08 November 2015

Words Fail Me: Legend of Zorro

Sometimes a single word in one one language can represent multiple words in another.
Esperar, for example, can mean
1.) to wait for
2.) to hope
3.) to expect
4.) to look forward to

Seriously? Way to mess me up, Spanish.

Come on. Different concepts here. Maybe you expected me to be a slackass and take three weeks to write this post, but you were hoping I'd put something up today. Or not. Fair enough. Were you just waiting to hear from me, or were you looking forward to it? See? Different. So I'm never quite sure if I'm expressing the subtle nuances with that single Spanish word. I feel like I have to clarify. Granted, I'm often not sure if I'm expressing blatant, simple-ass distinctions either, but whatever.

Typical phone call between me and the esposo:

Him: ¿Dónde estás?  (Where are  you?)

Me: En la parada. (At the bus stop.)  Esperando Godot.
      Bueno, "esperando-
waiting for" Godot ... no "esperando-expecting" him.  

(See? Told you. I've got jokes now.)

Not the same.
This happens a lot with animal words, especially animals that aren't very common in Latin America.

Moose and elk: different animals, right? Bzzzzt! Not in Costa Rica, where they're both called alce.

Hawks and falcons are both called halcón.

Squirrels and chipmunks? Ardilla.

Foxes and skunks are both zorro here.

What the hell, people?

In the dictionary, "fox" is zorro, "skunk" is mofeta or zorrillo, and all is right with the world. But that's standard Spanish. The Spanish of dictionaries and textbooks. Of logic. The Spanish of other countries where I don't live. Tico Spanish is a whole'nuther animal. In Costa Rica, the dictionary means jack because haha, foreigner! Gotcha.

You can talk about a whole'nuther animal in Costa Rica if you want, but you're going to use the name of this here animal when you do it.

Hold on, my cat is barking at something. Hush, Rover.

So one night, the esposo and I were walking home from the bus stop. It was pretty dark, but it was a clear, starry night with a full moon limning the coffee fields and lending a Harlequin-worthy, romantic glow to the whole scene. It also backlit the bats zipping about, so visions of Satan's winged minions tangled in my hair kind of killed the romance for me, but still. (Spare me the infomercial about bats not bothering humans. We've been over this. You walk your dog past that tree on the corner with its magic -- and possibly hallucinogenic -- fruit that transforms them into deranged, dive-bombing defenders of the harvest, and then come talk to me.)

So we're strolling leisurely along, because the esposo is a stroller, a saunterer, and I'm looking up at the moon, trying to ignore the occasional shadow flitting across its face, when the esposo says,

Mira, un zorro! (Look, a fox!)

I looked, but it had already slipped into the coffee field. I wondered if the moon was bright enough for a photo, foxes being prettier than bats and less interested in my hair. I fumbled for my camera.

Me (in Spanish): Where did it go?

Esposo: That way. Into the coffee field.

Me: I can't believe I missed it! It would be such a beautiful picture. I think the moon's bright enough.

Him: Why do you want a picture of a fox? It's one of the ugliest animals.

Me: What? How can you say that? They're gorgeous animals -- that beautiful fur and tail!

Him: [derisive snort] The fur is ugly. It's practically bald. And the tail is the ugliest part of all. It has the tail of a rat. 

photo: Olga Gladysheva
I actually stopped walking. How was I married to someone who found a fox, of all animals, ugly? I mean, if foxes were ugly, what next? Were giraffes on his ugly list? Wombats? Where the hell did I fall, for that matter? Foxes do not belong on the ugly list. In the 70s, your crush was "a fox" instead of a hottie. And that whole Mask of Zorro thing? Hello, Antonio Banderas. Zorro. Foxy. Lordy. I rest my case.

Me: Who ARE you? What kind of person thinks a fox is ugly? And if their tails are so ugly, why do people make coats and ... and ... those things you wear around your shoulders ... out of them?  Cómo se dice "stole"?

[Fruitless, exasperating side discussion about the word "stole".]

Him: No one would make a coat or ... anything out of this ugly animal. Much less its rat tail.

By this time, I'm actually annoyed. He's obviously as demented as the bats. I've married a fox-hater. Everyone knows foxes don't have ...

Me: Why do you keep saying it has a rat tail?

Him: Because they're like big rats. Rats in trees.

Me: Trees? Foxes don't climb trees.

Him: Of course they do. Zorros pelones (bald foxes) do. They use their ugly tails. 

And that's how I learned that in Costa Rica, a zorro is not only a fox, not only a skunk, it's a freaking possum as well.

What the hell? Wasn't expecting that. (Or looking forward to it, or hoping for it, or ...)

I'd learned possum as zarigüeye. The dictionary said so. You all know where I'm going with that. Ha-fucking-ha, foreigner! Gotcha!

When pressed, the esposo admitted you can differentiate with descriptors:
zorro-zorro = fox
zorro pelón = possum (bald fox)
zorro hediondo = skunk (foul-smelling, stank-ass fox)

I don't know why people don't differentiate all the time, but I know one thing: I am not even asking about badgers or weasels.


  1. Mimes don't have this problem.... just saying....

  2. I'm not up on my "Zorro" (as in, Mexican hero, carving his initial into people's torso's) lore, but I think it adds an added dimension of humor that he probably meant to name himself after a Fox but instead was probably more associated with a skunk. Wasn't there a George Hamilton movie in the 70's? It was all spoof satire stuff, wasn't it?

  3. I swear, I would never be understood....if I could even learn another language. Fox = cute, possum = not cute. The thing about cougar, mountain lion, puma, catamount..... at least none of these names share Zorro first. You have to be brilliant; that's all. And patient.

  4. Okay. I KNOW this about the itsy bitsy wiggly differences in words, but I've been shoved into the 'Defender of Possums' corner. They DO grow into some ugly beastie things, but through their teenage years? ADORable! I just had a chat with one the other night.

    Also, I loved your Esperando Godot.

  5. I might be on the Booda team with regard to possums; they were dear childhood friends and I find them to be cute as pips when pups (are baby possums pups? hmmm) I can with total authority, however, say that "deranged, dive-bombing defenders of the harvest" is the only way I shall ever refer to a bat again.

  6. A possum once dashed through our house., between my feet, and under the sofa while my mom was braiding my hair. Scared the daylights out of both of us. Many years later while out at night I happened to shine a flashlight up in a tree and discovered one hanging from a branch. Once again I was quite startled. Not a big 'possum fan.

  7. nice artikel


I've got a fever ...