Ñoqui in Argentina is more than just an Italian meal

Ñoquis might be a popular Italian dish in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires, but its meaning goes a lot deeper than Italian gastronomy. In Argentine lunfardo, ñoquis is the word used to refer to someone who doesn’t work, but who still manages to claim a salary at the end of the month.




The lunfardo expression became a well-used phrase in Argentine during the 1970s and relates directly to a group of corrupt, Argentine, civil servants who, it was eventually revealed, had been continuing to claim their paychecks at the end of the month without actually having done any work.

When Mauricio Macri was first appointed Mayor of Buenos Aires in 2011, one of the first administrative decisions that his government saw through was to sack 2400 public employees in the city of Buenos Aires. Macri and his government claimed that the 2400 public employees forced out of employment were all “ñoquis” – that they had been continuing to receive their salaries at the end of the month without ever having showed up to do the jobs they were being paid for. Macri’s decision generated a huge conflict between his government and the city unions. Many strikes by public service employees were also organized as a result.

As well as being a popular lunfardo expression, eating ñoquis on the 29th of every month is a long-standing tradition in Argentina. The tradition dates back to the early 20th century when Italian immigrants in Argentina didn’t get paid until the end of the month. Food was normally very scarce by the 29th and ñoquis, made from just potato and flour, is full of starch and was one of the best ways for these Italian families to feed everyone on a budget.

The ñoquis eating tradition on the 29th of every month also relates to the notion of good luck, fortune and wealth. It’s customary to put money underneath each plate before eating to encourage wealth and prosperity in the future.

Origin of “It Takes Two to Tango”

The tango is a popular dance in which two partners move in relation to each other. Tango is always danced in couples, and both parts are essential.  “It takes two to tango” is a common idiomatic expression inspired in this intrinsic partnership and is used to describe a situation in which more than one person is paired in an active and complex related manner, with positive and negative connotations.

The phrase “It takes two to tango” first appeared in the song Takes Two To Tango that Al Hoffman and Dick Manning composed in 1952. However, the expression reached top popularity thirty years later, when US President Ronald Reagan used it during a news conference. Since then, “it takes two to tango” expression has made it to the headlines several times.


This common expression can be used to suggest that the active cooperation of two parties is required in some enterprise in order to succeed or accomplish the objectives.

In the same way, it can also be used to refer to the fact that agreements or consensual bargains require both parties to assent in order to be successful.

Quarreling Also Takes Two

Disputes and discussions also need the participation of two parties. Thus, in situations in which both partners don’t agree upon something, we can also say “it takes two to tango”.


September 30: Happy International Translation Day!

Did you know that the Bible has been translated into 310 languages and that some of its text passages have been translated into 1597 languages and dialects? Did you know that the works of Lenin have been translated more often than Shakespeare’s dramas (321 compared to 93) or that Jules Verne was published in more languages that  Karl Mark (238 against 103)? And did you know that Asterix and Tintin have been both translated into 41 languages and dialects?

Who said that translators didn’t have a day to celebrate their profession? The International Translation Day is celebrated on 30th September on the feast of St Jerome, the bible translator. St Jerome has always been considered the patron saint of translators.

St. Jerome

The International Federation of Translators promoted celebrating St Jerome’s Day worldwide in 1953. All across the globe different celebrations and activities were organized to raise social awareness about the huge impact that translators and their work have on society: from users’ manuals to literature pieces to scientific discoveries, all of them can be globally known because a translator has made that possible.

Thirty-eight years later, in 1991, the FIT launched the idea of an officially International Translation Day to show the solidarity of the worldwide translation community in an effort to promote the translation profession in all countries, and not necessarily only in Christian ones.

The International Translation Day also offers us all with a great opportunity to draw attention to the importance of translators and interpreters in the world as they often remain invisible and unacknowledged, despite their huge contribution to communication and interaction in all sorts professional and social spheres.

Origin of the Word “Futon”

Futons have become an ordinary furniture piece and it is very likely that you are reading this article comfortably seated on one. But, have you ever wondered about the etymological origin of the word?

Western futon

Japanese Origin

English (as well as Spanish) borrowed the word from the Japanese and the Chinese, and it means “round cushions filled with cattail flower spikes”.

A Traditional Japanese Bedding

Futons can be easily found in Japanese homes. They are padded mattresses and quilts that can be plied and stored away during the day so that the room can be used not only as a bedroom. In fact, what we call futons in Japan are combinations of a bottom mattress and a thick quilted bedcover.

Futon Japan

Japanese Futon

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo: Exequiela Goldini

September is a very special month for Hispanics in the United States as the Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated all across the country. Since 1989, from September 15 to October 15, US celebrates the rich tradition and culture that the Spanish and Latin American population has brought to the nation.

According to the last census, the Hispanic population in the US is the nation’s largest ethnic minority representing a 17% percent of the total inhabitants with 53 million people.   As we have already mentioned in other articles, the number of Spanish-speaking people living in the United States has increased steadily within the last ten years and everything seems to indicate that this tendency will continue in the years to come. In fact, only from July 2011 to July 2012 it has increased 2.2%.

Why on 15th September?

The celebration of the Hispanic Heritage Month starts on 15th September because many Latin American countries celebrate their independence anniversary near that date: Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the Hispanic Heritage Week in September 1968, and it was the Congress under the administration of President Ronald Reagan that made the celebration a month long.

What is the Oxford Comma?

The Oxford comma has been in the center of the debate amongst language experts for quite a long time. Is it useful? Is it necessary? Should we use it? Haven’t we got enough punctuation rules already? Can’t we just do without it? And to make things even a little bit more interesting, not everybody knows what the Oxford comma is and how it should be used.

Understanding the Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is the comma that precedes the conjunction “and” or “or” before the final item in a list of three or more items. For instance:

“This poem is dedicated to Beth, Anna, and Rosemary.”

“This recipe takes: sugar, eggs, and flour.”

It is so called because it has traditionally been used by editors and printers at Oxford University Press although this convention is also followed by Harvard University Press. All throughout the United States, this mark is better known as the serial comma.

The Oxford comma helps to clarify the meaning intended of a sentence when it is placed before conjunctions in a series of words, especially when you are dealing with complicated lists. For instance, the use of the Oxford comma is advisable in this case:

“I would like to thank my parents, Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey.” If you omit the comma before the “and” people may think that Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey are your parents!

Besides, it matches the natural speech pattern of pausing before the last item in a series and, therefore, makes a list easier to comprehend.

When Should It Be Used?

Most editors and publishers agree on the fact that the most important thing to remember regarding the usage of this quotation mark is that you should be consistent. In other words: if you start using it, always do. Consistency is the key.


Queen Elizabeth I, the Translator

Rulers at present may be seen as practical, passionate, determined or powerful but few would think of them as intellectuals. Thus, it may be quite surprising to learn that Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most powerful English rulers during the Renaissance, was not only disciplined and independent but also an inward intellectual who devoted her teenage years to the translation of various religious texts that definitely shaped her “man’s mind”.

Elizabeth I was a successful queen in times where women were not considered suitable for holding certain positions in society. And according to Janel Mueller, professor of English language and literature at the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper Professor in the College, and dean of the Division of the Humanities., much of her success can be related to the translations she did while still being a princess influenced by her stepmother Katherine Parr. Mueller even takes this a little bit further and says that her translations were key to her power.

In 1545, when she was still a teenager, she translated the first chapter of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Then she took a religious work that Katherine Parr had done in English and translated it into Latin, French and Italian and gave it as a New Year’s gift to her dad.

Mueller points out that during the early period of Elizabeth’s reign she translated some devotional literature, but shifted later to classical texts from Seneca’s tragedies as she had more experience as Queen of England.

Mueller as well as other scholars looking into Elizabeth I’s translations, are interested in determining that these works are not only a proof of her refined schooling but also a way she found of making these texts available. Despite the fact that Elizabeth did quite literal translations and avoided using English references, it is undeniable that she was part of a culture highly interested in translation as a means of making something foreign available to the natives.

The Origin of the Word Chévere

If you have had the chance of spending some time in Venezuela, or Cuba or in any other Caribbean country or if you have watched any Venezuelan soap opera on TV, there are great chances that you have heard at least once the word chévere (meaning good, cool). And in fact it is quite likely that you’ve found yourself saying chévere once and again to locals talking to you while on holidays in the Caribbean. But, have you ever thought about which is the etymological origin of this word?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chevere and Its African Origin

According to some language experts, chévere is a neologism derived from the African language Efik, which was introduced to Cuba at the beginning of the 19th Century by a group of African immigrants that came from Nigeria as slaves. These slaves formed the secret society Abakua and, for over two centuries, they used the word chévere as part of the songs they sang during their public ceremonies. As these songs were made popular in recordings made by popular Cuban artists of the 1950’s such as Cachao and Tito Puente, the word chévere and others from the Efik language started being used in other Caribbean countries, especially in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Colombia.

Popular Versions of the Etymological Origin of “Chévere”

There are quite a few popular versions of the birth of the word chévere. For instance, it is believed that it derives from the name of the General Jacques Francois De Chevert.

The Cuban philologist José Juan Arrom believes that the origin can be traced back to Guillermo de Croy, Lord of Chievres, servant of Charles I and thief who abused of his position when he went to Castile in 1517 with the king, giving birth to the revolution of the Castilian Communities (1520-1521).

Unveiling the origins of the word “tango”

There is no doubt at all that Argentina, and especially the city of Buenos Aires, are immediately identified with the tango. Since the 1920’s, the tango has been considered one of the most popular and sensual dances in the world and, as years go by, passion for it has grown not only in the River Plate area but all over the world as well. But, what about the etymological origins of the word “tango”? Which cultural and sociological aspects have influenced the origin of this word? Can the roots of “tango” be found and determined or is it a world with a vastly rich origin? Throughout the following paragraphs we will try to unveil the origins of the word “tango”.




Historical Perspective

It is generally agreed by language experts that the etymological origin of the word “tango” cannot be detached from a historic phenomenon: the cultural relationship between Spain and America and the trade of slaves that started coming from Africa around the 1600´s.

According to some historians such as José Gobello and Ricardo Rodríguez Molla, “tango” comes from an African term some slaves used to refer to the place where they were reunited to be sent to America. The Portuguese adopted the Africanism “tangomao” to refer to the man that trafficked slaves. Thus, in America the word “tango” was embraced to name the places where the African slaves got together to dance and sing. Buenos Aires was a very important slave market in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s and, therefore, the African population definitely had a significant influence in the birth of the term “tango”.

The Beating of the Drum

Other language theory relates the etymological origin of the word “tango” to the onomatopoeic sound of the beating of the drums as, apparently, the drum was one of the musical instruments used in the beginnings of this dance.

However, this theory is widely rejected by experts as it has been proved that the drum was never used to play tango music. In fact, the first musical instruments for this dance were: the flute, the viola, the violin and, later on, the bandoneon.

Latin Origin

Another language theory supports the idea that the word “tango” derives from the Latin term “tanguere”, which stands for “to touch”. Language experts that agree with this idea base their findings on the fact that tango as a dance is characterized by the sensuality and closeness with which the couple move across the dance floor.

Yet, from an etymological point of view this idea cannot be accepted since, in its beginnings, tango dancers did not dance so close to each other.

Final Words

We have discussed the three most important theories regarding the etymological birth of the word “tango”. Only the first one can be considered valid as the other two are more far-fetched and cannot be traced back to actual facts to support them.

Anyway, whether “tango” derives from the place where the African population in the River Plate met to dance, talk and sing or from the onomatopoeic beating of the drums or a Latin word, it cannot be denied that tango is one of the most enjoyable dances in the word.

Modern innovation revitalizes endangered language

Recent technology has proven useful to language acquisition in many ways.  Whether it’s practicing speaking with target language natives via Skype or reviewing vocabulary with one of the myriad smartphone language apps, the various innovations have diversified and streamlined the learning process. For some, though, such technologies have even deeper potential.


Screenshots of The Ma! Iwaidja app, an initiative of the Minjilang Endangered Languages Publication project.

Many Native American tribes, in response to the potential extinction of their native language/s, have begun to embrace apps, iPads, and other related tools in efforts to above all generate interest in younger generations.  Currently, there are over 200 Native American languages spoken in the U.S. and Canada, although in many cases they are only spoken by a handful of people.  There are an additional 100 Native languages that are already extinct.

The majority of tribes have historically made efforts to pass native languages down to younger generations, but the success of these efforts has waned with time.  One of the main reasons for this, of course, is the ever-rising influence of external influence, including both language and technology.  Until recently, tribes’ general response to such influence was commonly (and understandably) marked by resistance and resentment.

Many cite the Native American Languages Act of 1990 as being a crucial turning point in the language struggle, for it provided resources and funding to tribes working to revitalize their native tongues.  As a result, technology has been increasingly integrated in the process, a trend that may be seen as a sort of “reclaiming” of an early source of oppression.  Furthermore, the new learning methods have changed the very nature of the languages themselves.

The phenomenon is also representative of a larger concern—that is, how languages should adapt to or be adapted to seemingly distinct, non-linguistic innovation.  Although many take a conservative view, believing that speakers and writers should try to maintain the specific lexis and grammar of languages—and either reject or are highly selective about linguistic innovation—, the majority see language as an inherently malleable thing, always in a state of flux, including the methods used in teaching and learning.

What do you think?  Is there any limits when it comes to linguistic innovation and means of acquisition, or does more variety simply and always make a language more rich?