¿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! 😉