since the meat stips could conceivably have been cut from a snake. This beloved dish was called "snakies" for ever after (see Distant Cousin: Recirculation).

The family keeps a grocery shopping list on the refrigerator, where any one of them might write down an item to be shopped for later. "Catte littre," written down by Chaucer-loving Matt, is obvious enough, but can you guess what "carrotas" might be? They are carrots, of course, although the proper Spanish word is "zanahorias." It amounts to a sort of joke, a bilingual joke. "Olivas," rather than the correct "aceitunas" ("olives") is another such. Ana was once defeated, coming home without the desired item after she read on the list, "Shed and Holders." Can you guess? It's a popular brand of shampoo.... One more item buffaloed her, written down by her son: "die John mouse turd."  Do you know what that is? It goes on hamburgers.... Poor Ana!

Spanish has its own word play, to be sure. Matt sometimes refers to his wife not with the Spanish words, "mi esposa," but as "mi esposible," which is a pun on the phrase "es posible," or "it is possible." There are many of these. There is a joke we need not detail here, where the punchline is a pun on "cincuenta" (50) and "sin cuenta," or "beyond counting."

As does English, Spanish has rhyming lines, like "¿Qué tal, animal?" That's roughly equivalent to "Wassup, dog?" except it rhymes. The answer can be "Perfecto, insecto," which we surely need not translate. Every once in a while, when Matt wants to be sure a fatherly point is understood, he will end with a question: "¿Me entiendes, Méndez?" meaning basically, "Have you got that, Méndez?" Again, however, it rhymes. Another such rhyming line is "¡Qué gacho, Nacho!" which means "How humiliating, or disgusting, Nacho." (Nacho is the nickname for the name Ignacio.)

Here is more of the Méndez family's English language trickery. See if you can guess what is really meant by

sheen cleats

shattered scours

beard knife, and

barn muffins.

They also enjoy creating Spanish phrases which make little sense unless translated to English, like these:

frijoles frescos (cool beans)

dame un freno (give me a break, actually a 'brake,' i.e., on a car or truck)

plátanos duros (tough bananas, i.e., too bad), and

no hace centavos (literally, "it doesn't make pennies," or, of course "cents"~"sense")

We bet that your family has its own special words too. If you'd like to add some, please comment!

More language fun:

Mexican-American dichos (proverbs): chapter one  chapter two chapter three

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