[#028] ¡Epa, qué colorcito!

¿Querés una birrita? ¿No tendrás un tomatito para la ensalada? ¿Por qué no nos sentamos allá, al solcito? ¡Qué carita que tenés!

These are all things that you can hear from rioplatófonos. Actually, from Spanish speakers in general. But since this is a common phenomenon in the River Plate area, it is important to talk about it and explain a few things. ¿Solcito? Little sun? ¿Birrita? Little beer? What’s all this about?



Friday… I deserve a cold one!


If you’ve already had a Spanish lesson or two, you will have probably noticed that word endings change all the time and these changes are quite common. Look at the verb “to speak” in the present tense: hablo, hablás, habla, hablamos, etc. You already know that these endings (or suffixes) convey different meanings. In this case, they point to the subject of the sentence, and that’s why you don’t need to use personal pronouns like “yo” or “ella” all the time… Yes, exactly, I’m talking about verb conjugation. And yes, we all hate it. Moving on!

There is a special kind of suffix in Spanish that is often used to imply a different meaning, which has to do with size. When we add “-ito/a” (or “-cito/a“) to some words, we add the meaning of “small”. So for example, “casita” means “casa pequeña” (little house), and “lapicito” means “lápiz pequeño” (small pencil). This word transformation is not so common in English, but you can think of the suffix “-let” in words like “droplet” (little drop of rain) or “booklet” (a small book), which works in a similar way.

Now, these special endings (or diminutive suffixes) don’t always convey the idea of a small size, as in the examples that you read at the beginning of this post, but can also express affection. This is what linguists call “morfología apreciativa“, which has to do with the use of morphological resources like suffixes to express affection or emotions. Compare saying “little dog” and “doggy”. Or “little cat” and “kitty”. Which one would you say sounds cuter?

Now, it is well known that Spanish cannot live without its crazy and super rich morphology, so that means that we can add these suffixes to lots and lots of nouns, and adjectives too.

So if you ask for a “tomatito” to add to your salad, then yes, that can be a small tomato or it can be just a cute way of referring to it. It wouldn’t be weird for a cook on TV to say something like “y ahora cortamos unas cebollitas y después las agregamos al tuquito” (so now we chop some onions and then we add them to the tomato sauce), which will make the cook sound more loving or less cold and captivate their audience. (By the way, good luck translating this affective component in such cases. Cute onions? Haha, what’s that?)

If a friend invites you to go for a “birrita“, don’t assume you will be drinking only a little bit. That won’t necessarily be the case. Actually, this word has already appeared in a video in a previous entry. We didn’t get to say much back then, but there you have an example of this diminutive suffix. And in case we haven’t mentioned this before, the word “birra” is slang for “cerveza“, so you will only hear it in informal contexts.

Next example. Think of a cold winter sunny day. Wouldn’t if feel great to go sit over there under the warm sun? ¿Por qué no nos sentamos allá, al solcito? Of course, the sun can never be small. But the use of “solcito” conveys this nice feeling of the sun gently warming our skin.

Sometimes things get a bit more complicated, though, as in the expression “¡qué carita que tenés!” (literally, “what a face you have!”). If someone says this phrase to a friend, they will be probably trying to point out a special facial expression. Maybe their friend is tired and sleepy, maybe they look angry or they are in a bad mood, or maybe they are smiling while daydreaming. Qué cara, carita, carucha, caripela All of them are valid. Oh, the wonders of morphological derivation!


And finally, we can look at the title of this entry. Suppose we bump into Ross Geller, right after he’s been to the tanning salon.




We can then tell him: “¡Epa, qué colorcito, eh!” (Wow, nice tan you got there!)

Epa” is an interjection that usually shows some kind of surprise, at least in the River Plate area. It can be used differently in other places, though. Anyway, in this case, we can say that the word “colorcito” does not refer to size at all and is in fact being used in an ironic way. In other words, this affective meaning embedded in the suffix “-ito” does not represent our real opinion of Ross’ tan, and we probably don’t actually like his skin colour now.


Ok, to end this entry, here’s a piece of advice: be careful when you try to use these complex morphological resources. Mastering them is an art. If you want to use them correctly, start by copying what native speakers say, in the same contexts and with the same intonation. But if you want to experiment, run the risk of sounding weird and have a laugh, then go ahead and have fun with any palabritas that may come to your mind! 😉



[#020] This is Buenos Aires (I)

Today we’ll keep on learning about the typical culture of rioplatenses, or people from the River Plate area. Well, to be more accurate, we’ll be talking specifically about porteños, i.e. people who live in Buenos Aires.

I’ll share a video that is actually a funny sketch made by a group of young rioplatófonos. The main character here represents a porteño who wants to meet people from other countries and decides to invite foreigners to Buenos Aires, offering them a place to stay and also showing them around the city. Two guys from Great Britain arrive and… Let’s see what happens.

Did you like the video? Did you understand the parts in Spanish? We’ll be working later with some typical expressions of the River Plate area that appear in this video, but for this entry we’ll concentrate on some general cultural aspects first.

The first thing that we should point out is, naturally, the mate. You are already familiar with this typical drink, as we have already talked about it on our previous entry. So I’m sure you knew what Claudio was talking about (and holding in his hand) at the very beginning of the video.

In the second scene, we see Claudio receiving Peter and Willy. Did you notice that he gives them both a kiss on the cheek and also hugs them? Of course you did! Well, he’s overreacting a bit here in a humorous purpose, but that’s just how we roll, haha! In general, rioplatenses (and people from Latin America for that matter) are very warm and affectionate. We show our feelings quite openly. And yes, when rioplatenses greet someone in an everyday situation, we usually kiss that person on the cheek. And it doesn’t matter if the greeting is between a man and a woman, two women or two men. As long as it’s not a formal situation (which usually requires a handshake), we can greet others like this. Even if it’s someone you’ve never met before, like one of your friend’s friends. This may be shocking to some people, but hey, in some other parts of the world, like Québec or France, you normally greet people with two kisses, or sometimes even more! We just give one kiss, so it’s no big deal, right? 😀

Welcome England_

As a result of our open, effusive and friendly nature, we don’t just speak through our mouths, but also through our bodies. You may have already noticed this in Claudio, as he’s moving his hands around virtually all the time as he speaks. We’ve probably inherited this from the big waves of Italian immigrants who came to Buenos Aires during the last century. If you ask rioplatenses about their grandparents, you’ll find out that they were probably from Italy or Spain. But let’s focus on two specific instances of body language right now.

At 1:38, Claudio says “Ustedes tienen lindas mujeres también: Lady Di, las Spice Girls… Jamón del medio“, and then he kisses his fingertips. This expression “jamón del medio” means literally the middle part of the ham, which is regarded as the best/most delicious part. When this expression is applied to people, and women in particular, it means that they are very attractive. And yes, this hand gesture conveys the same idea.

At 4:18, Claudio says “Ok, this is Argentinian… very… food, the posta“, as he tries to explain (to the best of his linguistic skills) that they are about to eat a very traditional Argentinian meal (and the best one, according to him). He doesn’t seem to find a good translation for the word “posta“, though, so he says it in Spanish. In this case, “la posta” means “the absolute best, without question”. What’s more, “posta” can sometimes be translated as “truly” or “really”. For example, when you want to verify if something actually happened or if something is true, you can ask “¿Posta?“, which is equivalent to “¿De verdad?” or “¿En serio?“. And another common expression related to this is “decir la posta“, which means simply “to tell the truth”… Once again, this idea of “the best” or “the truth” can be accompanied by Claudio’s gesture: you make your thumb and index fingertips touch and form a ring, and you move your hand up and down.


Let’s now look at some other cultural points that we can gather from the video. After seeing Claudio, can you think of a common stereotype for porteños? People from Buenos Aires (and all Argentines by extension) are often said to be very arrogant and conceited. This is of course not true for everybody and I’m sure you can find arrogant people everywhere in the world, but I guess that we can see this attitude when Claudio tries to explain to his guests what the subway/underground is, as if they didn’t know already, or when he tells them that “we have the best pretty girls of the world in Argentina”.

Another interesting character in this video is Matilda, Claudio’s mum. She’s characterized as adhering to certain beliefs and values that, in my opinion, are shared by a big group of people of her generation. For example, she tells her daughter that she should have settled down and married a guy described as morally sound, strong and hard-working, regardless of the fact that her daughter thought he was boring and therefore probably wasn’t in love with him. She tells Claudio that he has no love for his country, because he let two Englishmen stay at her place, making a clear reference to the resentment some rioplatenses have towards Great Britain regarding the Malvinas (Falklands) conflict. And she points out the fact that Willy and Peter are gay in a negative manner. Claudio tells her that she should have a more open mind and not be so prejudiced. (Nevertheless, I’d say that in general younger generations don’t share these ideas anymore.)

En mi casa_

Moving on… Did you notice all the references to food on this video? Well, we have already talked about the “la posta” scene. There, these guys are eating choripán (“chorizo” is a kind of sausage, usually made from pork, and “pan” means bread, so “choripán” would be a kind of sausage sandwich), which is part of any genuine asado. In a nutshell, asado consists of different cuts of meat grilled on a parrilla and it serves as an excuse for family or friends to gather, especially during the weekend.

Birra” is a common word that rioplatófonos use to refer to beer in informal contexts, although we can also use the more general word “cerveza“. In this video, Claudio says “birrita” after sharing some choripán with Willy and Peter, and we can see him drink it from a bottle of Quilmes, a very popular beer brand here. And lastly, at 4.00, we can see them buying some garrapiñada, or caramel-coated peanuts.

And the last two points worth-mentioning: tango and baches. Tango is one of the reasons this area is best known for, and in Buenos Aires you can see people dancing tango in San Telmo, a traditional neighbourhood, among other places. At 4:04, you can see someone learning to dance tango in the street. Then, we have the word “bache“, which means “pothole”. You can see one in this video at 3:55. Believe it or not, these “baches” are also part of our culture and you can easily spot one if you walk a lot around Buenos Aires. But don’t worry, when election days are coming closer, our political leaders in power make sure they disappear.


Well, on our next entry we will have a closer look at the Spanish dialogues in this video, as there are some interesting words and expressions that need to be explained. But this is all for now… And probably the longest entry so far!