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August 25, 2007

Spanglish - Really Bad Spanglish

By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons

Seen on the New York City Subway among several Bud Light ads allegedly in Spanish, one with the following text:

Tan bueno como encontrar un parking en frente al building

Good God. I have plenty of Latino friends who, when I tell them about this nonsense, they don't know whether to roll their eyes, laugh, puke or all three. I've informally polled a Colombian, Chilean, Argentinean, Dominican, Cuban, Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican, none of whom said that they have heard people butcher their language quite like that. Your subway advertisements are now as good as your beer.

Psst, Anheuser-Busch: the italicized words are not Spanish. I believe the words you're looking for are estacionamiento and edificio, respectively, if you're trying to say "As nice as finding a parking place in front of the building."

I'm not the only one who thinks they're idiotic.

August 25, 2007 in Media | Permalink


I'm Puerto Rican, and I think I have heard relatives drop "parking" into Spanish. Could be thinking of something else though. Never "building" though--such a common word, it'd be like dropping "happy" into Spanish.

Posted by: IIsabel | Aug 25, 2007 10:10:07 PM

Korean doesn't have an "f" sound at all, so Koreans will substitue "p" for "f" in loan words. It leads to a tremendous amount of confusion, like when I did my immigration stuff and was called to get my "pingerfrints" done.

The best was some graffiti that we saw which said "Puck You!"

The ads are stupid, but language is such fun.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 25, 2007 10:27:26 PM

Rather than polling your friends, maybe you should have consulted Google. Do a search for "de un parking," or "con un parking," with the quotation marks.

Posted by: N | Aug 25, 2007 10:55:27 PM

Languages that come in contact borrow from each other. Live with it. Complaints like this remind me of all the futile measures that the French have tried to take to keep English words out of their language. It doesn't work. And 100 years from now, "parking" will seem normal to Spanish speakers, just as words added to the language 100 years ago sound normal now.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Aug 25, 2007 11:05:03 PM

Anyway, why the heck would a beer company want to make sure that its ad text follows the dictates of the Royal Academy of Spanish? Departing from academically approved language is part of the point, obviously (whether or not the ads accurately reflect vernacular Spanish is a separate question).

Posted by: N | Aug 25, 2007 11:17:14 PM

They're trying to make an ad that appeals to two cultures. By using a pidgin spanish, non-spanish speakers can understand it as well as spanish speakers.

Their target audience is probably not you.

Posted by: anon | Aug 25, 2007 11:20:27 PM

"Parking" is used in French, "building" too, though less. Short English words, particularly -ing ones, it seems, are popular in other languages. My favorite in French doesn't even exist in English as the noun it is in French, "le shampooing" (="shampoo").

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 25, 2007 11:23:25 PM

My favorite in French doesn't even exist in English as the noun it is in French, "le shampooing" (="shampoo").

Hee. In spanish they just say "champoo." My favorite Englishism in Spanish is definitely "tenis" (pronounced TEH-nees or, if you are in Puerto Rico, TEH-neeh because unaspirated S's are for weaklings and Spaniards!) for sneakers--i.e., tennis shoes.

The best language for this, though, is by far Japanese. "Shawaa" is the word for "shower," "Haabaado" is Harvard, "famicon" is "family computer..." the list goes on, and it is awesome.

Posted by: IIsabel | Aug 25, 2007 11:50:43 PM

If they want proper Spanish tell them to go to Mexico or Colombia or Spain or wherever the fuck they came from.

Fuck em all and fuck off if you dont like your non-dominant language spoken in this country

Posted by: joe blow | Aug 25, 2007 11:52:06 PM

My personal favorite in this regard was the ad for Tyson chicken, which at the time was in English "It takes a tough man to make chicken this tender." It got translated into Spanish that had the colloquial meaning of "It takes a man with an erection to get a chicken sexually aroused."

There was also the Coors Light "Sueltate!" campaign, in which the chosen slogan meant "Get diarrhea!" At least that one was quite accurate.

Posted by: Kitty | Aug 26, 2007 12:16:31 AM

"le shampooing"

What most struck me when I learned this word is that it's pronounced something like "shahmpwahng" with the "g" swallowed, and the base word is obscured - "parking" for example is pronounced much more like English.

Posted by: rilkefan | Aug 26, 2007 12:23:35 AM

Hey Randy,
Thanks for linking my blog post. Commenting on a few comments from others, my biggest issue with the ads is that Anheuser-Busch picked and plunked slang from different countries, without considering the fact that Spanish slang is not consistent throughout Latin America. As I mentioned in my post, my co-workers, all Latinas born in the US, but with heritage from all over Latin America, were able to identify some words and not others (most others actually).

Even standard Spanish vocabulary translates differently from country to country. For example, one of the ads says "jampiarte un arroz con pollo," I've never seen "jampiarte" before, but I safely assumed it dealt something with eating. However, I found out that "jampiar" in Central America is used as "to gang fight".

Although I will say, the "...parking frente al building" ad is probably the clearest of the bunch, along with the "memoria de tu novia" one.

Posted by: L-K | Aug 26, 2007 12:23:59 AM

Bertrand Russell wrote, "it may be maintained quite plausibly that if Henry VIII had not fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, the United States would not now exist. For it was owing to this event that England broke with the Papacy, and therefore did not acknowledge the Pope's gift of the Americas to Spain and Portugal. If England had remained Catholic, it is probable that what is now the United States would have been part of Spanish America."

Posted by: mijnheer | Aug 26, 2007 3:57:38 AM

I am Puerto Rican too and the use of parking is as widespread as that of estacionamiento. I myself tend to use parking a lot when speaking Spanish. I am not proud of it

The use of the English Building instead of edificio is almost nonexistent as Isabel said

Posted by: DIS | Aug 26, 2007 6:18:11 AM

Jeez, I may be sticking my neck out here, but I totally agree with Randy. Widespread, pervasive (and invasive) ads that mangle language certainly do contribute to the downfall of said language, and arguing that they don't amounts to little more than misdirected populism and linguistic laziness. I'm sick and tired of seeing apostrophes deserted (or, equally dreadful, overused), and I cringe when I see Spanish, which is a gorgeous, musical language, chopped up like so much mincemeat and sprinkled with bits of filler. Ugh.

When I lived in Miami, we just said espacio (space) when referring to the spot in which you parked your car. Never parking. Another quibble: it should be en frente del edificio--in front of the building, not in front to the building.

Live with it? Moi? Phuque ieough.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 26, 2007 9:28:07 AM

Oooh, I just remembered a funny billboard that made me blush when we first arrived in Miami after living in Honduras. It was for a household cleaner, and it was directed at the Cuban market: ...para el piso mas limpio del mundo! (for the cleanest floor in the world.) In Honduras, that would have meant you were buying the cleanest f*ck in the world.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 26, 2007 9:36:27 AM

litbrit frente al edificio is correct Spanish.

al is an accepted abreviation to a e'l, so it is equivalent to frente a e'l edificio = in front of the building.

You are correct that a usually means to, but this is no universal in Spanish. Depending on the context a can be translated as of and it is not incorrect in Spanish.

Posted by: DIS | Aug 26, 2007 10:40:07 AM

Just to expound on what L-K said (fui mi placer, btw, LK), there's a certain sense of A-B condescending to their intended audience. It's one thing if an individual screws up while speaking a language other than their first one (I've managed to do so in German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), but another thing entirely when you have the resources that A-B does to do it right. It can also alienate your intended audience.

For example, several years ago Brazilians visiting New York were the single biggest spenders among international visitors. Stores were putting up signs that said se fala portugues and Brazilians knew to stay away from these stores, because while si parle italiano and se habla español might be acceptable, someone who knows a minimum of Portuguese knows that it's fala-se português.

Anon: You're right of course, it wasn't meant for me. Beer is about the only thing about which I'm snobby. Bud is great - for killing slugs in your garden.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 26, 2007 12:18:57 PM

The add is in Spanglish, which is neither Spanish nor English. If you don't understand Spanglish, you probably don't know many cross-border people. Mexican communities as far north as Michigan (where I grew up) speak Spanglish, and I've heard both "parking" and "building" (though usually pronounced "parquing" and "bildeeng") on numerous occasions.

Clearly, the advertisers are targeting that audience, not pedantic English or Spanish speakers. Besides, language is a breathing, organic thing. It evolves over time. Get used to it.

Posted by: mcentellas | Aug 26, 2007 1:15:24 PM

i don't think randy paul quite understands what he means to say. is the spanglish "really bad" because it's, well, bad spanglish or because it's not spanish and it is actually spanglish itself that is "really bad." i think he means the latter. if this is the case, i would love to see randy's list of all the "really bad" languages/dialects.

Posted by: neil | Aug 26, 2007 2:08:40 PM

DIS, not as I was taught, but as others have pointed out, it's a language with many variants. Even Rosetta Stone offers two distinct programs: Latin American Spanish and "Spain Spanish".

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 26, 2007 3:07:13 PM


What do you mean by the "downfall" of the language? Do you think that in 100 years, we won't be able to communicate with each other?

Or do you simply mean that Spanish in 100 years is going to be different than Spanish now? And if you mean the latter, why is that such a big deal? Old English is different than Middle English, and Middle English is different than modern English. The Spanish of Cervantes and modern Latin American Spanish have a lot of differences; heck, Latin American Spanish excised an entire number/person combination (second person informal plural, i.e., "vosotros").

What you call the "downfall" of the language is simply some rules getting eliminated, others being imposed, new words replacing old words, etc. That's how language works. It is an organic entity that changes all the time.

Saying this is not "populism". It is simply describing a process that authorities can't stop even if they want to (witness the hapless French). You'd just as soon complain about the sun coming up every morning.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Aug 26, 2007 4:59:36 PM

Actually, the "vosotros" form is still used in some places. In Bolivia's easter regions (where I come from), it's used instead of "tu" to mean intimacy. We also use "incorrect" forms of the vos conjugation.

So we'd say: "¿Que querej?" (notice also we drop our S and relpace w/ a "J" sound), which is the equivalent of "¿Que quereis?"

In that part of the country, many also speak Portuñol, a pigdin of Spanish & Portuguese. It's mutually intelligible in both, and used frequently in border areas of Bolivia/Paraguay/Brazil.

Posted by: mcentellas | Aug 26, 2007 6:32:08 PM

Dilan, by "downfall" I don't mean the altering of rules and adoption of new words. I refer instead to advertising's institutionalized disregard for currently accepted and used rules as well as its promotion of strange, incoherent, or even unintentionally funny language. Take the odd disappearance of apostrophes in some commercial applications. Are you saying there is something wrong with apostrophes? Because plenty of ads--ones that bloom all over one's visual landscape on a daily basis--imply that it's okay to leave them in the dust. I believe that this insincere attempt to be "jes' folks" encourages, by example, shoddy grammar and spelling. My opinion, that's all. I'm fully aware that people will continue to misspeak and misspell their way toward Gomorrah, and further, that there is nothing I can do about it.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 26, 2007 7:01:11 PM

Sorry everyone, but I'm digging in my heels here. The ad is written text, it is not being spoken. If it were being spoken (which, of course would keep it out of the subway), I would probably not be bothered by it as much.

There are plenty of ads in Spanish in the subway with correct grammar and without Spanglish. If someone intends to write something to be read - especially if there is no person speaking or positioned to give the impression that they are speaking the case - then it should be grammatically correct within reason. I hardly think that's unreasonable.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 26, 2007 7:56:04 PM

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