Since I was a student at the university I started to read the Buenos Aires Herald, the only daily newspaper written in English in this city, and I kept on doing this for many years ever since until the paper closed down in July 2017. Among other things, I started to make my own clipping collection. Some of the articles are from as far back as 1987 until 1994 and the sections were called FOCUS ON ENGLISH by Martin Eayrs and FOCUS ON SPANISH by Inés Pardal (by the way, I had the pleasure to take one of her courses on Compared Structures in the 80’s).
I copy below one of these articles (and I hope to continue sharing others too), that shows that, although many years have gone by, what has been will be again… (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
“I’m sorry to say that the language being written nowadays in Buenos Aires – in posters or signs, on shop-windows, ads and even the newspapers – gets impoverished day after day (especially if one compares it with the average level of Spanish used in the writing of dailies and magazines a couple of decades ago). It is difficult to trace the reasons for this impoverishment, which may be due to educational, social-economic and even political causes. Be as it may, let me point out some blunders in the use of Spanish that I have picked up there, just walking through Buenos Aires or taking subways or buses, in the hope that these comments may help students avoid such mistakes.
March is the month of bargain sales in B.A. And as I am, after all, human (except when I set myself to the task of correcting mistakes, some would say), I decided to go window-shopping. But, alas, one of the first shops I set my eyes on – though attractive enough in its layout – spotted the following announcement:
- Liquidación total. Camisas ralladas a mitad de precio. (Bargain sale. Grated shirts at half the Price).
I should have laughed, considering that, after all, the play upon words was funny. But his was not meant to be a pun of sorts: Whoever wrote that sentence, surely meant “camisas rayadas” (striped shirts) instead of “ralladas” (grated, as the cheese). So I did not laugh…
Then, I believe the same week, while walking along Peru street, the following annonuncement caught my eye:
- AUTOAHORRO: Le ofrecemos el plan que usted más gana.
This, as you know, was one of those plans for saving money to buy a car. Here the question was not a spelling mistake, but the awful Spanish syntax of the sentence. The relative que, to make the sentence correct, would demand here the preposition con:
- Le ofrecemos el plan con que (con el que, con el cual) usted más gana. (We can offer the most profitable plan for you).
The need for the preposition can be clearly seen converting the sentence: Usted gana más con el plan que le ofrecemos (You profit most with the plan we are offering you) and not Usted gana más el plan que le ofrecemos (You profit most the plan we are offering you). When in doubt, this type of conversion usually helps.
On the other hand, without the preposition, the verb has to be changed (and therefore the meaning intended originally). We might say, for instance:
- Le ofrecemos el plan que usted prefiera/elija/busca, etc.
(We can offer you the plan you prefer/choose/are looking for).
With the above verbs, of course, no preposition is needed, but this is not what the announcers meant to announce…
Something else that really irks me is the incorrect use of foreign words in ads and signs, or their misspelling. I do not so much object to the use of terms from other languages, but to their misuse, sometimes bordering on ridicule. In the outskirts of BA I spotted, for instance, a pub called “Jhonatan” (not as it should be, Jonathan); and I frequently see the spelling Jhon (for John) even in the daily papers. This is a subject my colleague Martin Eayrs may have something to say about!
Speaking of foreign words, I read the following in a ladies’ magazine:
De camino a polverino. Ideal para que una camisa se transforme en polverino de verano. (From shirt to polverino. The ideal for a shirt to be turned into a summer polverino).
Polverino, I guessed, is the Italian word for guardapolvo or something of the sort; but it was not my obligation to know it, and, furthermore, I do insist that foreign words should be written in italics to call the reader’s attention on them.
Finally, something I did not think would happen to me again did, and right in the middle of Buenos Aires (after all the time I spent in this column and everywhere else lecturing about it). While on the subway, I read a poster with the following announcement:
- Lonas para carpas, sillas, camperas, ropa de sky-wear… (Canvas for tents, chairs, jackets, sky-wear…)
Yes, I will repeat it for the hundredth time: The correct spelling for this winter sport is either the original word ski (of Norwegian origin), or the Spanish adapted form, esquí: never the English sky meaning “cielo” and pronounced, of course, in a different way”