28 May 2013

The Super Split

Most people who are familiar with the comic strip "Dilbert" will know what a "wedgie" is. It is a form of pranksterism, horse play, or bullying where someone grabs the waistband of the victim's underwear from behind and gives it a big yank therefore stretching the material and driving it like a wedge into the cleft between the buttocks. Among friends or classmates it can be just a harmless prank or sophomoric "gotcha" but when used as a form of bullying it can be humiliating, painful, and harmful. In fact, there is a form where the underwear is stretched extremely tight and the elastic waistband is placed up and over the victim's head. This is no longer horseplay and can lead to severe trauma and permanent damage to the genitals.

So, is there a word for "wedgie" in Spanish? You bet there is. "El calzón chino" is a wedgie. It literally means "chinese underwear". The extreme form of super wedgie is called "el calzón chino atómico".
A "school bully" in Spanish is a "matón de escuela", so in order to say "The school bully gave my brother a wedgie" you could say in Spanish, "El matón de la escuela le dio a mi hermano un calzón chino".

Kids, don't try this at home. I guarantee it will upset your mother.


21 May 2013

Cloudy horizons...

Well, it's that time of year again, the prelude to the rainy season. However, the rainy season here is not like a monsoon. It just means that from now until sometime in October it will rain once in awhile. Some years it will rain quite a bit and some years not so much. Like everywhere else these days we don't get a real weather forecast that you can pin down and chew on, we get a probability forecast as in "There is a thirty percent probability of afternoon showers". I guess that can mean that there is about a one out of three chance it will rain in the afternoon or else it will only rain only on about one third of the city. What is the difference between a thirty percent probability and a forty percent probability in "layman" terms? I really don't think there is any. About the only thing that you can say about this system is that there ate really only five discernible increments in the probability that it will rain:

1.) 100 percent - It is most likely raining or about to rain.
2.) 60-90 percent - Most likely it's going to rain.
3.) 50-50 chance - Might as well flip a coin.
4.) 40-10 percent - Most likely it ain't going to rain.
5.) 0 percent - It definitely ain't going to rain.

The reality is that because our climate is so mild here people who aren't actually farmers don't pay much attention to the weather forecast anyway. If you ask someone if they think it is going to rain you are likely to get the following answer:

Pues, puede que sí o puede que no, lo más seguro es ¿Quién sabe?
Well, it could be yes or it could be no but the most sure thing is...Who knows?

Speaking of the rain the conversation could also go something like this:

Vamos a salir pero parece que va a llover.
Let's leave but it looks like it's going to rain.

¿Por qué dices eso?
Why do you say that?

No sé pero voy a llevar un paraguas por si las moscas.
I don't know but I will bring an umbrella just in case.

¡No estes de mal agüero!
Don't be a jinx!

New phrases:

por si las moscas = just in case (The first time I heard this I thought it meant "for if there are flies")

mal agüero = bad omen, jinx

pájaro de mal agüero = prophet of doom, bad omen, bird of bad luck

echar la sal = jinx

Example, When one friend sees another walking with a young lady he might say to him later:

¿Cuando te vas a casar?
When are you going to be married?

¡No me estes echando la sal! 
Don't be putting the jinx on me!

(Note that it literally sounds like "Don't be throwing salt at me" in English)

¡Si me caso serás mi padrino!
If I marry you will be my best man! (Also "padrino" means patron or sponser meaning he will have to pay for the wedding)

Here is one last phrase and then I am done. If two people start talking simultaneously about the same thing one might say to the other:

Toca madera o me debes un chocolate.
Knock on wood or you owe me a chocolate.


18 May 2013

The Turtle Defense

The other day I came across an old CBS Omnibus film clip of the author William Faulkner giving a commencement address for the local high school graduation at Oxford Mississippi in the spring of 1951. In this speech he talked about fear and he mentioned the atomic bomb among other fearful things and he admonished the young people to stand up to fear of all kinds and to be...well, to be "fearless". I remember the fifties clearly and what I remember the most is the fear and anxiety over the possibility and even the probability of the "Rooskies" dropping the bomb on my poor little head. It was an era of paranoia and anxiety, a tragedy of universal fear. In the last one hundred years much of mankind has usurped many of the powers that we used to ascribe to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed leadership over the life and death of the whole world and all living things. The irony is that all of the creatures on Earth it is only the humans who are mortal. All of the other creatures are immortal for they know nothing about death. We are blessed with powerful minds yet at the same time cursed, not only to die, but to know that we must, and the fear of a violent death is our greatest anxiety.

I am not exempt from that anxiety by any means. I have spent at least half of my life gripped in its clutches. I remember going to mass one particular Sunday morning with my parents when I was about ten years old. This was at the time the U.S.S.R had launched Sputnik and we tracked its ominous signal going beep, beep, beep as it passed overhead. Our parish priest went up in the pulpit that day and shouted down at us "If an atomic bomb falls on this parish tonight at least fifty percent of you will wake up in Hell!". Needless to say that got everyone's attention, even the snoozers. There was a line of penitents going halfway around the block for the next two days waiting their turns to make an honest and sincere confession.

To my mind the present level of anxiety in the United States is at an unprecedented level and I can't help but think that the roots of this anxiety go back to a time when impending doom was imprinted on the minds of young innocent children to the point that it has led to the present state of tension and discord. Take a look at the civil defense film below titled "Duck and Cover". Most of the people who are currently sixty years old or older will remember it. Can you imagine something like that being shown to children today? On second thought, maybe it wouldn't bother them at all. I suppose that the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us older folks into a new state of anxiety...present shock. Things are happening so fast that the future is always NOW.

So NOW I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake, 
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

14 May 2013

Ah, Grasshopper...

I work in the Railroad Industry. For forty years I have lived close to the rails. The sound of the trains do not bother me. For me a train is like a spaceship both when you ride it, and when you watch it, or just listen to it go by. Sometimes it takes you places and sometimes it brings visitors from "outer space" and by that I mean from another region.  At times these visitors take the form of Guatemalans who traverse our bit of universe in search of a new life in a better place. They never disturb me or threaten me in any way. They merely put their curled fingers to their mouths in a gesture of asking for food. I know that they are from the Guatemalan region by the way they dress and speak and by the roughness of their hands which are gnarled and calloused by hard manual labor and often scratched and bruised from clinging to the rough steel of the railroad cars. I always keep some coins handy whenever I go out and give them enough to buy a liter of water and some tortillas. That will at least suffice for the time being. I can do no more than that except to commend them to God's mercy. This they accept gracefully and say with sincerity to all givers of food, clothing, money, or water "Gracias padre" (to men) or "Gracias madre" (to women).

I ask myself why I do it. Is it right or wrong? I don't know but I feel compelled by faith toward kindness to strangers. There is a line in the Bible that says, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2) . In the Old Testament it says "And you are to show kindness to those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). I happen to be a foreigner in Mexico myself and many people here have shown great kindness towards me...far more than I can ever repay.

The other day I was on my way home from work and I was hot and tired. The afternoon sun was blazing white and everything in view looked dusty and wilted. There is a railroad crossing near where I live and the traffic was stopped waiting for a long train to pass. I spotted a poor Guatemalan making his way down the line asking for help. He wasn't having much luck. The guy looked really tired. I pressed a few coins into his outstretched gnarly hand and then he disappeared for a moment. He suddenly popped up again with a little gift for me. It was a grasshopper that he had fashioned from the tall grass that grew by the side of the road. He gave me the little grasshopper and looked into my eyes and with great solemnity he said, "Gracias padre, que Dios te bendiga" (Gracias father, may God bless you.) For a second we were connected, he and I, by a knowledge of something greater than ourselves. Just then the traffic started moving again and as I pulled away I glanced in my rear view mirror but he was already gone...and I wondered. Could it be that he was an Angel?

10 May 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Today is Mother's Day in Mexico. It always falls on May 10th here no matter what day of the week it may be. Last night about 9:pm my wife Gina grabbed her car keys and said, "I'll be back in a little bit". As it turned out she went down to a wholesale florist and bought several tightly packed bunches of roses. Then she got up at 4:am this morning to make little corsages for all of her female friends and relatives and all of the mommies of the children who attend her mother Carmelita's kindergarten. That's my gal, always spreading sunshine! And what did I get her for Mother's Day you ask? Hey! Who do you think ended up paying for all those flowers?

07 May 2013

A cat by any other name...

Now that I am getting along fairly well with my Spanish I am still learning new words and phrases all the time. There is really no end to it. For example, suppose you want to say to a friend, "Let's arm wrestle". You could make your best effort and say "¿Quieres luchar con brazo?" and if you put your arm in the arm wrestling position you would most likely be understood but you might also make the other person laugh, There are several ways to say it more correctly in the Spanish where I live in Central Mexico:

1.) ¿Quieres jugar las vencidas?
2.) ¿Quieres jugar unas fuerzas?
3.) ¿Quieres jugar fuercitas?

The first one is based upon the word "vencer", to defeat and the other two are based on the word "fuerza", strength.

You might also hear "¿Quieres jugar gallitos?" but that means "thumb wrestling. (gallitos = little roosters).

In South American countries, for arm wrestling you are also likely to hear:

1.) ¿Quieres jugar a las pulseadas?
2.) ¿Quieres echar un pulso?

Gets a bit confusing, eh? One of my favorite bits of trivia involves what is called in English "the number sign", or "the pound sign", or "the hash sign" or the "hashtag" (on Twitter) and it looks like this: #

In Mexican Spanish, however, it is commonly called "el gato", "the cat", as in:

"Marca la tecla del gato"...Press the # key. In formal business situations "la tecla del gato" is also known as "el símbolo (signo) de número", meaning "the number symbol" or "the number sign". In other Spanish speaking countries it may be called  "el cuadradillo" (the little square) or "la almohadilla" (the little pad).

The "simbolo del gato" is also what Mexican people call the lines that are used in the game that we call "tic-tac-toe" in American English and "noughts and crosses" in British English, but in Spain and some other places they call "tres en raya" meaning "three in a row".

"¿Quieres jugar gato?"...Do you want to play tic-tac-toe?

Some people think that the # symbol is the same as the musical symbol meaning "sharp" in English ("sostenido" in Spanish). However, if you will notice the cross bars on the "hash" symbol are horizontal and those of the "sharp" are slanted upward from left to right.

There is an old common belief is that the name for the hash sign for numbering derives from "thorpe", the Old Norse word for a village or farm that is often seen in British place names. The symbol was originally used in map making, representing a village surrounded by eight fields, so it was named the "octothorpe" literally meaning "eight fields".

Well, that's enough for today. I think it's time to put this little kitty to bed.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.