Friday, February 23

Bats, crocodiles, meatballs and other Spanish curiosities

rodrigo parrado

Vowels occupy 45% of texts in Spanish, with ‘e’ as the most used ahead of ‘a’ and ‘o’

Michael Lorenci

“Bats and crocodiles might like meatballs.” Neither the editor has lost his head nor are they resounding errors. The words ‘bat’, ‘crocodile’ and ‘almóndiga’ (vulgar and unusual) are in the dictionary and are as correct as their evolutions ‘bat’, ‘crocodile’ and ‘meatball’, the result of a phenomenon called metathesis, which consists to change the place of some letters in a word. The book ‘I would never have said it’ (Taurus) explains it, a mine of lexical and linguistic curiosities subtitled ‘The well-kept secrets (or not so much) of the Spanish language’ that is protected by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE).

This essay reveals to us, among many other curiosities, that ‘heard’ is the only word that forms three syllables with three letters. That ‘bat’ is one of the few that includes all five vowels, and that ‘e’ is the most used letter in the language shared by almost six hundred million human beings, ahead of ‘a’. The ‘e’ is the most used vowel in ‘Quijote’ and the ‘a’ in ‘La Regenta’.

Another vowel, the ‘o’, occupies the third position. The first five positions of the most used letters are completed by the consonants ‘s’, present in the composition of plurals, and ‘r’, in the infinitive of all verbs. The ones we use the least are the ‘x’, the ‘k’ and the ‘w’. The first two are present, above all, in words imported from other languages. The ‘w’ was the last letter to be incorporated into our language, since it was not recognized as such by the RAE and incorporated into its dictionary until 1969.

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The book confirms that 45% of the letters in a text in Spanish are usually vowels, as confirmed by some studies, so that all of them appear in some words: in addition to ‘murciélago’, the most cited, there are others such as ‘authentic’ , ‘stimulator’ or ‘euphoria’. The latter is the one that needs the fewest consonants, only two.

This compendium of linguistic curiosities also confirms that the two words we use the most are the noun ‘thing’ and the verb ‘perform’, unbeatable and effective wildcards of our ancient language. With 23 letters, ‘electroencephalographist’ is the longest word of the 93,111 included in the Dictionary of the Spanish Language (DLE), that ‘railroad worker’ brings together five rs, that in ‘I was’ the consonants ‘s’, ‘t’ and ‘v’ appear in alphabetical order, and that there are palindromes like ‘recognize’ or ‘aniline’.

‘Ostentatious’ errors

Jesús Gil y Gil is remembered for his bravado and corruption, but also for resorting to terms such as ‘ostentatious’, a fusion of ‘ostentatious’ and ‘loud’. There are those who still want to be in the ‘chandelier’ instead of in the ‘candlestick’, as happened to Sofía Mazagatos, or who, as Carmen Sevilla said, do not feel “old enough to be in the legal park” (due to Jurassic) .

It is a phenomenon with which Shakespeare and Cervantes played and for which the term ‘malapropism’ has been coined (it is not in the dictionary), which alludes to Mrs. Malaprop, a character in ‘The Rivals’, by the Irish playwright RB Sheridam, who he speaks clumsily as well as creatively. In Spanish there are hilarious malatropisms like ‘symphonic boat’ (for ‘siphonic’) ‘Luz genital’ (for ‘cenital’), ‘slicing the brains’ (for ‘winding up’), ‘straightening the salad’ (for ‘dressing’) , ‘ursuline injection’ (for ‘insulin’), ‘tintintin’ (for ‘tintintin’), ‘have a muscle conjecture’ (for ‘contracture’) or ‘swim in the ambulance’ (for ‘abundance’).

One of the chapters is dedicated to the letter ‘ñ’, the fifteenth of the alphabet, and whose existence was threatened. And it is that in 1991 the then European Community denounced the Spanish laws that guaranteed the presence of the eñe in the keyboards that were marketed in Spain. Two years later, the Spanish Government guaranteed the presence of the ‘ñ’ in a Royal Decree under the cultural exception. The letter and its tilde would also become the anagram of the Instituto Cervantes and a symbol of the language.

That essay is the first in the ‘Speakers’ collection, a new linguistic dissemination initiative endorsed by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) and the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, and directed by the writer and academic Soledad Puértolas.


“Language is our great instrument of communication and expression. How can we not be interested? I think that conversations about a word raise heated arguments. We all have our interpretation, we all imagine what it means beyond what the dictionary tells us and we continually interpret words because we live them and make them ourselves”, says Puértolas.

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages ​​in the world, in which there are today 7,097 languages ​​according to the magazine ‘Ethnologue’. Official in 20 countries, it is the mother tongue of almost 500 million people, second only to Mandarin Chinese, with 950 million native speakers. But Spanish has almost 600 million potential speakers, including bilinguals, which makes it third in this field after English and Chinese. Cervantes is one of the six official languages ​​of the United Nations, along with English, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

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