Featured Words – March 2018

Is this Spanglish?

March 30, 2018 MOJO

I got a little curious with this word because, although the garlic sauce I featured yesterday comes from Spain, and it is called “al mojo de ajo” in Mexico, Spaniards call it “al ajillo”; so where does the name “mojo” come from?  It is probably still from Spain, not their mainland, but the Canarias (Canary Islands, off the coast of Northwestern Africa).  One of their most famous dishes is mojo, and I guess is the equivalent of “salsa” in Mexico; there are many recipes, but the basic ingredients are olive oil, vinegar and spices; the richness of these preparations is due to the accessibility to a great variety of spices and hot peppers, since the Canary Islands became a strategic point for the spice routes of Europe with Africa and the New World [1].  The word itself probably comes from Portuguese moho – sauce, and in Spanish also corresponds to the verb mojar – to wet, as in the Cuban Mojito (a little wet), so “mojo de ajo” also has the connotation of “soaking in garlic” or “garlic bath.”  The pronunciation in English corresponds to the Portuguese spelling (mo-ho), and it is not related to the homograph pronounced “mo-jo”, as in the expression “to find your mojo.”  That word’s root is most likely African, “… akin to Fulani moco’o – medicine man” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and it is used to refer to a magic power or special ability [2].


“To prepare Mexican garlic sauce, that goes well with shrimp and fish, you need at least a dozen cloves of garlic”
“Para preparar mojo de ajo, que se lleva bien con camarones y pescado, necesitas al menos una docena de dientes de ajo”


“I’ve lost my mojo” Austin Powers, from the 1999 movie “The Spy Who Shagged Me”
“He perdido mi toque mágico Austin Powers, en la película de 1999 “Austin Powers: el espía seductor”

March 29, 2018 FISH

From the Latin piscis- creature that lives in the water.  The word evolved from Latin to the Proto-Indo-European form peisk, to Old English fisc, and German Fisch.  In Spanish, the “p” sound remained, as pez (pronounced like the candy dispenser.)   In English, the plural of fish is “fishes” when referring to the animals, and usually the plural remains “fish” when talking about food.  In Spanish, one of the animals is pez, plural peces, and the food is called pescado (literally “fished”, a fish that has been caught), and its plural pescados.


“My friend has fishes in his pond, but I prefer my fish on a plate”
“My amigo tiene peces en su estanque, pero yo prefiero mi pescado en un plato”


“Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.” Mark Twain
“No cuentes historias de pescados donde la gente te conoce; pero particularmente, no las cuentes donde se conoce al pez.” Mark Twain

March 28, 2018 LIME

The word in English refers to at least three different things: 1) A white substance used on buildings (fun fact: the term “being in the lime light” comes from lime used on lighthouses), the word in Spanish is cal.  2) A green citrus fruit, in Spanish limón; a lemon would be a limón amarillo, where amarillo means yellow, in Spanish, and if there is confusion, limes are referred to as limón verde (green) or limón agrio (sour).  3) Linden tea comes from the Linden tree, which is also known as the Lime tree; in Spanish it is Tila.

“In Mexican cuisine, limes are used more commonly than lemons.”
“En la cocina Mexicana, los limones verdes son utilizados más comunmente que los limones amarillos


“Your classic guacamole is just avocados, lime juice, and salt” Guy Fiery
“Tu guacamole clásico es nada más aguacates, jugo de limón y sal” Guy Fiery

March 27, 2018 SOUP

This is a simple one: both the English word soup, and the Spanish word sopa, come from Late Latin suppa – sopped bread, suggesting a liquid food in which bread could be dipped or soaked.


“Esta sopa se prepara con algún líquido, ya sea agua o caldo”
“This soup is prepared with some liquid, either water or broth”


“I live on good soup, not on fine words” Molière
“Me sustento de sopa buena, no con finas palabras” Molière

March 26, 2018 NOODLE

We all know what a noodle is … or do we? The first thought probably is, of course, of a thin and long piece of dough (wheat, rice, etc.) that will be boiled or baked and served in a soup or with sauce.  But it is also used to describe objects by its shape (as in pool noodle) and the etymology is obscure; the oldest root is the German word, Nudeln, and then, no trace.  Referring exclusively to the food item, I came across a very interesting article [1]; I truly recommend reading it in full, so I will just summarize the author’s conclusions: the Chinese word “miàn” (or mein, as in lo-mein) refers to the preparation of flour in a liquid, not the shape, and that is what the word “noodle” should be used for!  The Italian word would be pasta, although the author also concludes that its formulation is very different, as it is well known Italian pasta requires Durum (hard wheat), and noodles (Chinese) were made with soft wheat, the only kind they had.  It is also explained that long shaped types of pasta (such as spaghetti) were not brought to Italy from China, but probably developed separately, and that would explain why the words are so dissimilar.

In Mexico, as in Italy, each shape of pasta has a different name.  For noodles (Chinese), it is the same; for example, Ramen was introduced in Mexico in the 1970s as the brand Instan-Ramen™, which is a Japanese noodle, by the way.  The word in Spanish that refers to thin shaped dough is fideo, and has an Arabic root (fidáwš).


My Ramen noodles look like spaghetti, but taste different”
“Mi Ramen parece spaghetti, pero sabe diferente”


“So the food grouping of noodles and pasta are similar –both miàn– even though they aren’t related.” [1]
“Entonces los groupos alimenticios de “noodles” y pasta son similares -los dos miàn– aunque no están relacionados.” [1]

NOTE:  Translating fideo to English gives the word “noodle” in several sites on the internet, and the Wiktionary says that in the US the word is used for both Asian and European pieces of dough (as is the case in Canada, I think), but in the UK, it is “chiefly used to describe Asian-style products comprising long, thin strands of dough.” [2]

March 24, 2018 AZUCAR

While reading about yesterday’s word, I learned that azúcar also comes from Arabic; Al-Shakker means “the sugar”.  This form entered the Iberian peninsula during Muslim rule as Assuker, the way the word (with its article) is pronounced, which finally transformed to azúcar.  Since this is the Modern Spanish word for sugar, an “extra” article is attached to it “el azúcar.”  Sukker also entered Old French as Suker-e (sucre), Italian as Zuker-o or Zucckero (zucchero), and German as Zucker.  For English, as summarized in [1]: “When “k” is emphasized it can become aspirated as “kh” or doubled as “kk,” or mutate into “g.”  Sukker then changed into Sugar with the “s” further mutating into “sh,” giving the final form Shugar, written as Sugar.”  Note:  The Arabic word can be traced to Sanskrit, which should not be surprising, since the powdery product of the sugar canes comes from India; however, as explained also in [1] the Sanskrit form Sharkera: “… is traced to the Chinese term Sha-Che, literally “Sand-Sugar plant,” signifying a sand-like product from the sugar plant, which is sugar.  Sha-Che underwent the following phonetic changes: Sha-Che = Sha-Ke = Shar-Ker = Sharkera, …” 


“El paciente fue diagnosticado con diabetes, por lo que fue necesario controlar el azúcar en su dieta”
“The patient was diagnosed with Diabetes, so it was necessary to control sugar in his diet”


Sugar solves lots of problems, that’s what I think.” ― Stephen King, Doctor Sleep (2013)
El azúcar resuelve muchos problemas, eso es lo que pienso” ― Stephen King, Doctor Sueño (2013)

March 23, 2018 SANDIA

It was just a matter of time before I picked this word, right?  As we know, sandía is the Spanish word for watermelon (Citrullus lanatus); the first cultivated watermelons came from Africa, but became very popular in Asia.  During the Muslim rule of the Iberian peninsula, the Arabs brought them to Spain from Sindh, a province of Pakistan, and called them sindiyyah (“from Sindh”), which became sandiyya in Spanish-Arabic, and finally transformed into sandía in Spanish.  It is interesting to note that some of the Northern regions of Spain, which were not part of the Muslim territory, call them melón de agua (literally “watermelon”).


“La sandía y las calabazas pertenecen a la misma familia que el pepino, Cucurbitaceae”
Watermelon and squash belong to the same family as cucumber, Cucurbitaceae”


“It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took, we know it, because she repented.”
Mark Twain
“No fue una sandía sureña la que Eva tomó, lo sabemos, porque ella se arrepintió”
Mark Twain

March 22, 2018 CULTURE

The top definition for this word is as a noun identifying a set of values, customs and beliefs shared by a group; the Spanish word is cultura.  A second definition applies to a laboratory sample of living organisms, usually microscopic; the Spanish word is cultivo, which is also used to refer to farm crops, translating back to English as “cultivation.”


“In this case, a bacterial culture might be the best way to identify the disease”
“En este caso, un cultivo bacteriano puede ser el mejor método para identificar la enfermedad”

“El cultivo de sandía en México proporciona más de la cuarta parte de exportaciones a nivel mundial”
“Watermelon cultivation in Mexico provides more than a quarter of exports worldwide”


“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.”
Ray Bradbury (author of “Fahrenheit 451”, written in 1953)
“No se necesita quemar libros para destruir una cultura.  Basta con hacer que la gente los deje de leer.” Ray Bradbury (autor de “Fahrenheit 451”, escrito en 1953)

March 21, 2018 BENEMERITO

Benemérito comes from the Latin bene-well, honourably, properly and meritus-deserved; meaning “honourably deserved”, it is an adjective to describe someone (or something, such as an institution) deserving great recognition for good actions or qualities.  In English, depending on the context, it may be translated as: worthy, distinguished, meritorious, or heroic.


“Benito Juárez nació el 21 de Marzo de 1806 en el estado mexicano de Oaxaca; por sus obras, se le conoce como “El Benemérito de las Américas.””

“Benito Juárez was born on March 21 1806 in the Mexican state of Oaxaca; for his actions, he is known as “Worthy of the Americas””


“El benemérito hispanista”  wordreference.com

“The distinguished hispanist” wordreference.com

March 20, 2018 SPRING

Spring is a very versatile word in English, as a noun and as a verb, which translates to several different words in Spanish.  As a noun, it could be the season following winter, from March to June in the Northern hemisphere, and September to December in the Southern hemisphere (Primavera); a coil that recovers its shape after being compressed (resorte); a small water stream (manantial).  As a verb, this word could mean to move or jump suddenly (avalanzarse, aventarse), or to originate or arise from (brotar).


“First day of spring, today, March 20, 2018”
“El primer día de la Primavera, hoy, Marzo 20, 2018”


Spring is the time of plans and projects” Leo Tolstoy
La Primavera es la temporada de planes y proyectos” Leo Tolstoy

March 19, 2018 SALSA

The Spanish word salsa refers to any liquid or semi-liquid preparation to add flavour to food; it comes from the Latin salsus – salted, because salt was one of the principal ingredients in many sauces.  In English, the word sauce comes from Old French, but originally derives from the same Latin word salsus.  Nowadays, the term in both English and Spanish is also used for sweet preparations.  This term is also used figuratively, in both languages, to indicate someone making a situation more exciting or interesting.  The word salsa, in both languages, also refers to a form of Latin American dance.


“Se puede agregar salsa de chocolate al helado”
“Chocolate sauce may be added to ice cream”


“There was no consolation in saucing his ambition with fantasies of wealth”
Oxford Dictionary
“No tuvo consuelo en ponerle salsa a su ambición con fantasías de riqueza”
Diccionario Oxford

“Different regions of Latin America and the United States have distinct salsa styles of their own, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, Cali Colombia, L.A. and New York styles.”

“Diferentes regiones de América Latina y los Estados Unidos tienen estilos distintivos de salsa que les son propios, como los estilos cubano, puertorriqueño, colombiano de Cali, L.A. y Nueva York.”

March 18, 2018 PARSNIP

Biennial (two-year life cycle) tuberous root, with cream-coloured skin and flesh.  From the carrot family, parsnip is called chirivía in Spain, and another possible translation to Spanish is pastinaca, from its Latin scientific name Pastinaca sativa; however, this root vegetable is not common in Mexico.  The English-Spanish Collins Online Dictionary states that “… parsnip is in the lower 50% of commonly used words in the Collins dictionary.”


“I don’t usually buy parsnips for my kitchen”
“Por lo regular, yo no compro chirivías para mi cocina” Spanish from Spain
“Por lo regular, yo no compro “parsnips” para mi cocina” Spanish from Mexico


“That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip.” From “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius”, an essay by George Orwell.

“Lo que no quiere decir que el futuro es fijo, solo que ciertas alternativas son posibles y otras no.  Una semilla puede germinar o no, pero en cualquier caso, un nabo nunca crece para ser una chirivía” De “El león y el unicornio: socialismo y el genio inglés”, un ensayo por George Orwell.

March 16, 2018 CILANTRO

Spanish word to refer to the plant Coriandrum sativum; the English word is coriander, although in recent years, cilantro has been adopted in Canada and the US to refer to the herb when it is green, whereas the word coriander is used more frequently to refer to the spice, which are the dry seeds of the plant.  In Great Britain, the herb is coriander, and the spice is called coriander seed.  In Spanish, the herb is cilantro, and the spice, semilla de cilantro (semilla means seed.)


Coriander is a basic ingredient to prepare Mexican sauces, but coriander seed is also used, especially in sweet confections”  British speaker

Cilantro is a basic ingredient to prepare Mexican sauces, but coriander is also used, especially in sweet confections”  American speaker

Cilantro es un ingrediente básico para preparar salsas mexicanas, pero la semilla de cilantro también se utiliza, especialmente en preparaciones dulces” Spanish speaker


“Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.”    from “Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault” By Harold McGee April 13, 2010 in the Food section of The New York Times.

 “Algunas personas pueden tener una predisposición genética para detester el cilantro, de acuerdo a los estudios, frecuentemente citados, de Charles J. Wysocki del Centro de sentidos químicos Monell en Filadelfia.”  en “Odiadores del cilantro, no es su culpa” por Harold McGee Abril 13, 2010 en la sección de comida del Times de Nueva York.

March 15, 2018 CATSUP

This is the original English spelling for ketchup, a condiment derived from an Asian fish sauce, which did not have tomato as an ingredient!  In the 1800s, a tomato version was becoming more and more popular in the US, but people were using both the original spelling “catsup”, as well as “ketchup”, which sounded closer to the Asian sauce, either the Cantonese k’e chap, or the Malay kechap [1].  The standardization of the form “ketchup”  became more evident by the 1900s, because Heinz had started bottling its tomato version of the sauce with the new spelling on the label in the 1880s [2].  Incidentally, catsup is still the Spanish word for ketchup.


“Pass the ketchup
“Pasa el catsup


“In theater, blood is ketchup; in performance, everything is real”
Marina Abramović, Serbian artist
“En teatro, sangre es catsup; en actuación, todo es real”
Marina Abramović, artista serbia

March 14, 2018 TOMATO

In English, tomato is any variety of the species Lycopersicon esculentum from the Solanaceae family.  These include the familiar red specimens, but also any other heirloom or new varieties in different colours.  In most of the Hispanic world, the accepted word is tomate.  Both words derive from the Nahuatl word tomatl, from tomohuac=fat y atl=water (Nahuatl is the language of the Mexica, or Aztec, civilization, in Central Mexico).  That means the fruit was juicy even when the first specimens arrived in Europe, although they were probably yellow and smallish; in Italy they were named Pomo d’oro (golden apple) and Pomme d’amour (love apple) in France.  The large red varieties were developed separately, and there is another Nahuatl word, xictomatl, from xictli=navel as a prefix for tomatl, meaning “navel tomato”, to refer to them.  Around Mexico City, it is common to call all varieties of Lycopersicon (regardless of shape or colour) jitomate, and reserve the word tomate for another fruit of the Solanaceae family, the Physalis ixocarpa, or what is called tomatillo in English.  This is a very localized colloquialism, because the rest of the country uses tomate for the Lycopersicon and tomate verde (meaning “green tomato” in reference to its colour) for the Physalis. Tomatillo is originally a variety of tiny Physalis, called tomate de milpa in Spanish, but the term tomatillo was probably adopted in English to avoid confusions between Physalis and under-ripened tomatoes (green tomatoes.)


En conclusion, Los jitomates y tomates en el centro de México son los tomates y tomates verdes en el resto del país, respectivamente.  En inglés, serían tomatoes y tomatillos, respectivamente, y green tomatoes son los frutos inmaduros.

In conclusion, Jitomates and tomates in Central Mexico are called tomates and tomates verdes, respectively, in the rest of the country.  In English, they would be tomatoes and tomatillos, respectively, and green tomatoes are un-ripened fruit.


“ … el tomate, astro de tierra,
Estrella repetida y fecunda,
nos muestra sus circunvoluciones,
sus canales,…”                                          “Oda al tomate”, Pablo Neruda

“ … the tomato, earthy star,
Multiplied and fertile celestial body,
showing us its convolutions,
its channels … “                                      “Ode to tomato”, Pablo Neruda

March 13, 2018 PANCAKE

In wordreference.com [1], a pancake is defined as a “fried flat batter”, which used to be a general definition in Canada a few years ago.  When I first came to Canada, I recall people calling the regular breakfast discs simply “pancakes”, and the thin fancy ones “French pancakes” or “thin pancakes.”  The same reference above gives several options for a translation to Spanish: tortita, panqueque, crepe, and the one used in Mexico hotcakes (like that, in English); when I asked friends – born in Canada – why would Mexicans call them “hotcakes,” I was told it was an “American thing.”  In Japan, there seems to be a feeling that hotcakes are fluffier and sweeter than pancakes [2], maybe thinking of pancakes as French crêpes.  In Mexico, the latter are called crepas, and in Canada and the US, we call them “crepes” nowadays.  In summary, the thin French discs are called crepes in English and crepas in Spanish; the thick, fluffy discs are called pancakes in Canada, and hotcakes in Mexico and the US (never mind flapjacks and griddlecakes, that’s definitely an “American thing”).


“My friend would like the crepes with fruit, and for me, the pancakes, please” in Canada
“Mi amigo quiere las crepas con fruta, y para mí, los hotcakes, por favor”            in Mexico


“Hot cakes cooked in bear grease or pork lard were popular from earliest times in America. First made of cornmeal, the griddle cakes or pancakes were of course best when served piping hot and were often sold at church benefits, fairs, and other functions. So popular were they that by the beginning of the 19th century ‘to sell like hot cakes‘ was a familiar expression for anything that sold very quickly effortlessly, and in quantity.” From: phrases.org.uk citing the “Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)[3]

March 12, 2018 MIEL

The Spanish word miel applies to any sticky and thick edible liquid, usually sweet, so in translation, it could be honey, the English word that refers exclusively to the substance that bees produce (or as a term of affection) , or it would otherwise translate as syrup, used for sweet sticky liquids derived from sources other than bees.  (Note: jarabe is another Spanish word for syrup)


“Con el té, la miel de abeja va mejor que la miel de maple

“With tea, honey goes better than maple syrup”                   correct translation

“With tea, honey goes better than maple honey”                   incorrect translation

“Con el té, la miel de abeja va mejor que el jarabe de maplecorrect but not used in Mexico


“The sweetest honey is loathsome in its own deliciousness. And in the taste, destroys the appetite. Therefore, love moderately.”           In Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

“La más dulce miel de abeja es detestable en su delicia misma. Y en su gusto, destruye el apetito. Por lo tanto, ama moderadamente.”             Romeo y Julieta, William Shakespeare

March 11, 2018 MAPLE

In English, the word maple refers to a family of trees, and everything related to them, including the sticky treat for pancakes, maple syrup.  In Mexico, it is common to refer to the syrup as miel de maple, but the proper translation for maple is arce.  In fact, the dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language gives one definition for the word: “maple – envase para huevos.” which means “maple – egg container”!  I personally had never heard the use of the word to refer to an egg carton, and in Mexico, many people will not know what “miel de arce” is, so both English and Spanish speaking people can rest assured that “miel de maple” is an accepted term in Mexico.  These guidelines do not apply to other countries; for example, Costa Rica seems to use the phrase as in Mexico, but in Argentina and even in Spain, there appears to be a regional or generational divide, so I would just try both to be safe.


“I like maple syrup” –  “ Me gusta la miel de maple”        accepted in Mexico

                                               “Me gusta la miel de arce”            proper, but not used in Mexico

Quote: “ … miel de maíz, miel de maple, miel de piloncillo …”

en la definición de “miel”, Diccionario del Español de México

                  ” … corn syrup, maple syrup, piloncillo syrup …”

in the definition of “syrup/honey” Spanish Dictionary of Mexico

March 10, 2018 TUNA

This word is a great example of a false cognate (see “Is this Spanglish?” at the top of this page) because it is spelled and pronounced exactly the same in English and Spanish, but it has very different meanings.  In English, tuna refers to the important commercial group of large edible fish that comprises familiar names such as Albacore, Bluefin and Yellowfin; the Spanish word for this fish is atún.  In Spanish, tuna is the name for the edible fruit of the paddle cactus, known in English as the prickly pear.


“When I went to Baja last summer, I enjoyed a simple lunch of grilled tuna and prickly pears

“Cuando fuí a Baja el Verano pasado, disfruté un almuerzo sencillo de atún asado y tunas


“Los ojos ven, las manos tocan,
Bastan aquí unas cuantas cosas:
tuna, espinoso planeta coral, … “     “Himno entre ruinas”, by Octavio Paz

“Eyes see, hands touch,
A few things are enough:
prickly pear, thorny coral planet, … ”

March 9, 2018  LECHO and LECHE

Two Spanish words today: “lecho” is a synonym of “cama”, which means “bed” in English, and “leche” means “milk”.   A very well-known phrase “el lecho y el pan”, which means “bed and bread”, is used to refer to people (usually a couple) living together.  Many poets and song writers have used one form or another of this basic idea, because the words just flow beautifully in Spanish.  Unfortunately, English speakers will probably learn “cama” as a basic word, but they might not be familiar with “lecho”, and confuse it with “leche” which next to the word bread, might make sense to them.  Needless to say, the poetic symbolism is sadly and completely lost.


“AMO el amor que se reparte
en besos, lecho y pan.”                       Quote from “Farewell”, by Pablo Neruda

“I LOVE the love that is divided
amongst kisses, bed and bread.”      Proper translation

“I LOVE the love that is divided
amongst kisses, milk and bread.”     Improper translation

March 8, 2018  SEMAPHORE

The English word “semaphore”, sounds like “semáforo,” the Spanish word for “traffic lights.”  From the Greek sema-sign/signal, and phoros-bearer, a semaphore is defined as an apparatus or system for signaling, so technically, traffic lights are an example of a semaphore.  However, the word is used in English for a signaling device, as in a railroad crossing, or a person bearing signaling flags, which in Spanish would be “señales de tren o banderas” (train or flag signals.)


 “Luis didn’t see the traffic lights, and drove through the red.  Luckily, he didn’t miss the semaphore at the railroad crossing”

“Luis no vió el semáforo, y se pasó cuando estaba en rojo.  Por suerte, no se perdió la señal del tren

Quote : “I haven’t spoken to him since that one night, dreamscape in the moon-filled sitting room.  He’s only my flag, my semaphore.  Body language.”  From “The Handmaid’s Tale”, by Margaret Atwood.