Spanish is a beautiful language with influences from Vulgar Latin and Arabic. It has long, rolling r’s, and its characteristic ñ (eñe). Though found in other languages, such as Galician and Basque, Spanish has given the ñ alphabetical righteousness: The ñ has its own place, after the n, in the Spanish alphabet. The language’s song-like rhythm, phonetic structure, and country-specific uniqueness are perhaps some of the reasons why Spanish is the most sought-after foreign language in the United States.
Perhaps it is due to the beauty and uniqueness of this language that not all the words are translatable. For language learners looking to expand their vocabulary, here are 20 words that have no English equivalent. You will find an example of its usages right below it.
To wear something new for the first time.
*Notice how in the first example, I don’t translate “¿Estás estrenando” as “Are you wearing them for the time?” That sounds odd in English.
I don’t think my name, Irma, is very common, so I was very surprised when, in high school, I heard someone in a poetry class who was my tocaya. She had my name. This noun could be either tocayo or tocaya, male and female versions, respectively.
In Spanish, there are two ways to refer to someone directly: formal or informally. Usted is formal, and tú is informal. Tutear literally means to use the tú form.
The second example is the imperative form of the verb. It is very common for someone to say this when they would like to have a more informal relationship with you.
To have an afternoon snack. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not enough for us. The word for snack is merienda.
Speaking of food, do you enjoy chatting with friends after having lunch or dinner? In Spanish, that is called la sobremesa. It follows the meal with guests remaining at the table.
Since you insist on talking about food, here is another (not-so-)delicious verb: empalagar. You know those meals that just make you feel so heavy because you ate in excess? That’s where the verb empalagar comes from: when you end up feeling cloyed and (figuratively) sick or nauseous from what you ate. And usually regret not saying no to the (entire) box of chocolates.
Love is everything, isn’t it? Apparently so. Perhaps that’s why Spanish uses two I love yous. The first is “Te quiero,” which is used with friends, loved ones, and perhaps that guy you love but are not yet in love with. The second is “Te amo.” When someone tells you “Te amo,” you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
A man or woman with only one eye. Note, however, that a Cyclop, the one-eyed monster from The Odyssey, would not be considered tuerto. They are born with one eye. Tuerto implies that one of the eyes was lost or impaired.
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, what are our eyebrows? In Spanish, the space between the eyebrows is called entrecejo.
Note how in both examples I chose to translate entrecejo as simply brows or eyebrows. It wouldn’t make such sense to say “The space between the brows” in English.
Someone who is very sensitive to the cold or who always feels cold.
To stay up at night. This is different from insomnia, or insomnio in Spanish. Desvelarse could imply that something interfered with your sleep.
To get up at the crack of dawn. The noun, la madrugada, means very early morning, or dawn.
To get dark, twilight, dusk. The noun is la tarde.
Composed of the words ante (before) and ayer (yesterday), anteayer means the day before yesterday. Antier is synonymous to anteayer.
The night before last night. In other words, two nights ago.
The corner inside a house, restaurant, or establishment. When referring to a corner, as in the store at the corner, the correct word is esquina.
Your sister-in-law’s husband, or your brother-in-law’s wife. Believe it or not, this word is also used to refer to your sister-in-law’s brother or sister, as well as your brother-in-law’s brother or sister. Yes, I know: When will you ever use this word? This is still a wonder to me. But here are two examples:
To be extremely attached to one’s mother. Like a good Latina, I am guilty as charged.
Your son or daughter’s godmother. Compadre is your son or daughter’s godfather. They are also used to refer to a very close friend.
Feeling someone else’s embarrassment. I know you want to be empathetic, but don’t you have enough troubles already?
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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