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The Proliferation Of Abbreviations

Topics: Learning Spanish

Published: Sunday, June 7, 2009


Standard abbreviations of household words are as much a part of Mexican Spanish as they are of English. One of the most common is fridge instead of refrigerator, in Spanish refri instead of refrigeradorLa tele for televisión, has been in use for as long as most people can remember.

Over the years, more and more of these shortened forms of words have been creeping into everyday use, exacerbated somewhat by the younger members of the population whose communications fit a new set of parameters defined by SMS text messages, chat room one liners, and email.

Appliances are a natural candidate for saving time speaking, and conge for congelador or freezer followed on the heels of refri. La micro will do for horno de microondas or microwave oven – not to be confused with el micro of public transport fame – and la laptop, already conveniently Anglicized to avoid the painfully Castillian ordenador portátil, is rendered la lap.

The supermarket or supermercado, became el súper with no problems and other outlets followed suit. The stationery store was reduced from la papelería to la pape, and the gas station or gasolinería simply to la gas.

Next up for this treatment were names of places frequented by the bourgeois and their Bohemian peers alike.

Coyoacán, a popular spot in the south of Mexico City for cafés, book shops, street entertainment and handicraft stalls, goes simply as “Coyo,” and Cuernavaca, the weekend hangout for chilangos with second homes, has been shortened, for one reason or another, to Cuerna.

The origin of such abbreviations is impossible to pin down, although the latter two seem to be more a matter of class distinction than oratorical convenience.

Anyone proclaiming their intention of joining the miles-long queues of cars leaving the capital for  Cuerna on a Saturday morning is saying more about where they are likely to be staying – someone’s home with pool – than about their city of destination.

Linguistic habits cross class borders, however, and sooner or later they come to be used by all. Just as the proletarian chido – or “cool” and others are  standard fare among the juniors, Aca instead of Acapulco and o sea * are also staples of working class conversation.

It’s possible, but by no means demonstrable, that friction between the classes generates the desire to be constantly coming up with new adulterations of language, if only to keep the others permanently passé.

* O sea literally means “in other words,” although its current use is more akin to the English “like,” in phrases such as “and I was, like, what?” – y yo, o sea, ¿qué? Another translation could be “I mean,” also a filler while thinking what to say next.

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Learning Spanish

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