Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

The Yellow Light

A yellow light, it’s a warning to slow down right?  Yes, but that’s not all evidently.

So I find myself in Buenos Aires as a citizen of the road, and by foot I mean as I don’t have a car.  I’m not sure I’d want to drive either honestly, but of course I miss my car.  I miss singing as loud as I can, in total privacy, except for that one time when I pocket-called someone and they heard me!

But hey, I like public transportation too, maybe more in some ways.  It offers a lot of benefits that you can’t have in your own car: $1.20 pesos per ride sure beats insurance prices, time to sleep and rest, and time to read or do other things.  I find myself using this extra time to catch up on emails or play Apalabrados (the Words With Friends equivalent in Spanish.)

Even after spending more than a year here, it was recently confirmed that the stoplights are different here in BsAs compared to the United States.  How could I have missed that?  They’re not that different; green still stands for go and red for stop, but what is different is the yellow light.

The yellow light represents to me, and all Americans—maybe Canadians too but I don’t know—a warning that a stop is coming.  It’s suppose to mean slow down, although it also acts as an accelerator depending on how fast you are going.  The point is the yellow light is the light between green and red.  Once the light is red, it later turns green directly with no yellow in the middle, while in Buenos Aires there is a yellow light in-between when it turns red or green, so the yellow light is working double time but more importantly, with overuse is its purpose lost or confused?  It is after all the language of the road.

I imagine it confuses drivers at times though as without paying attention one wouldn’t know that a stop or go is coming.  A student today told me that he thought the yellow light caused more accidents than avoiding them in fact.  Surely other Americans have noticed this (note to self: ask).  To me, the yellow light will always mean slow down or upcoming stop.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at it as a “ready, set, go” icon.

By the way, language learning: I love the English phrase ‘red flag’ to mean warning of something.  Maybe you get a red flag from a new boyfriend if he says he hates kids, or during an interview if someone shares they have a porn business on the side.  In Spanish, they say the equivalent of red light, like on a stop light—semáforo rojo.  They also say red card—tarjeta roja.

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