Book review: Talk Dirty Spanish

May 26, 2008

There are three books that I regularly recommend (in no particular order) to those who wish to sell to or communicate with Hispanics, and Mexicans specifically: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding, The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, and The Children of Sanchez by Oscar Lewis.  But I now have an addition to the list: Talk Dirty Spanish by Laura Martinez and Alexis Murnier.

Talk Dirty Spanish offers a non-official guide to the slang, lingo and dirty words of the Spanish language. Through sixteen chapters, each one addressing different social and individual situations, the book presents words and phrases with literal and contextual explanations as well as examples of use within the context of a conversation.  For example, the chapter devoted to drinking alcohol includes the phrase “estar hasta las manitas,” which, according to the authors, means to be drunk while the literal translation is “to be up to the little hands.”  The authors then provide the following use of the phrase:  “El portero de la escuela siempre esta hasta las manitas,” with the accompanying translation:  “The doorman of the school is always very drunk.”

Although Talk Dirty Spanish encompasses slang and lingo from most Latin American countries and Spain, the book has a clear Mexican emphasis, and even among the Mexican slang contained in the book, the majority of words and expressions are more common in the Mexico City region.  This is understandable since one of the authors, Laura Martinez, was born and raised in Mexico’s capital.

Talk Dirty Spanish provides a valuable source of information (and entertainment) to both English-language and Spanish-language readers.  For the former, the book provides a guide beyond the textbook to understand not only Latinos’ way of speaking but also idiosyncrasies, and the book can be a couch-side reference book while watching Univision or Telemundo.  For the latter, it gives Latinos pause to appreciate the way we communicate and think.

Regarding my other recommendations, Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays that deconstruct the essence of Mexican society; Distant Neighbors is the view of modern Mexico by a longtime New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City; and The Children of Sanchez is a novel that resulted from a study in which anthropologist Oscar Lewis spent several months living with a low-income family in the Barrio de Tepito, one of Mexico City’s poorest neighborhoods. These three books provide a better understanding of the way Mexicans live and think; Talk Dirty Spanish addresses how they talk.

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Playeras Latinas ( Latino T-shirts)

May 26, 2008

Almost a year ago, Macy’s department store introduced the NaCo brand t-shirts to the U.S. market. The t-shirts, with their selection of catchy phrases, slogans and adaptations from Mexican slang, made the brand an instant success within the U.S. Hispanic population, especially among Latinos with Mexican roots.

Phrases like “Ser Naco es Chido” (Being Tacky is cool), Brown is the new White, and Se Habla Español (Spanish Spoken) that mock Latino tackiness garnered great attention from the public and the media, while some Latino-rights advocates considered the phrases racist.  In response, Macy’s pulled the shirts off the racks and issued a public apology.

But the fact is that these t-shirts were originally conceived and designed for the Mexican market, appealing to the Latino sense of humor and capacity to parody themselves. In Mexico, the NaCo t-shirts were perceived as a “cute” trend, adopted mainly by wealthy members of the society.

In Mexico (and Latin America), wearing a garment with a slogan doesn’t mean that the individual endorses or agrees with the statement, especially when these slogans are written in another language. For instance, I have seen Hispanic males and females both in Mexico and in the U.S. wearing garments from the RED Campaign or Walk for Breast Cancer without having a clue of the meaning of the message they were promoting.

Of course, the opposite is true when it comes to wearing sports team-related garments.  Those individuals are acutely aware of the symbolism of the slogans and colors they wear, and they will defend them with pride.

Meanwhile, another brand of Latino-themed t-shirts has entered the U.S. market, but this time the clothing is designed and created in Texas by a company called Siesta Tees.  Siesta Tees offers a line of garments with less “controversial” topics and designs that appeal first- and second-generation U.S Hispanics. Phrases like “ I © abuela” ( I © grandma),  Can you say chula? (cutie) and a couple of designs from their Ojo (eye) Collection, which, according to the company’s Web site:

… was inspired by abuela, tía and that egg they put under the bed. Mexican folklore believes that people who envy or are jealous of babies give them the evil eye, which causes the kiddos to get sick. To rid the little ones of the evil eye you pray over them with the egg and place it under their bed, and poof the little one is rid of the OJO.


Adapting messages: Correct usage of Spanish Language (Part II)

March 4, 2008

Second and final part of Gonzalo’s presentation…enjoy!

III. Adapt the Message

A.-Remember “who” is your target market.
Be careful of cultural differences and regional sensibilities.

i.e., Salsa music is not Mexican, Chileans and Argentineans do not eat rice and beans, Burritos are not Mexican, and pupusas are not the same as arepas.

B.-Remember your demographics:

i.e., Miami Cubans, Newyoricans, Chicanos, Mexicanos and others. First generation, second generation….

C.-Think different! Hispanics are a different public. Do not try to use literal translations from English.

Quiz: How do you translate Got milk or Got eggs?
A: A direct translation could be interpreted in a different way. You have to adapt as “Tome leche” (Drink milk) or “Compre huevos” (buy eggs).

D.-Same words have different meanings.

Guagua: in South America means baby (from quechua); in the Caribbean it means bus (spanglish from wagon). Corn in South America is known as choclo, while in Mexico and Central America is known as elote.

E.-Watch out for double meaning. Some words may be interpreted as “dirty” by some Hispanics.

i.e., Bolsa (hand bag) in Dominican Republic means testicles; chaqueta in most Latin America means jacket while in Mexico means to masturbate. Pelotas (balls) En pelotas (to be naked) Pelotas (stupid) (Chile) Pelota (group C.R.)

F.-Do not rely on Internet translation pages or software (Altavista… etc.)

Example: “The Media Network is a full-service public relations, advertising, and social marketing agency” was translated in Altavista as:

“La red de los medios es relaciones públicas de un lleno-servicio, publicidad, y la agencia social de la comercialización,”which back in English reads as:

“The net of media is public relations of a full service, publicity and the social agency of the commercialization”

G.-Do not rely on Microsoft Office spell check. Microsoft HQ are not located within the Spanish Royal Academy building.

H.-Use simple language. Avoid “SAT” or “GRE” vocabulary. Yes, we already know you are very smart.

IV.- Where can I get more information?

National Association of Hispanic Journalist Style Book (recommended): Can be bought from: http://www.nahj.org/nahjproducts/stylebookrequest.pdf

Spanish Language Royal Academy (the final authority): http://www.rae.es/

El Mundo Newspaper Dictionary: http://www.elmundo.es/diccionarios/index.html

El Pais Style Manual: http://estudiantes.elpais.es/libroestilo/dic_a.asp


Adapting messages: Correct usage of Spanish Language (Part I)

March 3, 2008

Gonzalo Salvador (aka González), a PR colleague, just shared with me a presentation with great advice and insights that should be consider when adapting any English document or message into Spanish.

I. Assumptions to Avoid

A.-Not every person who speaks Spanish is an expert in the Spanish language.

B.-Not all Hispanics are equal. Usage of the Spanish language among U.S. Hispanics depend on different factors such as country of origin, generation, region of residence. Each group has its own vocabulary and its own colloquialisms.

If you are thinking about asking…

Q: What are the differences between Hispanics and Latinos and what is the right word to use?
A: This question could create a long discussion. Just as a reference in the East Coast is more widely used “Hispanics” while in the West Coast is “Latinos.”

Q: Is there a standard Spanish I can use?
A: No. But you can use neutral words and you can use the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) dictionary as a reference. Remember to always use language appropriate to you target audience.

II. Common Grammatical Mistakes

A.-Try avoid the use of gerunds (-ando, -endo).
Example: Use “salta” (to jump) instead of “saltando” (jumping).

B.-Use active verbs when possible: Try to avoid the translation of the have + verb form into Spanish. Example: He has jumped (el ha saltado), might sound better as (el salta or el saltó)

C.-Avoid commonly misused words.

Quiz: Are the following translations correct?:

Protester: Protestante
A: Incorrect. It should be “manifestante.” Protestante means protestant (religious denomination)

Facilities: Facilidades
A: Incorrect. It should be “instalaciones.” Facilidades is related to easy.

Aplication: Aplicación
A: Incorrect. It sould be “solicitud.” Aplicación means “to apply towards…” such as to apply force.

Act: Ley
A: Correct. “Acta” in Spanish is a document.

D.-Always try to use alternatives to gender.
i.e. Avoid using she/he (ella, él)

E.-Check for the order of words in a sentence. (Nuevo Carro, Carro Nuevo)

F.-Avoid using too many articles (la, el). (leísmo)
Example: Women’s Health Center as Centro de la Salud de las Mujeres. It is better to use: Centro Médico para Mujeres.
By the way, the comas (,) are always located outside marks. (i.e. “”, not “,”)

To be continued…