Sunday, June 21, 2009

Word of the Day: Comején

Comején is what ticos say for 'termite', instead of the Spanish 'termita'.

In Costa Rica when a word ends in an 'n' it sounds like a voiced velar nasal [ŋ], which is the same as the 'ng' ending in English words.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Word of the Day: Sólido

In rural areas of Costa Rica some people employ the word sólido to mean isolated, solitary. For example, a farm that doesn't have access to a road could be considered sólido.

Ex: La finca de Carlos está muy lejos del camino. Es muy sólida.

Geographically Neutral Spanish: " "...Es muy solitaria

Translation: Carlos's farm is very far from the road. It is very solitary.

My use of the word 'solitary' is not incidental. I suspect that the use of sólido arises from a confusion between 'sólido' and 'solitario', the latter of which is a proper translation for the word 'solitary'.

If you're traveling to Costa Rica you probably won't hear this word, but if you venture into the countryside, you will come across people who have come across this usage.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Word of the Day: Toldo

A toldo is a mosquito net in Costa Rican speak. A more common word in the Spanish-speaking world is mosquitero, but the Costa Ricans say toldo, which literally means 'awning' or 'canopy'.

Toldos are very important for tourists and locals alike, as the mosquito (called 'zancudo' by Costa Ricans) is the most dangerous non-human animal in the country. Dengue fever and malaria continue to rear their heads, mostly in the Pacific and Atlantic sides, respectively.

Many Costa Ricans will deny the existence of malaria in their country, but cases are documented every year. For some meaningful anecdotal evidence, let me inform you that a friend of mine contracted malaria after spending only a weekend in the Limón province. I still recommend Costa Rica to travelers and aspiring ex-pats, but you should still consult a doctor before you go to take proper precautions. When I went on vacation to Costa Rica's Atlantic coast in January I took a chloroquine-based malaria medication just in case. I will take the same measures on subsequent trips.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The "-illo" suffix

In Costa Rica, especially in the rural areas, people use the -illo diminutive suffix quite often. Since it's used liberally, the derogatory connotation does not apply--at least not in all cases and not to the same extent.

One common use, which is not unique to Costa Rica, is the use of 'chiquilla' to mean a young woman--often in a suggestive (but not inappropriate) way. Think of the word 'chick' in English with a more positive connotation.

A potential problem that arises when you use the -illo suffix is that many Spanish words change their meaning drastically when affixing -illo or -illa. For example, manzanilla isn't a little apple, but rather chamomile.

One time when I was moving tables around for a community event in a rural area, a man warned me that the tables were "pesadillas", which means that they're 'nightmares'. What he meant to say was that they are heavy, which for most Spanish speakers would be: "[las mesas] son pesadas". While I understood what he said in this context, the liberal use of the -illo suffix has the potential for creating confusing situations.

Here's a list of words to look out for, all of which have a different meaning from their suffix-less counterparts. (Keep in mind that not all of these pairs of words share the same morphological roots; for example, pandilla and panda do not share etymological origins.)

comilla (quotation mark) ≠ coma (comma)
pandilla (gang) ≠ panda (panda)
guerrilla (guerrilla) ≠ guerra (war)
sombrilla (umbrella) ≠ sombra (shade)
bombilla (light bulb, drinking straw in parts of South America) ≠ bomba (bomb)
pesadilla (nightmare) ≠ pesada (heavy)

There are countless others. These are just a few off the top of my head.