Why Is The Table A Woman?

I travel to Mexico frequently and I am desperately trying to learn some Spanish. (Yes, Sister Madeline – I should have paid more attention in Spanish class back in high school! But so far, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?” hasn’t helped me much.)

What I find most confusing is the gender assignment of nouns. Who decided that the fork (el tenedor) is a male and the spoon (la cuchara) is woman? Also cats, dogs and horses – are all masculine (so I’m not sure how they get more cats, dogs and horses) while kitchens, tables and chairs are female but the plates resting on the table are male. My wife would say that once again the women are doing the heavy lifting in this arrangement.

Who assigned the sexes to nouns anyway? Probably some frustrated Spanish monk, locked away in a dreary monastary on some stoney coastline, tired of all the prayer and self-flagellation. He might have thought, “Hey, this could be fun!” “Let’s make tables female!” Otherwise it could all just be something very Freudian, hence el polo (the pole) and la copa (the cup). On the other hand, towers are femine and canyons are masculine. So I remain confused. 

It gets particularly interestings with plurals. Let me explain: nieto is grandson. Nieta is granddaughter. But grandchildren are nietos (the masculine). Often my director in Mexico City will ask about my grandsons, even though she knows that I have only one grandson and three granddaughters. The same goes for friends, who may be amigos and amigas but together they are all amigos. And on and on…

El AngelDon’t get me wrong, English is just as confusing for non-English speakers. What with our there, their, and they’re; not to mention, wind or wind, tear or tear and lead or lead. I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our language.

Still Spanish is my struggle and I find some amount of humor in all the gender confusion. No doubt I have provided much needed laughter to an overworked restaurant employee when I have asked for a table with a veiw but more likely asked if her legs could support two persons and would she mind if we sat on her while looking out a window.

In my defense, the most important monument in Mexico City, which is within view of my office – El Ángel de la Independencia (“The Angel of Independence”) is sexually confused. El Ángel – masculine. The actual angel on top of  El Ángel, well she’s a woman.

¡Dios Mio! Thankfully I have Google Translate on my iPhone…




Habla Ingles?

I’ve been in Spain on business for a week. I’ve toured a dozen or so ‘El Corte Ingles’ department stores here in Madrid and Valencia (think Macy’s meets Telemundo). I love Spain (what I’ve seen of it) and I’m trying to learn to speak Spanish. I really am.

But “habla ingles?” is still how I begin most conversations here. Sometimes I begin with “hola!” or “buenos dias” or “buenas tardes” or “buenas noches” but I’m not quite sure when “tardes” and “noches” begin and end so usually I just say “Hola”. I often say “gracias” and “de nada”, too. Beyond that things get a little sketchy. What I have found is that MOST Spaniards seem to appreciate that I’m trying to speak a little (muy poco) Spanish (or they’re just enjoying my stupidity and can’t wait until I’m gone so that they can let out a big belly laugh; either way I’m fine) and many will respond S L O W L Y so that I can understand them (sort of). I can see why total immersion teaches you how to speak a second language. You’ve just got to figure it out – if you want to eat or need to go to the bathroom or have lost your way – you need to be understood.

I will be happy to be home next week but if I had another week or fifty-two here in Espana I could really be “habla-ing some Espanol”. But instead, I guess it’s back to ‘Rosetta Stone’. I hate those cheery ‘Rosetta Stone’ people; they’re so smug and they’re ALWAYS right. If I could just move to Spain for six months or a year I would never need ‘Rosetta Stone’ again. Of course that would mean quitting my job and living in Spain with no income; not to mention the cost of airfare, hotels, paella, manchego cheese, wine and cafe con leche. Hmmm? I guess maybe ‘Rosetta Stone’ is a more reasonable option – damn it! I just think that I learn better “on the job” so to speak. No one in Madrid or Valencia has asked me “donde esta la biblioteca?” (where is the library?) but I have been asked “quires otra copa de vino?” (would you like another glass of wine?) and because “si” is my default response, I only realized after the third “copa de vino” that I should probably say “no”. So hey, ‘Rosetta Stoners’: here’s a heads up – we’re not spending our free time at the library. I’m just sayin…

I actually felt pretty good about myself today. I asked a Senora if she wanted my seat on the Metro and she understood me. Also I asked a couple how old their daughter was and then told them “mi nieta es tres anos tambien” – I felt so Continental!

Tomorrow I’m going to Mass – of course it will be in Spanish. I just hope nobody asks if I want more “vino”.

Adios mis amigos.

Denis (pronounced: DAY-NEEZ)

Calling All Grammar Police!

I have to admit that sometimes I don’t speak properly and there are times when my spelling, grammar and punctuation need editing (Just read any blog post). But I am aghast at how awful some people’s use of the English language has become. Too often I find myself silently correcting another’s speech. And sometimes not so silently – Rosko! It has become such a distraction that I find it hard at times to be in meetings with (allegedly) well-educated, professional people. I am afraid that this grammar (or lack thereof) problem has become nearly epidemic.

Let me give you some examples:

I have a customer who says “irregardless”. Irregardless? Really??? It’s not even a word! I have a work associate that routinely uses the word “exasperate” when he means to say “exacerbate”. Which I must admit, I find completely exasperating! And don’t get me started on using “I” or “myself” incorrectly instead of “me”. I guess some people think that they sound fancy when they say “I” instead of “me”. News flash: you only sound stupid when you use it incorrectly.

Being this correct all alone is exhausting. I need your help because this is not just limited to my circle of friends and acquaintances (although there is some serious verbal abuse – not that kind – going on with my work associates and family members). Recently at a family gathering someone commented that our two-year old granddaughter “Sure does talk good, don’t she?” We tried to shield the child.

Please share the load. Start correcting poor speakers. We owe to our children and our grandchildren. This problem is nationwide – worldwide and it’s time to right this wrong. I promise that tonight when you turn on the news you will hear folks butchering the English language. Especially some of those yokels who want to mandate that ‘English only’ is taught and spoken in our schools. I have a challenge for those people: start speaking English yourselves. And it’s pervasive. Even our past President couldn’t pronounce “nuclear”. This is a far-reaching and overwhelming issue. Celebrities, politicians, clergy, business leaders – all guilty of massacring our language.

Don’t get me wrong. I love regional dialects and accents and colloquialisms. I think that they are charming. My friends from Boston move their ‘R’s’ around – like taking the ‘R’ out of chowder (chowda) and placing it in ‘idea’ (idea-r). And my friends in Wisconsin routinely say things like, “Hit it once with a hammer a couple of times” or “Throw me down the steps a pack of cigarettes”. And my friends from the South will welcome “All y’all”. Even here in Saint Louis some folks make ‘O’s” sound like ‘A’s’, for example: horse is pronounced “harse” and corn is often called “carn”. And this can sometimes lead to humorous statements, like when our Deacon invites us to “Pray to the Lard”. I chuckle every time (Lard please forgive me).

I haven’t even taken the time to discuss poor writing skills. I’ll save that for later. Suffice to say, I receive e-mails that are so poorly written I sometimes feel that I need a ‘decoder’ to make sense of them. And don’t get me started on text messaging. It is truly the decline of our entire civilization. R U kiddin’ me?

So I’m calling all grammarians. Step it up! Do your part. Stop the abuse. Our precious language is counting on you.



P.S. Feel free to correct my grammar, spelling or punctuation in this post.