In the shower one day (which is my second best place for thinking and coming up with my harebrained schemes brilliant ideas, I won’t tell you what my best place is other than to say it’s another bathroom fixture—which may go a very long way towards explaining this column, now that I think about it…), I noticed there was no soap. I called out to my wife, “Sweetie, can you reach me the soap?” As soon as I had blurted out that exact sentence I laughed out loud.
I had realized I was speaking in Spanglish to my wife, who as a British-Jamaican woman, doesn’t know a lick of Spanish (or Spanglish).
If you don’t know any Spanish, then you wouldn’t know the Spanish way to ask for someone to hand you some soap is to say “alcanzame el jabon.” Literally translated, this means “reach me the soap.” But its true meaning is “hand me the soap.”
Spanglish, for those of you who don’t know, is when someone who speaks both English and Spanish mixes up the two languages, often mid-sentence (sometimes, even mid-word!). Officially this practice is known as “code-switching.” I find myself doing this a lot, especialmente cuando yo hablo… oops, sorry, I mean especially when I speak to certain people, like my father for instance.
First- and second-generation Cuban- and other Hispanic-Americans, like myself, will often deliberately create the funniest possible constructs in Spanglish, to amuse ourselves. I worked at one place—for the record, the place no longer exists and I worked there very, very long ago—where many of my co-workers (who were also Cuban-Americans) and I would spend a great part of our days coming up with the most hilariously botched Spanish-language translations of American and British pop and rock songs you could imagine.
I’ll spare you all the hokey lyrics but if you don’t know any Spanish, trust me when I tell you “I am the eggman…” sounds funny as heck in Spanish (“yo soy el huevo-hombre…”).
Because Miami has such a large Spanish-speaking population, you’ll see many businesses catering to this population with signs and literature in Spanish. But because these businesses are located in the United States, they still have to keep one foot, as it were, in the English world. This sometimes results in unintentionally funny (to “Spanglish” speakers, anyway) placards and the like.
Photos of these unintentionally funny signs have made their way around the Internet, in much the same way as photos of hilariously translated signs (from Chinese or Japanese) have been posted on the funny and famous website Engrish.com (one of my favorite sites, by the way).
***WARNING! WARNING! SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!***
This has inspired me to create yet another humor website. My latest time-wasting project features pictures of funny Spanish and Spanglish signs (à la Engrish.com). It’s called QueFunny.com (Spanglish.com was taken).
Enough self-promotion. Some of the funniest (to me and my smart-alecky mind, anyway) Spanglish and bungled Spanish translations can be found in restaurant menus. There was the time I saw what a resturant meant to translate as “apple pie” but read in spanish as “apple foot” (“pie de manzana,” “pie” meaning foot in Spanish). Then there was “fish macho style” (“pescado al macho”). Then there was “tongue in its own juice” (“lengua en su jugo”-you have to think about this one a bit to figure out why I found it funny).
I could continue but I’m starting to get hungry. I think I’ll have some old clothes with a side of Moors and Christians, dedos de señora for dessert, and I’ll wash it all down with a pitcher of bleeding.