Mysterious motives in Spanish pawn movie

The Chess Player

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, French and German languages – and possibly your chess skills too – then here is the film for you: El jugador de ajedrez (The Chess Player). I saw it at part of Australia’s 2018 Spanish Film Festival, which at the time of writing is still running in Adelaide, Brisbane (till May 13) and Perth (till May 16).

A female French journalist Marianne (played by Melina Matthews) barges in at a crucial moment in a championship game involving a handsome Spaniard Diego (Marc Clotet, above) and a not so handsome fat guy. Marianne is the not the only woman in the room but she is the only lady in red and stands out amid all the black, brown and grey and the wafts of cigarette smoke. She doesn’t know much about chess, but that’s journalism for you –  journalists are expected to quickly become experts in anything they are sent to cover; it requires rapid wit and intelligence, which is why I am one, haha. Luckily for Marianne there is another suave Spaniard, Javier (played by Alejo Sauras), on hand to explain to her the finer points of chess and the mind games involved.

Needless to say, the ugly fat guy loses and the beautiful people go out to celebrate over glasses of champagne. But which handsome Spaniard will woo the French femme? More mind games!

Then things get sinister, first with the Spanish Civil War, then World War Two and the Nazi occupation of Paris. This is your cue to watch the trailer…

Just when it seems there is no hope for Diego, suddenly the chessboard is back on the table, courtesy of Colonel Maier (Stefan Weinert), who likes chess and Anton Bruckner (“the greatest composer since Beethoven” – I am with him on that one) and has a sharp mind, making interesting observations on religion and society. Diego becomes his protégé. “I hope you understand my motives,” the Colonel says. Even though I am a very intelligent journalist, I hadn’t a clue what his motives were!


El jugador de ajedrez is not a perfect film by any means but it is a gripping wartime drama, covering the whole gamut of human emotions: love, hope, despair, desperation, betrayal, courage, strength, brutality and bullying – war is the ultimate form of bullying, is it not? Don’t be put off if you don’t know much about chess: the game is peripheral to the action. This is more about how humans can be used or sacrificed as pawns. And maybe even sometimes the pawns can come out on top.


Multilingual portals that can fast-track your language learning: try Deutsche Welle

Hello, here is another look at how international broadcasters and their websites can help you with your language learning, with a focus on my five Romance languages. In the first instalment, we looked at the BBC with its online coverage in French, Spanish and Portuguese. In the second part of the series, we found Radio France Internationale went one better by adding Romanian to the above. But alas, no Italian.

Now we will look at the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. As you will see (if you have good eyesight!) from the screen grab below, taken from its English website here, its languages component is pretty impressive: 30 all up, including French, Romanian, Spanish, and both Portuguese for Brazil and Portuguese for Africa. When you go to the DW site, you have to click on the “DW.DE IN 30 LANGUAGES” on the far right of the thin light grey panel at the top of the page, and then the language options will appear as a pop-up above that.

DW languages

OK, let’s have a look at what stories DW is running on the weekend beginning February 28, and bearing in mind that sometimes these broadcasters’ websites are not so much news services but more of a platform to promote their radio or television features.

(I will switch to different coloured text from now on to distinguish my writing from DW’s. Otherwise you will get long slabs of black on white.)

Let’s start with French: the lead story on the home page (the Africa section) looks back at how 130 years ago the superpowers partitioned Africa – with little or no consideration of the needs of the Africans themselves. 

dw french newsOn the “International” page the lead story is how Islamic State militants are destroying archaeological treasures. 

dw french news2

DW’s Spanish site has a strong focus on Latin America. One of its main stories is the capture of a Mexican drug baron.

dw espagnol

On the Português do Brasil website, the assassination in Russia of former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is given the most prominence. 

DW portuguese brasil

But Brasil does get a mention, at least via the front cover (“capa“) of The Economist

dw portuguese brasil 2um atoleiro = a quagmire, mire, marshy place, puddle, embarrassment, mess, difficulty, pickle, immorality or degradation. 

On the Português para África website, the lead story is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s controversial and opulent 91st birthday party or “festa“.

dw portuguese port

Finally, to the Romanian page. As you would expect, much of the focus was on new Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’s recent visit to Berlin and meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss, among other things, Romania’s desire to enter the 26-nation Schengen Area, the security situation and possible Russian aggression in Moldova (which is between Ukraine and Romania). The Schengen talks also brought up the controversial issue of the emigration of Romanians to other parts of Europe, and whether this migration was good (buna) or bad (rea), and for whom, depending on whether they were skilled or unskilled workers. 

dw romanian

To read a report in English on Merkel’s and Iohannis’s meeting, go here.

How a backwater dialect – Castilian – became the talk of Spain

I am still travelling back in time to the Iberian Peninsula (that’s Spain and Portugal for the geographically challenged, plus bits of France and Andorra and Gibraltar), using Melveena McKendrick as my guide. I have moved on from the feats of Hasdrubal The Handsome, to the exploits of the likes of Sancho The Fat and Alfonso the Learned. I am now thinking of calling myself Bernard The Learned – I rather like the sound of it. (We won’t mention my fat levels).

The Alhambra, in Granada, which was the last Moslem area to fall back into the hands of the Christians. Image from Pixabay

The Alhambra, in Granada, which was the last Moslem area to fall back into the hands of the Christians. Image from Pixabay

So, to recap a bit, the collapse of Roman rule was followed by the Visigothic era, and then from 712 the Arab conquest began and “by 718 the country had fallen like a ripe plum into the hands of the caliph of Damascus, then capital of the Islamic world,” writes McKendrick, who must have had plum trees in her garden. Initially the Arabs/Moors did try to carry on into France, but they got beaten back at Poitiers and eventually settled into al-Andalus, as they called Islamic Spain, and from which Andalusia gets its name. They did not attempt to conquer the mountainous north of Spain (i.e. the regions we know as today, going from West to East, as Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country and Navarre). The Moslems adopted a policy of religious toleration, McKendrick notes, and the Christian communities living under Moslem rule, who were called Mozarabs, spoke Arabic and vulgar Latin. A prosperous period followed, al-Andalus became independent of Damascus (whose influence waned and Baghdad became the central authority) “tenth-century Moslem Spain [was] the cultural and intellectual center of a still-benighted Europe, a glittering meteor of civilization in a sky that was empty of all but a few stars“.

The Arabs were great farmers and cultivators. “A living testimony to the contribution made by Spanish Moslems to the life and economy of the Peninsula is that a large proportion of the four thousand Arabic words found in the Spanish language refer to agricultural produce and techniques and to commerce in general.”

Castile gets its names from the castles that characterised the region.  Pic from Pixabay

Castile gets its names from the castles that characterised the region. Pic from Pixabay

However, history and politics are all about power struggles, both internal and external. Regional tensions rose, and the Visigothic “mountain shepherds” of the north began to regroup. The kingdom of Asturias disintegrated into three, Asturias, Galicia and Léon, but then Galicia and Léon merged and the city of Léon became the capital. The kings of Léon had to build lots of castles on Spain’s central plateau to defend their territory, and this area became known as Castile, which soon grew in importance and was “cast in the spearhead role hitherto occupied by Léon. Asturias had spawned Léon and Léon had spawned Castile, and in each case the offspring had usurped the parent’s position.”

Even linguistically Castile assumed the lead,” McKendrick writes. “It was populated by migrations of mountaineers from the far north whose tongue was more emphatic and more primitive than the romance language spoken across the greater part of the Christian north. As Castile took the forefront of activities, the language became transformed from a backwater dialect into a vigorous innovatory vernacular to form the Castilian that became modern Spanish.”

So there you have it. It’s not the whole of the story, of course, from a linguistic and historic point of view. Castile occupied a central strip of the Peninsula, but there was what was to become Portugal to the west, and to the east what would become the Kingdom of Aragon and the principality of Catalonia. And let’s not forget Valencia and Murcia too.

Alfonso X (cenre) "LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourt". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Alfonso X (centre) “LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourt”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Later, when Alfonso X (The Learned) came to the throne of Castile, he embarked on a massive drive to have all the major scholarly works of the world translated, and it gave Castilian even more impetus. “Alfonso’s aim was to make the maximum amount of information available to the maximum number of people,” McKendrick notes, “and to this end the language into which his collaborators translated, and in which they wrote, was not Latin but Castilian. This meant that what was still a fairly primitive form of the vernacular, used in day-to-day living, was suddenly compelled to cope with a wide range of sophisticated subjects, and abstract concepts that were entirely strange to it. In the space of this one reign, therefore, Castilian became an infinitely richer and suppler form of expression – a language ripe for literary development.”

Enough history for now. Bernard The Learned is going to become Bernard The Bed-Ridden. Goodnight!

Carlos Vives’ Colombian conquest (and Teló’s too)

Here’s something unusual –  a terrific song with a mix of Spanish and Portuguese verses by two giants of South American music, Colombian Carlos Vives and Brazilian Michel Teló. As a bonus you get some splendid Colombian coastal scenery (the island of San Andrés in the Caribbean, actually) and a top local model, Laura Archbold, cavorting about as models do in music videos. Como Le Gusta a Tu Cuerpo spent 13 weeks at number one in Colombia from mid-January to April last year.The title means How Much Your Body Likes It  – but when you watch the video you would think it actually meant How I Love Your Brain, oops, I mean How I Love Your Body. Vives sings in Spanish and Teló (the younger, blonder guy) sings in Portuguese. Archbold sings in her bikini.

A translation of the lyrics of that song can be found here.

Vives has had an incredible spell of success in the past two years, in the build-up to and following the release in April 2013 of Corazón Profundo (Deep Heart), his first studio album in four years. It contained four number one singles and as a result, since October 1, 2012, Vives has spent an incredible 49 weeks at the top of the Colombian singles charts. But when you listen to his music, you can understand why. The choruses are very catchy. You can imagine patrons in the Colombian bars and people in parties singing and dancing to them out with gusto as they are played over the sound system.

The first single from the album, Volví a Nacer, (I Was Born Again) spent 16 weeks at number, from October 2012 to mid-January 2013. Here is the videoclip – there is 1 minute and 18 seconds of ‘art’ before the song begins.

It was then followed in the top spot by the more exuberant Vives/Teló effort, giving Vives 29 successive weeks on the top of the pops. But he wasn’t away for long: Lui-G 21 Plus had four weeks at number one with Un Beso (A Kiss), then Vives’ third single, Bailar Contigo (To Dance With You) spent seven weeks at number one, was knocked off the top spot for two weeks by J Balvin’s Solo, only to regain it for three weeks after that.   

Finally, the fourth single from the album, La Foto De Los Dos (The Photo of Both), spent 10 weeks in the top spot, from mid-October right up to the end of the year, replacing Marc Anthony’s lively Vivir Mi Vida (To Live My Life). Other Colombian artists must be sick of the dominance of Carlos Vives! His songs have done well in Venezuela, Mexico and to a lesser extent, the US too.

You can see from all these videos, I think, why Colombia has become a hot tourist destination.

The burgers are better when they are hamburguesas


Español: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s brush up on some Spanish. While most people traditionally associate the language with Spain or South America, one country that is increasingly becoming more Hispanic is The United States. The map above shows the reach of Spanish in the various states of America: the darker the blue, the more Latino it is. According to the latest estimates (for 2012) from the United States’ Census Bureau, 16.7 per cent of the estimated US population of 313,914,040 were Hispanic. That’s 52.4 million people. And one thing I noticed in America, the hamburguesas and patatas fritas (fries) seem más deliciosas y más exóticas when they are ordered in Spanish.

The nouns in Spanish don’t look too complicated. As usual with most Romance languages, they are either masculine or feminine.

Most of those ending in o are masculine. 

  • el libro (the book)
  • el muchacho (boy)
  • el hermano (brother)

Most of those ending in a are feminine

  • la muchacha (the girl)
  • la hermana (sister)

But once again all those words derived from Greek that end in a are masculine. Those Greeks like to be different!

  • el día (the day)
  • el programa (program)

Nouns ending in ista can be either depending on the circumstances (for instance, if your dentist is a man or woman): el dentista, la dentista. Likewise, your guide could be el guía or la guía, and your doctor could be el or la médico.

Nouns that end in dad, tad, tud, umbre, ción or sión are feminine. Some examples:

  • la ciudad (city)
  • la nación (nation)
  • la actitud (attitude)
  • la muchedumbre (crowd)
watching Spain beat Holland in World Cup final...

Two’s company, three’ s uma muchedumbre. (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

If you are observant, you will have noticed that the definite article in Spanish is either el or la. In the plural these change to los and las respectively.

However, there is one thing to watch out for. Feminine nouns that start with ha or a stressed a take the masculine article in the singular but the feminine in the plural:

  • el arma, las armas (the arm/arms, in a military sense)
  • el hacha, las hachas (the axe/axes)

The reason for this is the awkwardness of these sounds together – it is much easier to say el arma than la arma (just as it is easier to say “an apple” than “a apple” in English).

The indefinite article in Spanish is un in front of masculine words and una in front of feminine ones.

  • un señor (a man)
  • una señora (a lady)

But as with the definite article, the masculine form of the indefinite is used in front of feminine nouns beginning with ha or a stressed a, hence: un arma, un hacha

Like Portuguese, there are plural indefinite articles unos (masculine) and unas, meaning “some”.

Now I will put another picture in to make this post look more interesting and colourful… let’s look for an axe or un hacha:

eres un hacha...

Eres un hacha… (Photo credit: domibrez)

OK, back to the non-picturesque and the less colourful…

The formation of plural nouns is not too complicated either.

If the noun ends in a vowel (usually a, e or o),  add an s: hence el camino, los caminos (the paths).

If the noun ends in a consonant you add es: hence la cuidad, las ciudades (the cities)

Nouns that end in ción or sión are lose their accents in the plural: hence la nación becomes la naciones. This is because the stress falls away.

So, there we have it. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that, but that will suffice for now.

English: The Spanish Armada.

The Spanish Armada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going back to the map of the United States at the top, I have often wondered how different the world would have been today if the Spanish Armada had succeeded when it set sail in 1588 with the intention of invading England. For one thing, England would have been a Catholic country and maybe its cuisine would have been better. Englebert Humperdinck would have been more like Julio Iglesias, Prince Charles would have been Carlos, and  Amy Winehouse would have been Amy Casavino. And think how different colonial history would have been too. Australians would not play cricket and would have siestas. Most important though, my favourite football team, Derby County (don’t ask) might have been Barcelona!

Adiós amigos

Eurovision, the wash-up 1: it’s disdain for Spain

Emmelie de Forest and her drummers, including flautist Jacob (on the right)

Emmelie de Forest and her Danish drummers, including Jacob (on the right), who is a dab hand with the flute as well.

Congratulations to Emmelie de Forest of Denmark for winning the Eurovision song contest with Only Teardrops, one of the few songs I can still remember the morning after. I am thinking of changing my name to Bernardo de Jungle just to cash in on the moment and be trendy. So, it’s off to Copenhagen, presumably, for the next one, unless another Danish city such as Odense, Aarhus or Aalborg wins the right to host the competition. For some reason the song Only Teardrops sounded very Irish to me (some compensation, perhaps, for Ireland, which came last?), mainly because of the flute intro and melody. The flautist and drummers deserve some of the credit for the win: I like a dramatic thrash on the drums! Here, the flautist (or flutist in American English), Jacob, gives a run-down on how to play that melody …

Español: El Sueño de Morfeo en un concierto en...

El Sueño de Morfeo en un concierto en Castelldefels (Barcelona), agosto de 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Spanish entry, Contigo Hasta El Final (With You Until The End), by El Sueño De Morfeo (in English, Morpheus’ Dream), came second last, getting only 6 points from Albania and 2 points from Italy. (In contrast, Spain gave Italy its top vote of 12 points). A pity, because it is not a bad song and has rousing parts to it, though I doubt it will stay with me to my end, whenever that may be.

The Eurovision website posts the lyrics of all the entries and their French and English equivalents if need be. So let’s try to learn some language from the Spanish song. Listen to the live version during the final in Malmo here…

Here are the lyrics side by side, Spanish first, of course, then French and then English. Because of the sentence construction and each language’s peculiarities, etc, the lines and meanings don’t always match up exactly. It is best probably to look at them in a wider context – verse by verse – rather than each line. (I am not the one who translated them.)

Un cielo azul – Le ciel bleu – A blue sky
gana paso a la tormentaA pris de l’avance sur l’orage – sweeps away the storm
que amenazó mi corazón – Qui a menacé mon cœur – That darkened my heart

Y llegas tú, con todo lo que significas tú – Et voilà que tu arrives, avec tout ce que tu signifies – And then you come, with everything you are
descubriéndome quién soy pour découvrir qui je suis – discovering me as I am

Eres esa luz – Tu es cette lumière – You are that light
que a través del universo – Qui m’invites à voyager – That crosses the universe
tú me invitas a viajar – À travers l’univers – You urge me to fly
Contigo hasta el final – J’irai avec toi jusqu’au bout – With you till the end

La ilusión de una vida por delante – Une vie qui est devant nous – All the hope of life before us
que comienza justo hoy – Commence aujourd’hui précisément et nous remplit d’espoir – A life beginning right now

Vámonos sin temor – Partons, sans crainte – Let us go without fear
gritemos que al final triunfó el amor – Crions haut et fort qu’en fin de compte, c’est l’amour qui a triomphé – Let us proclaim that love’s won over all
que ahora somos tú y yo – Que maintenant nous sommes toi et moi – That now it’s me and you.

Eres esa luz – Tu es cette lumière – You are that light
que a través del universo – Qui m’invites à voyager – That crosses the universe
tú me invitas a viajar – À travers l’univers – You urge me to fly
Contigo hasta el final – J’irai avec toi jusqu’au bout – With you till the end

Let’s chat up a few million Spaniards and have nice days

English: La Giralda at dusk, the tower of the ...

A nice place for a conversation: La Giralda at dusk, the tower of the Cathedral of Seville, as viewed from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes in Seville, Spain. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Okay, so far we have chatted up the French and we have made acquaintance with Portuguese-speaking people in places such as Angola and Brazil as well as the mother country. My, we do get around. Now we are going to charm the pants off (it’s a metaphorical expression) those who speak Spanish, the most widely spoken of the Romance languages (see the item Five is a plucky number). And don’t forget, after this we still have to chat up the Italians and Romanians. We are embarking on what you might call a charm offensive. (To charm in Spanish is encantar, as it is in Portuguese, and obviously enchant is a related word. And if you said encantado – or encantada if you were a woman – in an exclamatory tone it is a way of saying pleased to meet you.)

So, where would we like to be chatting up the Spanish speakers? We could be in one of the big cities in Spain, such as Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, or in one of that country’s many lovely lesser known cities, such as Salamanca or Cáceres (see my travel piece on the latter here).

English: Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu

Maravilloso: Early morning in wonderful Machu Picchu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But you could just as easily be somewhere in South America. How great it would be to have a conversation at Machu Picchu in Peru, for example, or in Quito in Ecuador or Cartagena in Columbia, which I have heard are well worth a visit. Alas, the only parts of Spanish South America I have been to are Buenos Aires and nearby Tigre, where the great Paraná River forms a delta as it empties into the Rio de la Plata.  As for the reach of Spanish, there is Central America too, of course, and it is now an important language in the United States. If those places don’t take your fancy you could head to Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean. One thing is for sure, there are many exotic places where you can practise your Spanish.

Right, let’s get started (to begin is empezar or comenzar). When you first greet someone you say buenos días, buenas tardes or buenas noches – note that the Spanish are very generous and they do not wish you one good day, afternoon or night, they wish you many. Isn’t that wonderfully generous. You can see from the agreement of nouns and adjectives that día is a masculine word and that tarde and noche are feminine. More casually you could just say hola, hello

To ask how are you?, you would say cómo está? If you are unlucky the answer to this may be no me siento bien, meaning I don’t feel very well, but hopefully you will get muy bien, gracias. Y usted?, as in very well thanks, and you?.

Less formally, if you were chatting to a friend, you would say cómo estás? and the answer back would be muy bien, gracias. Y tú? See my explanation of which ‘you’ to use.

Bien is a key word which has many uses, most of them to do with wellness, but one of the more unexpected uses is bien … bien for either … or: for example, bien en coche bien en tren, either by car or by train. And bien can mean very, as in bien caliente, meaning very warm or hot.

Incidentally (a propósito), the word for morning is mañana, and you are probably familiar with the expression hasta mañana, meaning see you tomorrow (as in the sense of until tomorrow).

Some expressions that I hope you will use often are estar de buenas, to be in a good mood, and que pase un buen dia, have a nice day.

On that cheerful note, I shall leave you. Hasta prontosee you soon. 🙂

Here is ABBA‘s Spanish version of Hasta mañana

Horse meat scandal makes bureaucrats look like donkeys

Donkey Hoadie

A prime specimen, 98 per cent fat free, Irish wagu beef cow deep in the heart of the Romanian forests, with a helping of French Fries on its back. Bon appetit everybody! Photo: Steve Goddard

For some perverse reason I am rather enjoying the horse meat scandal in the UK, although there is now even talk that donkeys may have been involved too. And let’s not rule out zebras!

I think part of the reason for my enjoyment is that, despite all our bureaucracies, our rules and regulations, despite all the pompous ministers and officials here and there proclaiming that they all adhere to the most stringent standards, it only takes a bit of mischief from a man with a horse (or a donkey) to throw the whole system into chaos. It’s always entertaining to watch the politicians scramble to save their reputations. Everyone is blaming everybody else. In the meantime the old English expression “horses for courses” has been given an entirely new meaning.

I also find it interesting that people in England who think they are eating Irish beef may in fact be eating horse meat from a factory in France or Luxembourg supplied by a possibly dodgy Cypriot trader who sourced his meat from a possibly dodgy abattoir in Romania. Just look at those supply chains! So many middle men! Those poor cows/horses/donkeys do get shunted around. I am surprised the meat is still edible by the time it lands on your plate. Anyway, that’s globalisation for you.

English: Dromedary camel in outback Australia,...

Too greasy for my palate: a dromedary camel in outback NSW, Australia. Photo: Wikipedia.

It is strange people will quite happily eat meat from one animal but be repelled by the thought of another. I don’t know if it is still available now but in the revolving restaurant up in the Sydney tower you used be able to sample camel meat as well as ostrich/ emu and kangaroo. I seem to remember that camel meat was very greasy and left a film of oil on your lips and inside your mouth that was rather difficult to get rid of. Or maybe that was the emu. Dog meat is eaten in some parts of the world, but I’ve never tried it, nor bull calf’s testicles, which I believe are regarded as a delicacy in certain parts of the world. I quite like snails and have eaten crocodile as an entree in a restaurant (a French one!) in Zimbabwe. I don’t have any qualms about eating crocodile as I know the beast would have no qualms about eating me.

Kangaroo meat is an issue in Australia. The creatures are regarded as a pest and hundreds or thousands have to be shot each year. The meat is meant to be lean and healthy, less fatty than beef, and the argument is we might as well make use of the resource (that is, eat the damned things) since they are going to be culled anyway. So there has been a campaign to promote kangaroo meat to Australian consumers. I tried it in a restaurant when I first came to Australia in the early 1990s and it was OK, a bit like rare roast beef (chefs say it is best cooked rare or medium rare). They started to package it in our supermarkets. It is darker than most other meats. I bought some for a barbecue and pretended to the guests that it was beef. But while I was eating it (I had to play along with the joke) the thought of it being kangaroo, and the fact that I had seen it raw in the packet, made me feel queasy. I wanted to throw up. This was unusual because food rarely puts me off! When I told the guests what it really was  they admitted they had found the “beef” rather odd. But the joke was on me.

English: Kangaroo steak with glazed apples, cr...

How would you feel about eating this? A kangaroo steak with glazed apples, cranberries and country potatoes. Australian Restaurant “Ayers Rock”, Dresden, Germany ….. I think the garish plate by itself would make you feel queasy. Photo: Wikipedia

I guess deep down most of us have issues with animal slaughter though we try to keep it out of our minds, and we should try to be more vegetarian. Would it matter so much if Irish potatoes turned out to be Romanian carrots? Je ne crois pas, I don’t believe so.

So, let’s look at some vocabulary…. If you go into a restaurant in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy or Romania I guess you would want to be sure of what you are eating.

In French, the menu is le menu. Meat is viande, a cow is une vache, a horse is un cheval, a donkey is un âne, a camel is un chameau and a kangaroo is un kangourou. Beef is le boeuf, but if you want to say a man is beefy you can say he is costaud, a steak is un bifteck, and gagner son bifteck means to earn one’s living. Horse meat is la viande de cheval, a potato is une pomme de terre (an apple of the earth) and a carrot is une carrotte. An abattoir is un abattoir and to slaughter is abattre, to cook is cuire, but to cook the books (to fake, fix or rig) is truquer. To eat is manger, a big eater is un gros mangeur if it’s a man and une grosse mangeuse if it is a woman. A scandal is un scandale,  it’s scandalous! is c’est scandaleux!, mischief is l’espièglerie, a joke is une blague and to exclaim you’re joking! is sans blague! Other words are une plaisanterie or, if it is a trick, un tour. To fool someone is duper or tromper quelqu’un. A fool is un imbécile, and to play the fool is faire l’imbécile. A joker is un plaisantin.

In Portuguese, the menu is o menu or a ementa. Meat is carne (that’s easy to remember, think of words such as carnivore or carnage in English), and the expression nem carne nem peixe (literally, neither meat nor fish) means neither one thing or the other. A cow is uma vaca, a horse is um cavalo, a donkey is um burro, and to be burro com uma porta is to be very stupid (literally, stupid as a door). Ir de cavalo para burro means to be worse off or go into a poorer situation. A camel is um camelo and a kangaroo is um canguru. Beef is carne de vaca,  a steak is um bife (in Portuguese-speaking snack bars you can ask for a bifana, which is a steak sandwich or roll, usually very tasty). Estar feito ao bife means to be in a difficult situation. Horse meat is carne de cavalo, a potato is uma batata and a carrot is uma cenoura. An abattoir is um matadouro (matar means to kill, and of course it is related to the word matador) and to slaughter is abater, to cook is cozinhar, and to eat is comer. A scandal is um escândalo, it’s scandalous! is é escandaloso, mischief is o traquinagem or a travessura, a joke is uma piada or uma brincadeira, and to fool someone is enganar alguém. A fool is um tolo and a joker is um brincalhão.

My Spanish, Italian and Romanian dictionaries are not as comprehensive and don’t give any or many expressions, proverbs or idioms related to these words. This is a pity because those are the sorts of things that make a language really interesting and give you insights into a people’s way of thinking, if you know what I mean. I guess I will upgrade my dictionaries in time. I am also still getting my head around the basic grammar of these languages (which unlike French and Portuguese are all new to me) so if anyone spots any mistakes please alert me and I will correct them. Anyway, this is what I could find for now:

In Spanish, a menu is un menú. Meat is la carne, a cow is una vaca, a horse is un caballo, a donkey is un burro, a camel is un camello and a kangaroo is un canguro. Beef is carne de vaca, a steak is un filete or un bistec, horse meat is carne de caballo, a potato is una patata and a carrot is una zanahoria. An abattoir is un matadero and slaughter as a verb is matar but as a noun it is matanza, to cook is cocinar, and to eat is comer. A scandal is un escándalo, it’s scandalous! is es escandaloso! Mischief is travesuras or diabluras (both plural), a joke or funny story is un chiste (think of jest in English) while a practical joke is una broma and to fool someone is engañar a alguien. A fool is un tonto or una tonta, while tonto also means foolish. A joker is un or una bromista.

In Italian, a menu is un menù. Meat is also carne, a cow is una mucca or una vacca, a horse is un cavallo, a donkey is un asino or un somaro, a camel is un cammello and a kangaroo is un canguro. Beef is carne di manzo or carne di mucca (manzo is a steer) a steak is una bistecca, horse meat is carne di cavallo, a potato is una patata and a carrot is una carota. An abattoir is un mattatoio and to slaughter is macellare, to cook is cucinare or cuocere, and to eat is mangiare. A scandal is uno scandalo, it’s scandalous! is è scandaloso!, mischief is una birichinata  or (in the sense of naughtiness) birichineria, a joke is uno scherzo, if it is a funny story it is una barzelletta. To fool someone is ingannare. A fool is uno sciocco or una sciocca. A joker is un jolly.

In Romanian, a menu is un meniu. Meat is carne, a cow is o vacă , a horse is un cal, a donkey is un măgar, a camel is o cămilă and a kangaroo is un cangur. Beef is carne de vacă, a steak or roast is o friptura, horse meat is carne de cal, a potato is un cartof and a carrot is un morcov. An abattoir is un abator and to slaughter is sacrificare or măcelar (butcher), to cook is a găti, and to eat is a mânca. A scandal is un scandal, it’s scandalous! is e scandalos!, a joke is o glumă and to joke is a glumi. A fool is un neghiob which can be used as an adjective to mean foolish, and to fool is a păcăli.  to fool someone is a păcăli pe cineva. A fool is un prost and a joker is un joker or un clovn (clown).

Well, that is a lot to digest. I’m sure in a future post we’ll be discussing pork meat, lamb chop and chicken nugget scandals. In the meantime enjoy watching politicians having to eat their words…. engolir suas palavras in Portuguese, engolir meaning to swallow.

Até a próxima vez… until next time … tchau… cheers

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Let’s get a little vulgar and wax lyrical but not with earwax please


Centurion (Photo credit: bomvu)

All our Latin teachers at school were weird. Very weird. There was the priest who kept smiling sweetly while saying “Eheu, eheu”. (Alas, alas!, or in a more modern translation, bummer!) This meant you were in trouble and were about to be caned. On the bum. Bummer! But the worst was a grumpy male lay teacher: he would sit at his desk, take his handkerchief out, twist it into an earbud and jab it into his ear, collecting wax samples, which he would then examine forensically. Sometimes he would take off his shoes and fiddle with his socks, but thankfully he never twisted them into earbuds. While all this was happening, some poor boy in the class had been asked to translate something from our text book. He would do so hesitantly, and there would be a long silence while the teacher excavated his ear canals and sometimes his nostrils too. Then out of the blue the teacher would pound the desk with his fists, roaring “No, you blithering idiot! You bloody fool!”. Sometimes he would even throw his shoe. The whole class jumped in fright. The teacher would look around for someone else to translate and we all bowed our heads, trying to hide behind the boy in front, praying, please Jesus, don’t let him pick (on) me. At least we said our prayers. This went on for 40 minutes until the bell rang. What a relief. To illustrate this post I could have chosen a picture of some earwax, or a smelly sock, or someone picking their nose, or a priest caning a boy but I opted instead for some Roman Centurion who seems to have clean ears and a ferocious roar. I hope you are grateful. But I will dig out some earwax and snot if you insist.

Anyway, the Romance languages that we are studying today are derived from Latin, or more specifically vulgar Latin (I can’t wait to get stuck into modern vulgar French, vulgar Portuguese etc etc). So as a way of revising the verbs to be and to have, and to refresh my memory of Latin, I thought I would look up those verbs in Latin and see which of My Five Romances is closest to it. I don’t have a Latin grammar text book, though, and thus am relying on websites, and I have found conflicting information. Some use accents on some Latin words (I don’t remember having to learn accents at school), and some give ille/illa and illos/illas  for he/she and they instead of is/ea and ei/ea, and so on. I suppose it depends on whether it is more formal written Latin or a vulgar variety. To save space I will drop the subject pronouns in the other languages since we have covered them previously. Remember the Portuguese second person plural verb endings are archaic and are no longer in spoken use, so I have put the third person plural endings in that slot instead.

The subject pronouns in Latin are: ego (I, that’s easy to remember, think of alter ego), tu (you singular), is/ea (he/she), nos (we), vos (you plural) and ei/eae (they).

To be goes like this:

In Latin (esse) :   ego sum;     tu es;     is/ea est;    nos sumus;   vos estis;    ei/eae sunt

French (être):            suis          es          est           sommes          êtes            sont

Portuguese (ser):      sou           és            é             somos             são            são Portuguese (estar):   estou       estás       está        estamos         estão         estão

Spanish (ser):           soy           eres         es            somos            sois           son 
Spanish (estar):       estoy        estás       está         estamos        estáis        están

Italian (essere):        sono         sei            è              siamo             siete          sono
Italian (stare):          sto            stai           sta           stiamo            state          stanno

Romanian (a fi):       sunt          eşti         este          suntem         sunteţi         sunt

Looking at this, I would say that in this instance French is the closest to Latin, perhaps followed by Romanian, while Italian, surprisingly, seems the most removed.

Let’s do the same with to have, but I will discard ter and tener in Portugese and Spanish and go with haver and haber:

In Latin (habere):    habeo   habes    habet   habemus   habetis   habent

French (avoir):           ai          as           a           avons       avez       ont

Portuguese (haver):  hei       hás        há        havemos       hão        hão

Spanish (haber):        he       has        ha         hemos        habéis      han 

Italian (avere):            ho,       hai        ha        abbiamo       avete     hanno

Romanian (a avea):  am         ai          are         avem          aveţi          au

With this verb it seems like Portuguese, Spanish and Italian are closest to the Latin equivalent, and that French and Romanian have dropped their haitches and drifted off together on a different path. But you might beg to differ.

For more comparisons of Romance languages you might like to look at the website.

Must go. The bell has rung and the Latin lesson is over. It’s time for some physical education (a swim at the beach). See you next time, thanks for reading.

Cheers, Bernardo 🙂

Being Spanish means giving the vocal cords a good workout

Spanish Soccer Fans

Spanish Soccer Fans (Photo credit: braveheartsports)

Being Spanish is a bit like being Portuguese except you just have to be a little bit more vociferous. While the Portuguese can be reserved, relatively speaking, the Spanish are not shy and their vocal cords get a good workout! Put four Spanish families in a restaurant and the place will be buzzing. You would need 40  Australian families or 400 Poms to generate the same atmosphere, I reckon. (Although funnily enough, in South America I found the Argentinians to be more reserved than the Brazilians. I can’t speak for the rest of Latin America.)

Like Portuguese, Spanish has two verbs meaning “to be”, and like Portuguese they are ser and estar. Again, the former is usually used for more permanent situations, the latter for more temporary conditions. Furthermore, Spanish also has an informal singular “you” – – and a formal one – usted – which uses the third person just like você does in Portuguese. But Spanish differs and gets a little more complicated in that it has masculine and feminine forms of “we” (nosotros, nosotras) and “you” plural, and in Spain at least has both an informal “you” plural (vosotros, vosotras) and a formal one (ustedes). However, in the rest of the Spanish speaking world only ustedes is used apparently.

Phew! If it all sounds very complicated there is a very good tutor of both Portuguese and Spanish on YouTube by the name of “Professor Jason”, whose sign on name there is languagenow. I find he sets a good pace with his lessons, whereas other tutors can be terribly slow. Check him out.

Here is how they are conjugated

yo                                 soy / estoy            (I am)

                                 eres / estás          (you are, singular, informal)

él, ella, usted             es / está               (he, she is, you are, sing. formal)

nosotros, nosotras   somos / estamos    (we are, masc, fem)

vosotros, vosotras         sois / estáis      (you are, plural)

ellos, ellas, ustedes         son / están       (they are, you are)

One day I will find a better way of tabulating these damn things! In the forthcoming posts we shall conjugate “to be” in Italian and Romanian (let’s hope both languages have only one form of the verb), and then revise it in all five languages side by side. That will get our five tongues wagging. Adios amigos! P.S. Who do you think are the most vocal  or extroverted of the Latin Americans?