Language Lens

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

Archive for the category “English”

Translation marketing blunders oh my! Part 1

I have a favorite class with students where we talk about cross cultural communication and share stories about language and/or cultural mishaps.  Something will inevitably happen when you are learning another language.  Working as a waitress once I remember telling a Spanish speaking table that I was pregnant instead of embarrassed.  It`s a common error to make and in the end just reason to laugh.  Don`t let the possibility of saying something wrong stop you from trying!

The stakes are higher in business, however, and translation and cultural awareness must be considered.  In international marketing, one of the most well-known translation blunders comes from car maker Chevy and their car the “Nova.”  In Spanish it literally translates to “It doesn`t go.”  It was obviously not the message Chevy wanted to portray for its car that is suppose to go, and go fast for that matter!  (See below for more clarification on this case.)


Mistakes with cultural awareness without a doubt have happened and continue to happen, especially as the world becomes more global everyday.  Examples of that for another post!  Today`s post is a compilation of translation mistakes (in writing, not speaking) that led to unfavorable results in international markets.

1. The Chevy Nova isn`t the only English to Spanish (or vice versa) mistake that has occurred with cars.  In fact there have been many.  Here are three examples of model names that were unfit for the Spanish and Portuguese markets.

  • The Mazda Laputa literally translates in Spanish to the Mazda “whore” (la puta).
  • The Nissan Moco literally translates to the Nissan “bugger” (el moco).
  • The Mitsubishi Pajero is the Mitsubishi “wanker.”   The car was renamed as “Montero.”

2. Honda introduced their car the “Fitta” in Nordic countries in 2001, only to later to learn that it referred to a woman’s genitals in Swedish and Norwegian. In the end, they renamed it the “Honda Jazz.”

3. Gerber is America’s best-known baby food maker, but “gerber” can be translated as “to vomit” of all things in French. Evidently the name was not marketed in France.

4. In Germany, Clairol launched a curling iron called the “Mist Stick” and mist in German is slang for manure: the “manure stick.” Uh oh…

5. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces only later to receive calls from numerous Punjabi speakers indicating that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”. Oops!

6. The Japanese company Matsushita Electric (now Panasonic) was promoting a new PC for internet users. They had created the new web browser and received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as the interactive internet guide.  The day before launch, they realized the mistake and saved themselves a lot of embarrassment. The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.”  “Woody” and “pecker” are both references to male genitals in English.

7. In the 1970`s, Wang Computers was an American computer company with the motto: “Wang Cares.”  Sounding a lot like “wankers,” British branches refused to use the motto.

8. “Traficante” is an Italian mineral water, but in Spanish translates to “drug dealer” or “trafficker.”  In 2006, it was purchased by Coca-Cola.

9. When Pope John Paul II visited Miami in 1987, a local T-shirt maker produced commemorative T-shirts for the Hispanic market “Vi la papa” without realizing that a simple article change in Spanish changed the meaning. The shirts literally read: “I saw the Potato” (“la Papa”), instead of “I saw the Pope” (“el Papa”).

10. The toothpaste and toothbrush company “Colgate” literally means “hang yourself” in the voseo form of Argentinian Spanish.

More on Chevy`s Nova: Despite being perhaps the most common example given in international marketing, the story of the Nova is actually a myth.  The car was sold with this name in Venezuela and Mexico, having quite successful sales in Venezuela in fact.

For a similar post but related to cultural blunders, go here!









Be at home

“With languages, you are at home anywhere.” ~Edward De Waal

Home with our language

Liebster Award: Discover New Blogs

“Liebster” is German for many things, and among them “a welcome visitor,” (according to Word Reference) which makes sense for the award that Raelke nominated Language Lens for recently.  Thank you by the way!  The Liebster award is given to up and coming bloggers (I like that description) who have less than 200 followers.

Liebster award

The rules for the award are as follows:

  1. List 11 Random Facts about you
  2. Answer the questions that were asked of you (By the blogger that nominated you)
  3. Nominate 11 other blogs for the Liebster  Blog Award and Link to their Blogs
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners 11 questions to answer once they accept the award

So, my 11 Random Facts…

  1. My absolutely favorite food is sushi.
  2. My favorite quote is “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” by Anais Nin, which I first saw from a former boss and mentor.
  3. I am surrounded by the number 11.  Currently I live on (street name) 1111, floor 11 (and I am answering 11 random questions about myself.)
  4. I won my 8th grade Geography Bee.
  5. I have been known to sleep walk, (but nothing too strange.)  Just getting up and starting to get ready for work while I had a good 5 or 6 hours to spare!
  6. I prefer sour candy.
  7. I am a distant distant distant relative of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the US!
  8. I have always wanted to learn to play the fiddle.
  9. My family calls me Megs for short.
  10. I have been living abroad in Buenos Aires for the past three years, and it was always a dream to live abroad.
  11. I love singing in the car at the top of my lungs!

And my answers to the question Raelke asked…

11 questions for the nominated blogs…

  1. What inspires you?  I get inspired when I see people pushing themselves in order to grow. I get inspired by their drive and heart to continue as I know that it will pay off in the long-run.
  2. Which languages do you speak? My first language is English and I also speak Spanish.
  3. What was the last holiday you went on?  The last trip I took was to Colombia, which was a heavenly place despite the bad press over the years.  It was by far one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen.
  4. Do you carry an umbrella with you in case it starts raining?  Yes I do!  I am one of those who strives to be  “over prepared.”  Right now living in a big city where it rains often, when you leave for the day you must be prepared for anything (including down pour aka  “diluvia”)!
  5. How long have you been blogging for?  I have been blogging for about a year now!
  6. Why do you blog? In fact I didn´t understand blogs for the longest time.  It wasn´t until I got inspired by a good topic that I felt compelled to write, and there I found my fix. I have always loved to write.  Since I was a child, I have written my thoughts and memoirs.  The blog concept was a way to marry this childhood love of writing with a love I later found in life, language and linguistics.
  7. If you could speak any language fluently, which would you choose, and why?  I always wanted to speak Spanish at a near-native proficiency.  I am getting there, so if I were to choose a second language, I would choose French.  I think the sound is beautiful.
  8. Poetry or prose? Definitely prose!
  9. Which is the book which has made the greatest impact on you?  I don´t know that I can say just one book, so I will write about something recent that inspired me: Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher
  10. Summer or winter? This is an ongoing debate with a friend. He says winter, since we are from Colorado where the winters are world renowned, but despite that, I am a summer girl all the way!
  11. What is your favourite song? My favorite song is Heart of Glass by Blondie!  I have many but this one definitely makes me want to sing and dance whenever I hear it.

11 blogs that I nominate

1. Excuse my Spanglish: Karo writes all her posts in both English and Spanish, which I find both interesting and admirable!  I appreciate her efforts as it´s not an easy translation task,and it´s really great for those of us learning.

2. Private Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires: Sofie speaks about language, culture and activities in Buenos Aires in her blog.  I find the language posts incredibly helpful as she speaks to the use of the language and how to speak more naturally, rather than relying on translating or what one learned in another country.

3. Something for Sunday: Jacqui writes about life as an expat in Seoul, Korea.  Not only does she write about culture and life abroad but she focuses on food, even giving recipes to things she tries and learns to master.  She is an excellent writer, sure to please even if cooking and/or food isn´t your thing.

4. Diary of a Language Coach: Amy and I have a few things in common, a love of Spanish and teaching.  As a teacher and life-long learner, she blogs about tips and tools for learning/teaching Spanish and what she learns while teaching. Very helpful blog!

5. Language Evolution: How and why language varies and changes.  I find this topic fascinating.  Although the blog can be quite technical for the everyday reader, it´s a great source for learning about this linguistic phenomena.

6. En la punta de la lengua: Luis writes extremely interesting posts all relating to culture and linguistics, primarily in Mexico.  The blog is predominantly in Spanish but also has English posts.  Very thought provoking and professionally written.

7.  Multilingual Mom: This multilingual mom is a franco-american mother of two girls, married to her Mexican Don Juan and is now living in Singapore (did you follow all of that?).  She writes about multilingual aspects of bringing up children.

8. Conversations with Japan: A unique way to write about Japanese culture, in the form of conversations with 2 people: Japan and me, as the name indicates.  This blog is entertaining, educational, and very creative.

9. Like a Sponge. Marianne writes about her experiences living in Holland and speaking Dutch.  I love the name of the blog as it is oh-so-true when living abroad and acquiring a new language.

10. Fuck Yeah my Language: This blog includes some interesting topics, again relating to linguistics, but I also include it on the list as it´s unique to others mentioned because of its format.  Using tumblr, it includes a lot of videos, audio tracks and images in its posts, rather than solely words.

11. UR Moving Where? Written by another expat in Argentina, this blog offers insights and tips for living abroad.  What is unique about it is that it is written from the perspective of a family and not a single person, which is a whole other animal.

Questions for my nominated blogs:

1. If you had the money and time to go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?

2. Not considering professional benefits, what do you think is the value of studying another language?

3. Are you an introvert or extrovert?

4. What is your Zodiac sign?

5. What is your favorite English word and why?

6. Mac or PC and why?

7. Why do you write?

8. What do you think the world needs more of?

9. What is one of your personal goals for 2013?

10. What´s one of your favorite movies and why?

11. What is something you have always wanted to do?

Language of the heart

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. ~Nelson Mandela

Heart Mandela

How your language impacts your money saving habits

Of course someone who grew up speaking a different language would think differently and make different decisions than you, wouldn’t they?  I’m convinced it’s true, although whether or not it’s solely because of language is questionable.  This question has been and continues to be debated by (real, as in professional) linguists, and every now and again examples pop up to prove that it’s true.  Watch this video for  a recent example.

In the video you either chose to watch or chose to watch later (as it’s really interesting), Behavioral Economist Keith Chen suggests that the language you speak impacts the way you think about the future, and specifically about your money-saving habits.  How is it that countries with similar economies can still have radically different savings patterns? And could language–something different between countries–possibly make a difference?

Map of money

English is what Kevin called a “futured language,” meaning that it has a future tense and speaks about the future in a different way than the past and present.  It separates the future in other words and makes it a separate entity.  English in fact is the only Germanic language that speaks about the future this way.  Believe it or not, other languages such as German and Chinese don’t differentiate time like English does.   German often uses the present tense in place of the future tense, and Chinese allows someone to say (in translation):

  • Yesterday it rained.
  • Now it rained.
  • Tomorrow it rained.

These are called “futureless languages.”  The theory was that if a language speaks as if the present and the future are so different and so far away from each other time-wise, then it would make it harder to save money; whereas if the present and the future are viewed in nearly the same way, then it makes saving more likely.

After analysis and a lot of cross-tabs, the data showed that this theory was in fact true!  The best savers are more closely related to futureless languages.  Statistical analysis showed in Kevin’s research that “futureless language speakers are 30% more likely to save in a year,” and “retirees from futureless languages are going to have 25% more” money saved for retirement,  if income is held constant.

What a contradiction this is!  Countries with future languages such as the United States that are almost-obsessed with the concept of saving money for the future are actually saving less than countries that don’t even think about the future in their words (and maybe therefore in their thoughts.)

This was on an individual level, so what about on a country basis?  Comparing China, Estonia and Germany to India, Greece and the UK, one major difference is savings rates.  Germans save 10 percentage points more than the British (as a fraction of GDP), and Estonians and Chinese are saving 20 percentage points more than Greeks and Indians!  And as we know, who’s doing better than most countries today in the difficult economic climate?  The strongest economy in Europe is Germany, and worldwide we know that China is doing pretty well.

And that ladies and gentleman is what I call pure discovery!

For more examples on how language impacts our behavior, go to the article that corresponds to the video.

More from Kevin’s blog.


Texting isn’t the death of written language but its evolution

I remember when text messaging first became popular, when you had to hit a number on the keypad three times to reach the desired letter.  I prided myself on how fast I could do it, and even wondered on more than one occasion if I should enter a texting competition.  This was the beginning of a new era.

The quantity of text messages that teenagers sent a month and even a day was alarming!  Driving while texting was becoming a big problem, and many experts said it was worse than driving drunk.  And of course there were new terms or lingo that made communication even faster, such as “LOL” (laugh out loud) or my personal favorite “LMK” (let me know).    Texting was changing many things, including how often people talked to each other on the phone and the importance of spelling and writing.


This was “then” but new phenomenas are happening “now” – all the time in fact.  I often see people celebrating on Facebook that they just learned how to do a keyboard shortcut for an icon/image.  A now old example is the ❤ for a heart, and one that I discovered tonight  is **== for the American flag, although one person called it a duck! (LOL)

As chat and text ‘lingo’ began (and continue) to increase in use, opinions and attitudes naturally emerged (emerge).  Many viewed (and view) this as a negative change, one that has dumbed-down society to yet another level, which they won’t be able to spell once they get there.  John McWhorter, however, an American linguist and political commentator, gives us a different perspective.  It is one based on evolution rather than death.

Watch John here.

In summary: John tells us that of the approximate 6,000 languages in the world, only around one hundred have a written language.  Written language is in fact relatively new, compared to speech.  Although we do not typically talk in the same way we write, there are examples of people speaking like they write.  For example, imagine a poor speech giver that is glued to the pages in front of him, rather than relying on his own knowledge of the subject.  There is now a form of writing like our speech, and that ladies and gentleman is the modern text message, or text.

John calls the texting of today “fingered speech.”  He credits this phenomena to modern devices like tablets and smart phones that are now allowing us to write faster than we speak.  Evidently text lingo like “LOL” and “TTYL” have grammatical use as well; they are considered particles, which are words or a parts of a word that have grammatical purpos but often have little or no meaning.  John also gives an example of how word meaning has changed (or evolved as I like to think), because of the communication medium.  The example given was the word “hey,” which is a way of getting someone’s attention in oral speech, however in texting when one can’t benefit from body language, “hey” is used as a way to change the subject.

Text lingo is just one way that communication has been influenced.  Other examples are the many shortcuts that exist, making communication faster than ever, bc (because) that is what the world is about now isn’t it – the speed in delivering information?  Here are some examples of modern text shortcuts in English. (Warning: not recommended for English student use in work emails.)

  • Thx (Thanks)
  • 2night (Tonight)
  • xoxo (Kisses and Hugs, known as Hugs and Kisses in speech)
  • Luv ya-ttyl (I love you-talk to you later)
  • IDK bc I lft.  (I don’t know because I left.)

The video and blog post pertain to English, but of course other languages are influenced by the same phenomena.   Here are a few examples of common Spanish-modifications due to texting:

  • salud2 (Saludos) – Greetings / farewell
  • porfi/porfa (Por favor) – Please
  • tb (también) – Also
  • pera (Espera) – Wait a second
  • TQM/TKM – (Te quiero mucho) – I love you very much
  • grax x too (Gracias por todo.) – Thanks for everything

There are even rules on how to form text lingo in Spanish!  For more info on Spanish text shortcuts, see the links below.  Happy texting!


No, the Canyon de Colorado isn’t in Colorado

This could have been a good introductory post to my blog as it’s about where I’m from, the State of Colorado in the US.  Living away from Colorado, in what feels like another world many days, I have developed a standard speech when I am asked the common question: “De dónde sos?” (Where are you from in Rioplatense Spanish.)

Just imagine the following in Spanish please:

  • “It’s in the middle of the country (US), more on the west.  We are famous for the mountains.  Maybe you’ve heard of Aspen (as many people have.)”

The response is just as predictable as my speech has become,

  • “Oh the Canyon de Colorado!”

Then I find myself looking for a kind way to tell them they are wrong.

This is how it usually goes you see, although this past weekend was different.  At a birthday party I could feel the conversation coming on, and I beat it to the punch.  As I introduced myself I added something new: “I’m from Colorado in the US, and no it’s not where the canyon is.” 🙂


The Grand Canyon is in the State of Arizona and is technically a long gorge formed by geological activity and erosion caused by the Colorado River.  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, in total 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and over a mile (6,000 feet / 1,800 meters) deep.  Geologists debate about the processes and time that it took to form the canyon, but recent information suggests that the Colorado River established its course through the canyon more than 17 million years ago.  Evidently during the ice ages weather conditions increased the amount of water in the river, in turn cutting deeper and faster to form the modern day Grand Canyon.  Today the canyon exposes nearly two billion years of the earth’s geological history!

And folks, THIS is where the connection to Colorado comes from, not from the canyon’s home state.  You see to my surprise the canyon is known as The Colorado Canyon in Spanish (Gran Cañón del Colorado or simply Cañón del Colorado).  Although Colorado technically means “red” or “colored red” in Spanish, and despite the canyon’s red color, this isn’t the reason it holds the name.  Spanish uses the name of the river that formed the canyon as the descriptor, rather than the state where it sits.  The name Colorado first came into use after the discovery of gold in the state and because of the red sandstone soil in the region…nothing to do with the canyon I’m afraid.

PS – I would bet that a lot of Coloradans have no idea how many people come looking for the Grand Canyon in their state!

From cigarettes to hurricanes, words from the Mayas

The Mayas are one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.  Spanning more than 3,000 years in Central America, archaeologists have now determined that the earliest Maya communities were established on the Pacific coast of Mexico around 1,800 BC.

Although the Mayas are known for many things, including a sophisticated agricultural systems that sustained crops, mathematics—including the concept of zero, extremely accurate astronomical observations, and the infamous calendar which ends this year, it is the Mayan writing system that some say is their greatest achievement.

The Mayan writing system resembles the Ancient Egyptian writing system with hieroglyphs, and it is the only known written language in the pre-Columbian Americas that corresponded directly with the spoken language of the people.  Between the five Central American countries where the Mayas predominantly lived and live (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize) there were close to 30 languages spoken; these languages were spoken up to the arrival of the Europeans.  Although many of the languages began to disappear with the decline of the civilization, neither did all the languages nor the people fully disappear, unlike some other ancient civilizations.

Today, there are approximately 6 million indigenous Mayas still speaking one of the Mayan languages. In Guatemala for example, there are 21 known Mayan languages, while there are eight others in Mexico.  Modern Mayan languages come from a 5000-year old language called Proto-Mayan, which the chart below shows as the starting point.  Here are some rough stats on the Mayan languages that still live:

  • Yucatec Maya: 740,000 people in Mexico and 5,000 in Belize
  • K’iche’: About 2.3 million people in Guatemala
  • Q’eqchi: 400,000 speakers in Guatemala, 12,000 speakers in El Salvador, and 9,000 speakers in Belize
  • Mocho’: Only spoken by about 170 people in Mexico while the
  • Lakantun: Only around 1,000 speakers in Mexico
  • The Chicomuceltec language is already extinct.


The Mayas impacted the world in great ways, and continue to, even today.  Remnants of the great civilization are still seen beyond the borders of Central America and beyond the calendar notification that the world awaits, because there are remnants of the Mayas in modern day languages… even English!

A “loan word” (préstamo in Spanish) is a word that is borrowed (taken really) from one language and incorporated into another language.  Sometimes loanwords carry the same meaning, like salsa or plaza in English, ‘borrowed’ from Spanish.  Other times their meaning changes slightly in the new language, such as macho or burrito—which literally mean male and little donkey in Spanish.  Other loanwords adopt new spellings but carry the same meaning, such as chocolate and coyote, which are both Aztec words from the language Nahuatl (originally spelled xocolatl and koyotl).

Some examples of loanwords from Mayan languages in modern Spanish include cigarro (from the Mayan word siyar) and the name of the country Belize from the Mayan word baliz for muddy waters.  Look here for Spanish words of Mayan origin listed in RAE’s dictionary.

Influence of the Mayas is also seen in English believe it or not, with words such as shark from the Yucatec word xoc/xook for “fish”; cigarette, which was already referenced above with the Spanish equivalent cigarro; cocoa for the Mayan word kakaw, and hurricane (which we hope doesn’t mysteriously appear tomorrow, on 12/21/2012.)  The word hurricane comes from the root of the Classic Maya deity Jun Raqan associated with storms and wind.  The word is said to have entered English indirectly, through Spanish and/or Carib.

So perhaps you reject any prophecy or opinion about December 21, 2012 and think that nothing will happen, or perhaps you hoarded food and water in preparation.  Whatever you believe about tomorrow, the Mayas are ever present; they left a permanent mark on the world for their great wisdom and knowledge.  Many of their descendants still live today and speak their words, like many of us–we just don’t know it.

One thing about tomorrow is most definitely true:

Mayan calendar - edited










Other sources used:

English/Mayan dictionary:

Fuck, there is no word like it

  • It’s one of the most recognized English words, all over the world.
  • It has tremendous grammar versatility as it can be used as a verb, adjective, adverb and noun, to name a few.  See YouTube reference here.
  • The same word can be used to describe pain, pleasure, hate and love.
  • And finally, of all the words in English that start with the letter “F”, it’s the only one that is referred to as the “F-word.”

That’s right, the word is Fuck, F-U-C-K.

I said it.  I typed it, and I hope you aren’t offended.

You see it’s necessary to point out the offensiveness of this word right away.  Despite its common use, fuck is a very strong and profane word in the English language that can offend easily and/or give a (negative) indication of your character, if you care.  Most English-speaking countries censor the word on television and radio.  The American Heritage Dictionary notes that many see the word as vulgar, improper and utterly taboo, and Wikipedia repeats that the word is highly offensive in the modern English-speaking world.

A study once done with the British public concluded that fuck was the third most severe profanity in the English language, right after one of its compound forms Motherfucker.  Use your imagination on what you think was number one.

What has suprised me is the use of the word among non-native English speakers and even more surprisingly among people who don’t speak much English at all!  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some use of the word on Facebook for example.  A recent example comes from a fellow American living in Argentina who went to a birthday party of her daughter’s friend.

  • At a birthday party today, Ann’s 5 year old Spanish-speaking friend says “F*!& You” to me. After my initial shock, I try to explain that it’s not a nice thing to say and then it is her turn to look shocked. Is this a result of the unedited English songs on the radio here? Is it completely harmless for a kid her age or should I make a big deal of it? I am going to freak out when it comes out of my child’s mouth.

There are many legends on the origin of the word, including two common explanations deriving from the acronym F.U.C.K:

Fornication Under Consent of the King: During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, towns were trying to control the population and required couples to get royal permission to have children.  Once the king granted them permission, they would then place a sign with the acronym “F.U.C.K” on their house to be visible form the road.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge:  Many centuries ago this was the name of a legal offense for adultery or for out-of-wedlock and/or underage sex.  This was also the name of Van Halen’s third album.

In actuality, these are only myths about the word.  I know, it makes it far less interesting.

The real origin of the word is from cognates of Germanic languages, some saying from the German word frichen, meaning to strike.

  • German frichen (to strike)
  • Dutch fokken (to breed, to strike, to beget)
  • Norwegian fukka (to copulate)
  • Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate)

Fuck in all its forms is still considered very vulgar, so be careful using it if you don’t fully understand what you’re saying.  All that being said, use of the word is becoming more and more accepted.  In 2005 the Canadian Press handbook added the infamous four-letter word and now considers it commonplace.  This year the term “F-Bomb” was officially added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary after having first surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago!

Fuck, there is no word like it.

Quick grammar practice if you dare:

  • John ______________ Nancy.  (Transitive verb)
  • John’s doing all the  ______________ work.  (Adjective)
  • John talks too  ______________ much.  (Adverb)
  • I don’t give a  ______________. (Noun)
  • What the ______________ are the words that stand for ____ ____ ____! (Acronym)



To be or not to be… Tolerant

Tolerance.  It’s a noun and a politically-charged word, which naturally some preach and others detest.  It and its adjective form, tolerant, have been used in a social context for years and continue to be used, just for different reasons.  I read it in fact today in the comments of an article, “I think you need to start becoming more tolerant of others.”

Spanish is very precise with its verbs and has two verbs for the single verb ‘to be’ in English, ser and estar.  In general ser is the choice to talk about personality traits and things that are more permanent, like nationality or telling time, where estar is the choice for things that are temporal, like feelings or location.  This topic proves to be difficult for English speakers who are used to yet one verb.  In order to differentiate between a permanent trait and a temporal state, we English speakers have to use more words… more grammar, such as adverbs:

  • The water is cold.  (It’s still unclear whether the water is permanently cold or just temporarily cold.)
  • The water is always cold.  (Adding the adverb ‘always’ shows that cold is the water’s permanent state.)

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence changes based on the verb choice, and not by adding extra words:

  • Ella es feliz.  (She is a happy person.) (Ser)
  • Ella está feliz.  (She is happy, in the moment for some reason.) (Estar)

It struck me recently when I was reminded that the adjective “tolerant” in Spanish goes not with estar, a temporal state verb, but with ser, the permanent state verb.  Through the grammar lens, I say it’s a great message: tolerance isn’t a temporary state that comes and goes, it’s something that we must ‘be’ in the diverse world we live in.

I think so at least.


And PS – this was about the word ‘tolerant’ and not the verb ‘to tolerate.’  That is another subject for another day.

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