Not quite there: Commentary on Communication

There have been some great posts flying around the Spanish-English blogo sphere community recently. Abby talked about her breast infection. Lydia talked about her husband getting free condoms from a guy on the street. And Margaret coined the phrase “fake false cognates” and gave the examples: Supportar, Regular, Cinico, and Ordinario.

You may have noticed from some of these examples that the misunderstand turned out to be sexual in nature. Somehow in Chilean Spanish this is very common.  In fact, even if the word doesn’t mean something sexual, it probably has a second sexual connotation that is known and used colloquial.  Don’t believe me? Go find the book How to Survive the Chilean Jungle.  Or, better yet (and cheaper) check out Heather’s wonderful page on Chilean language.

Okay, now it is time for Clare’s embarrassing story hour. I have already mentioned that I was an exchange student in high school in Rancagua Chile. I did a lot of things that year that are embarrassing to look back on and I certainly made a lot of language errors that are embarrassing to look back on. This, however, is the worst.  And, technically, I wasn’t even the one to say it.  But, if a story of warning is to be told about stretching language abilities and saying the opposite of what one wants to say… this is it.

I had a good American friend in my town, there were actually 9 of us.  But, one day, or rather, one night, I was at this friends house. We got all dressed up and ready to go to the discoteca.  Like all adolescense we were sure that we were big and adult and could take care of ourselves. Like a good US teenage girl, we saw ourselves and good feminists and we need no boys to “take care of” us.

A host mother was concerned that we were going out together and without boys from our class to protect us. We argued back in passable Spanish that we would be fine. That everyone did it. That we were big and strong and smart and self reliant.  The mom continued that we could be raped.  We wanted to say we would fight back, but we didn’t have the words. We wanted to say that we would punch them. But we didn’t have the words.  My friend, however, did have a ring in the shape of a frog.

Short Spanish lesson:  Frog= Rana.  Toad= Sapo.

So, she told the mom that she would hit the rapist with her sapo.  I backed her up. It seamed a reasonable way to get around our lack of language— and hopefully out the door.  Suddenly, there was a stunned host mother gasping “QUE???”.  So the story was repeated.  Laughter ensued.  And, a bit later we got out the door.

It took us two days to find out what had been said. Everyone who heard the story feel over laughing, but refused to translate.  Turns out, in vulgar slang, it refers to female genitalia.  Yea.  Think of that word in English and then insert it into the sentence, “don’t worry, I will hit the rapist with my ________”



  1. Hahahaha this one is great! And you’re right…ANYTHING can be turned into a sexual innuendo in Chile. They permanently have their minds in the gutter!!

  2. hehehehe . that would have been hilarious to have seen 😉

    I hate that they never want to tell you your super vulgar error. annoying. I was about to turn in a movie review to my professor in high school here, before someone would explain to me why I couldn’t tell my professor that the movie was “la raja”!! Only then was in explained to me that that means buttcrack 🙂 so I changed my wording before handing in the assignment.

  3. Someone in my high school turned in a paper on El Pene De La Muerte. Hilarious. It went on for pages, el pene de la muerte es mas fuerte en Texas. Creo que el pene de la muerte viola los derechos humanos. Creo que es cruel. et. etc. etc.

  4. Happened to stumble upon your blog. Was in Rancagua 1978-79 and a bit of 1980. It’s so good to know that many of the ahem colloqualisms are still in place. Sapo….roflmao

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