Just wachate, amigo

My dad, who lived almost 95 years and who passed away in 1998, might have believed that he and his own father invented the Spanish language. The few times I watched him become passionate about an issue often dealt with the language he so loved, usually a lament about the deterioration and especially adulteration of Spanish.

Let me explain:

J.D. Trujillo once quoted his father, Severino Trujillo, as having said, “If I knew English as well as I know Spanish, I’d be difficult to get along with.” I pondered that bit of braggadocio: Is that what it comes down to? Does that mean the goal in acquiring languages is to reduce one’s circle of friends? Polyglots then earn the right to become hermits?

Any abuse of Spanish caused my father to enter his sardonic mode and quote imaginary abusers by saying something like, “Wachate, ese” (“watch yourself,” as Zeus said to Narcissus), or “Tengo un typewriter, vato,” instead of the seven-syllable maquina de escribir.

As a youngster, I’d ask him how anyone could prevent the proliferation of Spanglish, whereby we simply put a Spanish-type ending on an English word for a new coinage. For example, a dime would become “un daime,” a quarter a “cuatta.” A penny? Don’t go there.

“Spanglish” is by no means of recent vintage, my having heard it used by my homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Machtnichts, at Immaculate Conception School.

Dad would invoke the name of the Royal Spanish Academy, in Madrid, organized to regulate the language. Obviously, they aren’t a group of cops ready to swoop down on a person on a street corner who asks, “Amigo, can you spare a frajo?” when he should be begging for cigarros.

The influence of the academy is on the regulation of printed words, journalism, and scholarly and legal publications. A recent column by a Miami Herald writer, Andrew Oppenheimer, reveals that the academy is “seriously considering eliminating cumbersome accent marks on widely used words.”

Think of it: On the three days the Optic publishes, it takes two extra keystrokes to type local names like Peña, Montaño and Garduño, those blessed with the funny thing above the “n,” called a tilde.

Without the tilde, we’d get  “worry” instead of “boulder,” for Pena/Peña. The real problem is having to take one’s eyes off the screen to locate the option key, which we hold down while typing the “n.”

The same goes for accent marks, which we downplay at the Optic but nevertheless use in words about which there could be confusion. The word “esta” means “this,” and with the accent mark at the end, está, it is “it is.”

Finally, it looks as if the 46 “judges” to make up the Royal Spanish Academy, formed more than 300 years ago, are easing up. That’s a welcome step for a group whose good intentions have nevertheless been medieval.

Watching a Spanish-language TV audience-participation program recently, I noted that the hostess used “sexy” each time she referred to the endowments of Mexican supermodels. A stream of rapid-fire Spanish words surrounded “sexy.” Have Mexican señorita models been so blah that the language couldn’t create its own word to describe them?

As I listened, I picked up “mitin” for “meeting” and “futbol,” which is really soccer anywhere but America. Oppenheimer mentions the academy’s easing the rules on words like “cederron” for a CD rom, as well as “parkin” and “sexapil.”

So, the academy is starting to remove the linguistic strait-jacket from Spanish by simplifying various marks of punctuation and by authorizing certain words that — let’s face it — people everywhere understand anyway.

Though my father and his father would never have approved of what they would consider the corruption of the language of Cervantes, I think the idea will fly.

To me it exudes sexapil.

• • •

Jim Winchester, a reporter for Albuquerque’s KRQE-TV, mangled the Hispanic surname “Gabaldon” last week, repeatedly pronouncing it “Gobble Don.”

Gobble Don. Sounds as if a tom turkey took over the top spot in the Mafia. It’s enough to make our traditional Thanksgiving bird turn over in its gravy.

Or maybe it’s gre-ve?

4 thoughts on “Just wachate, amigo

  1. Art Trujillo

    As much as I’d like for my grandfather to claim that honor, I’m afraid it’s not that Severino. My grandfather was born in 1856, died in 1936. He DID travel east to study for the priesthood and eventually attended a seminary in Paris, where he picked up several languages. Obviously, he never became a priest; instead, he had three marriages and lots of offspring, of which my dad was one, part of the third set of children of Severino. Also, there are still some Severinos around, including my older brother, but I never heard of any other Severino of that age/era. As for the printing, it’s likely he learned that trade too and passed that skill down to my dad, who was always fascinated by printshops and said he’d proofread copy for years. Now I have a question of you: How in the world did/do you come up with information like this? Thanx for the inquiry, Gerald. Are you the Gerald Gonzalez (two z’s) from Santa Rosa, who went to Highlands?

  2. Lindsay


    I would very much like to correspond with you about your grandfather if you have the time. Severino is my great great grandfather and I am just beginning to scratch the surface on him. He has always been this vague but impressive figure in my family history. My family comes from what I believe is his second marriage (to Estefana) and according to my great aunt no one in the family was allowed to speak of Severino after he left so the only thing that some how got passed along was that he spoke many languages and was one of the first people to pass the bar in New Mexico. I would love if you had any other personal recollections of your grandfather. Did you grow up knowing him at all? Oh, and I’m not sure if my email will pop up for you or not, but just in case it is lindsayruck@gmail.com. Thanks!

  3. Ben Moffett

    Very instructive for me, Art. Thanks.
    Also, I’ve got to find that option key on the keyboard. I go through a long process at the top of the document to find the tilde and accent marks, which I can’t find right here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>