Navigating today’s global world—including Hispanic business, media, politics, and marketing—is not always an easy task. More often than not, you’ll bump into some funky terms and jargon that will make your head spin. If you find yourself thinking, “What is going on here?” (or, if you are truly bilingual, ¿Qué rayos está pasando?), just know that you’re not alone.
But worry not. This columnist has your back, and starting today, I’ll take you on a not-so-serious journey through the complexities of Spanish grammar, lingo, and jargon so you can write—and talk—like a pro during your next hora feliz at the office.
WARNING: This monthly Hisplaining column will be handled with a serious dose of humor.
To kick off this series, I’d like to start with the basics: the dreaded tildes, eñes, acentos, and false cognates (aka false friends, or falsos amigos) that can make or break an email, marketing campaign, or product geared toward a Hispanic audience.
The dreaded “eñe”: “Ñ” or “ñ” is the fifteenth letter (and twelfth consonant) of the Spanish alphabet. It is, in a nutshell, an “n” with a little thing (which we like to call a tilde) placed on top. While it’s used in other languages, the “eñe” has come to exemplify the Spanish language. Alas, a lot of folks still fail to use it properly. (And who can blame them, when it’s so damn hard to find them on our keyboards??)
Is the eñe really worth the trouble of finding and using those keyboard shortcuts? Well, try telling someone “Feliz Ano Nuevo” instead of “Feliz Año Nuevo” (Happy New Year) and see what happens. Even New York City’s COVID-19 alert system cannot seem to get it right. Ooops!
I’m glad our editors here at Hispanic Executive Magazine get it right, as in this great piece on Chef Diana Dávila, who started her career at her family’s restaurant, Hacienda Jalapeños (not Jalapenos).
Those pesky accents: While we’re on the subject of grammar and punctuation, we should cover accents. If you forget to use these, some Spanish words will mean something completely different—just like “ano” has a totally different meaning from “año.”
Using accents properly will also save you from a lot of public embarrassment. Take the word “papá” (father, dad): when there’s an accent, this is an endearing term you can use to refer to one of your progenitors. But beware: it becomes a starchy tuber (“papa” / potato) if you forget the accent. (It transforms again if you add a capital “P”—”Papa” / Pope.)
The same goes for mamá/mama, circulo/círculo, más/mas, sí/si and tons of other Spanish paronyms. If you’re ever not sure when to use an accent, feel free to reach out to us—we’ll help you sort it out.
Watch out for false friends: People say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but . . . what are we to do with so-called false friends?
False friends (also known as false cognates) are words that sound or look pretty much the same in English and Spanish. They will lure you into thinking that they have the exact same meaning in both languages, but DON’T BELIEVE IT. These words are tricky little grammatic creatures that can easily make you stumble when you’re trying to appear totally plugged into two languages.
“Embarrassed” is my favorite example of a false cognate. Unless you’re pregnant and are trying to share the joyful news, please don’t say, “Estoy embarazado” or “Estoy embarazada.” It should be “Estoy avergonzado” or “Estoy avergonzada.”
Examples abound, but here are just few others you should be aware of:
“Contento” means happy, NOT content. That’s contenido. For example, if you’re trying to say something like, “Hispanic Executive has lots of great content,” you’d use contenido.
“Librería” is a bookstore, not a library (biblioteca).
“Constipado” may sound like “constipated,” but it actually means “to have a cold.” “Constipated” is translated as estreñido.
OK, you get the idea.
Stay tuned for Laura Martinez’s next Hisplaining column, which will tackle other key biz terms and jargon and help leaders everywhere smoothly navigate the multicultural business world. In the meantime, send us tips and ideas for other terms and jargon that you’d like to see us feature. And remember: don’t panic . . . it’s just his-PANIC!