Monthly Archives: September 2010

Where’s the — er — euphemism?

There’s a line in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in which George, the host, asks his wife Martha to show their guest “to the ‘euphemism.’”

The guest in this play by Edward Albee needed to visit the bathroom after having consumed several too many drinks.

Euphemism: a mild or indirect word substituted for one considered blunt. It’s the policy of using “bathroom,” “lounge,” “restroom” or “loo” in lieu of “toilet.” The Europeans almost always use “toilet.”

But let’s get to the point: Monday I underwent a mild surgical procedure at Alta Vista, as part of a yearly process for many men my age. If I’d had my appendix removed, I’d say so — no euphemism needed. This — er — procedure is of a more private nature, simply something that required a pauper’s diet, a 30-hour regimen of coffee, Jell-O, clear juices and broth. Continue reading

Addicted to BlackBerries

Trying to catch a few winks after a particularly long, bumpy flight from Copenhagen to Minneapolis, on an airport bench specifically designed to prevent waiting passengers from snoozing, I grew annoyed at somebody.

So did hundreds of drained passengers trying to cop a few zees, while a man with a bellicose voice prevented any slumbering.

Let me explain:

We’d just completed a 12-hour return trip, followed immediately by a grueling customs-airport security inspection and were waiting for our flight to Albuquerque, provided we lived through the six-hour layover. I thought of feeding my morbid curiosity. “Isn’t this the place where Larry Craig got busted for attempting a lewd act?” I asked my wife, Bonnie. Continue reading

A person’s purrogative

Readers of this column may recall treatises on single words and short phrases. Over the years, I’ve tackled individual words like “so” and its myriad meanings; “myriad,” “like,” “ya know” and “sorry.” More recently, there was a bilingual plunge into the words “tú” and “usted.”

This time, I’ll respond to submissions from readers regarding various phrases that sometimes confuse us. Last week this column contained a reference to the misuse of the language by GOP gubernatorial aspirant Susana Martinez, who said, “As governor, that will change.”

Martinez’s political promise implies that the governor is a “that” and that the winner in November will change. What she refers to is certain Richardson administration policies.

Well, we’re not necessarily picking on Republicans and their misuse of the language. Why, some of my best friends are both language abusers and Republicans. Now, Democrat congressional incumbent Martin Heinrich is making claims in his TV spots that can’t be borne out. He says, “Growing up, my father ….” Continue reading

Time to ‘tutear’

Last week’s column on the use of “tú” and “usted” taught me a word that I would have thought of purely as slang, something conjured up for the nonce, for lack of the precise word, like when we use “typiar” as Spanish for “to type.”

We invent words. We give them the familiar Spanish verb ending and sometimes get by. To “wreckear” un carro is common, and to “watchar” one’s back has become a language staple for many.

The new word (to me), introduced by Art Vargas, is “tutear.” It appears in Spanish dictionaries and means simply, “let’s be on familiar terms.” Imagine a conversation laden with “usted,” among peers. One conversant might then say, “Vamos a tutear,” which gives both people leave to drop the formality of “usted” and use the familiar “tú.” I’m impressed and promise to tutear very soon. And some of my best friends are admitted tuteadores. The French word “tutoyer” provides an analogous version of addressing someone familiarly. Continue reading

Is it “tu” or “usted” instead?

Here’s a brief primer on one important difference between English and Spanish. Somewhere along the linguistic ladder, people stopped using “thee” and “thou” in English, whereas the Romance languages, for example Spanish, retained forms like “usted.”

I won’t speculate as to whether the use of particular word combinations determines respect, or lack thereof, or is the result of it. Which came first?

Let me explain:

Once, when I was a child, my dad asked me — in front of company — to explain whatever I’d learned that day in the classroom of Sister Mary Migrainia at Immaculate Conception School. Dad called me by my baptismal name, Arturo, which prompted an answer in Spanish, “¿Que?”

Big mistake. Why? First, we had company, and whatever carelessness and callousness we ever displayed when alone needed to be rectified when we had guests. Second mistake: In our house, one never responded to an elder’s question with “¿que?” I saw Dad was both annoyed and embarrassed over my paucity of ethics, as he explained in front of his guests, “The correct answer — and I’ve told you before — is ‘¿mande usted?’” That’s a variation of “yes sir,” “please repeat,” or “pardon me?” Continue reading