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Euphemisms and Things Like That

Along with its penchant for polite language, Mexico makes use of a good number of euphemisms

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Along with its penchant for polite language, Mexico makes use of a good number of euphemisms.

One example is the use of the verb regalar — which means to give as a present. If asking someone for a cigarette, a Spaniard or Argentine will say “¿me das un cigarro?” whereas in Mexico the usual way would be to say “¿me regalas un cigarro?” The implication is that of willingness on the part of the giver, and the absence of any debt on the part of the taker.

In times of crisis and other times, politicians and corporations love euphemisms. Prices never go up, they are merely adjusted. The pressing question: “¿ajustados hacia arriba?” will draw a painful look in response that says “of course, but we don’t feel the need to mention it in such blatant terms.”

Layoffs are “maximización de recursos humanos” or something of the sort, and the insistent “¿despidos?” (layoffs) will be considered somewhat mean-spirited.

This beating around the bush and shifting of the blame crops up in the most everyday expressions and turns of phrase.

In Spanish, you never lose anything, rather, the object “loses itself” from you. This and similar phrases make use of the reflexive “se” and the thing lost, dropped, or broken becomes the subject, while the loser (dropper, breaker) becomes the object.

Se perdió el dinero. The money got lost (lost itself).

Se me perdió el dinero. I lost the money. Perdí el dinero is quite correct, but not often heard.

Se me perdieron las llaves. I lost the keys (notice the plural form of the verb).

An illustration that this has euphemistic connotations and that the speaker isn’t merely strait-jacketed by the proper use of language presents itself when someone else is to blame.

“Se me rompió tu iPhone.” Your iPhone broke [in my hands?] may well elicit the outburst “¡rompiste mi iPhone!” and not the smoothed-out “se te rompió mi iPhone.

One verb that will only allow for the reflexive application is “drop.”  He dropped the glass has to be “se le cayó el vaso,” because Spanish has no direct verb for drop, and “dejar caer” or “let fall” is rather clumsy and could suggest that the dropping was deliberate.

The best of all these reflexive dodges refers to tardiness in a country where punctuality is recognized as a British virtue, to be admired but not really something to get worked up about or go to great lengths to copy.

“Sorry I’m late” is merely “se me hizo tarde,” the lateness having crept up on the arriver.

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