Translation: It’s History and Trends

The term “translation” hails from the mid-fourteenth century with an etymological base in the Latin word translationem, a noun of action from the stem of transferre. It also shares roots with the word from Old French meaning “the rendering of a text from one language to another.” The verb form in English, translate, is from the Latin translatus, literally “carried over.” Interestingly, the word translate replaced an earlier word in Old English which carried a similar though not exact meaning, awendan, literally “to turn, direct.”

Beyond the etymology of the word, the act of translating texts has a long history that is intricately connected with human religious, artistic and scientific expression. From the Bible to the travels of Marco Polo along the silk road and beyond, the diffusion of knowledge and cultural heritage—and, indeed, cross-cultural interaction itself—owes a great debt to history’s translators. As many would expect, the bible still holds the title of the most-translated book. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, another book holds the title of most-translated for a living author—O Alquimista, or The Alchemist, by the Brazilian Paulo Coelho.

The First Translation of the Bible Into English – Ford Madox Brown (1847)

And if you’re interested to know what the most-translated languages are, UNESCO actually keeps a running tally in its Index Translationum. According to the index, the most-translated source language in the world (through 2011) is English, followed by a distant French. It lists German as the language most translated into, or target language, followed more closely this time by French.

You can also find a list of the most-translated authors within the index, with a few surprises. Despite being the author of the most-translated book by a living author, Coelho actually didn’t make the list of the top-50 translated authors. Coming in first on that list is Agatha Christie, followed by Jules Verne, William Shakespeare, Enid Blyton, and Vladimir Lenin filling out the top five spots. Indeed, the former USSR block makes a good showing on this list, with the region contributing a total of seven authors.


The meaning of ‘Cana’

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect. Add a dash of Argentine flavor to your Spanish vocabulary with the Transpanish blog’s ongoing feature highlighting some of the most frequently used terms in Lunfardo.

Of all the slang terms that languages use, it seems every language has plenty of words for police. One of these within the Spanish language is the Lunfardo word “cana”. Although it is decidedly a Lunfardo word that made its way into Argentinian Spanish, its etymology is still disputed.

Free image courtesy of
It has a long history, to be sure. The word “cana” actually appeared in the work of Cervantes to mean a police informer. But if it was not originally from the Spanish language, it may well have made its way to Spain from France, as some believe. The word has a striking resemblance to the French word “canne”, which means a reed or cane. This etymology would make sense in the context of its current usage, since police officers historically have carried batons which are very cane-like.

Of course the explanation may be more simple—the word could just be an abbreviation of the Spanish word for canary, “canario”, which has been used in Spain since the sixteenth century. Staying with that region as the word’s source, another option is Spain’s neighbor Portugal. Similar to the Portuguese word “encanado”, literally meaning prisoner in a cage made of reeds, the word could have made it’s way over to Latin America via Brazil.

There’s a more humorous usage relating to being a prisoner, with a possible etymological history in reference to someone who has had a setback of some kind, and who may consequently find himself languishing in jail. Or it could have been a reference to re-hired police officers who had already retired, whom thieves used to call “canosos” for their grey hair.

But however the word made its way into Argentinian Spanish, it has managed to become entrenched in the culture. With frequent appearances in the lyrics of tango songs, and common usage in the general population, the Lunfardo word cana is a well-understood synonym for policia.

Indigenous Influence on the Spanish Language

The history of the lexical influences that have come into contact with the Spanish language is one steeped in geography, politics and colonization. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas representing the Spanish crown, he was immediately put into contact with various native groups and tribes with their own respective languages. As colonization spread out over the continent, the penetration of these influences grew, adding words to the Spanish language that might sometimes be taken for granted as being from the original Castilian.

Spanish words with indigenous origin

With the discovery of new technologies, crafts or inventions, comes the discovery of the terms given to them. One of these which Columbus discovered from the local mode of transportation was canoas. It was not long before the term replaced the word Columbus had used to describe them in his journals — almadía. The Castilian word was simply not an accurate description of this form of transport, and so for simplicity the native word was quickly adopted. The Spanish explorers also discovered hammocks in the Americas, and adopted the indigenous word hamaca to refer to them.

This penetration of local vocabulary also occurred with indigenous flora and fauna which did not exist in Europe at that time, and thus for which there were no existing words in Castilian Spanish. Ají is an example of this (a separate item from “pimienta”, although Columbus used the latter term to refer to the former.) Tiburón was another borrowed word, as well as iguana, manatí and guacamayo. And from the local flora came maní, camote, cacao, tomate, tamal, and papaya, among others. The sheer variety of vegetation and wildlife in South America lent the Spanish language many words in these categories from the region’s indigenous languages.

Because weather patterns also vary between continents, the explorers were simultaneously introduced to both hurricanes as well as the local term for them – huracanes, or huracán in the singular. And not to be left out, geography also contributed some words to Castilian Spanish during the initial period of mutual influence, such as cayo from the many cays found in the Caribbean.

Some Spanish Words of Native American Origin

Indigenous penetration into mainstream Spanish

When these words finally began to make appearances in texts from Spanish writers, they were not included as exotic novelties, as was the case with lexical influences occurring in other regions at that time. Instead, they were used simply as descriptors, introducing their usage into mainstream Spanish and simultaneously avoiding associations with “otherness”, at least in relation to the words themselves. But even with the mainstream introduction of many words with indigenous origin, there were still others that eventually fell out of use, such as cazabe for bread. Moreover, many terms from indigenous languages never extended beyond their local or regional influence. Even today, many terms from the Quechua language — choclo for corn, for example — are not used outside of areas with some connection to the Andes.

Of course, many of the indigenous languages which contributed to the Spanish lexicon no longer exist today. And in those cases, the words that we use when communicating in Spanish are their only living remnants.


Take a Butcher’s at Cockney Rhyming Slang

What exactly is Cockney Rhyming Slang and where does it come from? Is it still used today? Was it developed for particular social or political reasons?

There are many worthy questions surrounding the use, creation and development of Cockney Rhyming Slang and there’s a lot of fun to be had too in the practice of this fun English language feature.

Where does the term Cockney Rhyming Slang come from and what is a Cockney?
The origin of Cockney Rhyming Slang is not completely clear. Many people attribute its development to the underground vernacular that was spoken by London thieves (in particular, those based in East London, Cockney being the term now used to loosely refer to Londoners with East London accents).

Cockneys were and – at the very core of it all  –  still are working class people from London. The term, Cockney, is derived from the word cockeneyes (a word which was developed in the 14th century) which means “eggs that are misshapen.”

The term is now used to refer to the majority of East-London born Brits, but when it first originated during the 17th century, it was more specifically used to refer to anyone born within the sound of Bow-bells, the bells found in the tower of St. Mary-le-Bow. The term is still used in a relatively derogatory way, but there are very few people who still use Cockney Rhyming Slang as a way of conversing on a daily basis.

The idea behind Cockney Rhyming Slang originating from London thieves comes from the idea that these professional tricksters wanted to develop a kind of language that authorities or spies listening into conversations would not be able to understand. However, as the language was never particularly widespread, no well-documented, it is difficult to be certain about this idea.

Church of St Mary-Le-Bow by Thomas Bowles, 1757.

How does Cockney Rhyming Slang work?
The title of this post makes use of Cockney Rhyming Slang as an illustration of how the language feature is constructed. The word “Butcher’s” in the title actually forms part of a longer rhyme (commonly understood by all Cockneys) even when taken completely out of context and when removed from the original and longer rhyme, as it appears here in the title.

The full Cockney Rhyming Slang which includes the word “Butcher’s” is actually, “Butcher’s Hook” which rhymes with the English verb “to look” and therefore when a Cockney wants to take a “look” at something, he or she might say, “Let’s have a butcher’s” without necessarily having to complete the entire rhyming and adding the word “hook” on the end of the sentence.

In another example, picture yourself at home looking for something to take to work that you frantically cannot find. A Cockney might suggest “going up the apples” in order to look for the missing item. “Apples” comes from the Cockney Rhyming Slang, “apples and pears” and “pairs” rhymes with “stairs.” Therefore, when someone tells you to “go up the apples,” he or she is actually suggesting that you try going upstairs.

Examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang
Have fun incorporating some of these popular Cockney Rhyming Slang expressions into your daily conversations and find out whether you have any friends who happen to be Cockneys and who can follow what you’re saying without difficulty.

“Bacon and Eggs” – rhymes with “Legs” – “She has such long bacons.”
“Bees and Honey” – rhymes with “Money” – “Hand over the bees.”
“Crust of Bread” – rhymes with “Head” – “Use your crust, lad.”
“Rabbit and Pork” – rhymes with “Talk” – “I don’t know what she’s rabbiting about.”
“Scarpa Flow” – rhymes with “Go” – “Scarpa! The police are coming.”
“Trouble and Strife” – rhymes with “Wife” – “The trouble’s been shopping again.”
“Uncle Bert” – rhymes with “Shirt” – “I’m ironing my Uncle.”

Videos on Cockney Rhyming Slang
Take a “butcher’s” at these two interesting videos on Cockney Rhyming Slang taken from YouTube (one of which includes the loveable Stephen Fry) whenever you get the opportunity and use the chance to brush up on what you know.

Social Networking Verbs Enter the Collins English Dictionary

“Google It”
“Bing It”
“Facebook Me”
“Tweet Me”
We all use these phrases which have now become familiar household verbs and nouns, so much so that the Collins English Dictionary has made a number of updates recently to officially include these relatively new terms from the technological age in their English language records.

Language constantly evolves, which is one of its most beautiful and fascinating elements. It is therefore only natural that in a world obsessed with the Internet and online communication, the Collins English Dictionary should decide to officially recognize the importance that these terms have in our lives on a daily basis.

Recent Collins English Dictionary Updates
What is perhaps most interesting about the recent developments to the Collins English Dictionary is that the range of new language entries, reflective of our technological world, covers a really wide spectrum. For example, in addition to the more obvious inclusions, like the verb “To Facebook,” the following have also been included:


English Dictionary Inclusion is still a serious matter
It is also important to recognize that the developments found in the Collins English Dictionary have been researched into and pondered over with care and deliberation. A few months ago, the Collins English Dictionary began to crowdsource for information on the modern uses of the English language. It is the first dictionary to work in this way and the move seems to be particularly pertinent to our time.

A word in any language can only really ever become a word when enough people start using it. Therefore, after receiving about 4,400 submissions and plowing through the information with patience and dedication, the Collins English Dictionary has finally released its newest version of the English language in use in 2012.

All submissions had to go through an intensive review process by the lexicographers employed at Collins to prove that it is being used widely enough and has sufficient longevity to stand the test of time. For this reason, submissions such as, “Mobydickulous” and “Tebowing” were, not surprisingly, allowed to make the final cut.


The Use of Voseo

Voseo involves the use of an alternate pronoun and conjugation of the second person singular form in some Spanish dialects. The majority of Spanish speakers use as the more intimate/familiar form of address; however, in countries where voseo is employed, the word “vos” is used alongside of or as a replacement for .

Use of voseo in a Mafalda comic strip, created by Argentine cartoonist Quino.

While the use of vos is perhaps most closely associated with Paraguayan Spanish and the Rioplatense dialect of Argentina and Uruguay, voseo is also widespread in some parts of Central America, particularly Costa Rica and Nicaragua. To a lesser extent, Spanish speakers in Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador employ voseo. Pockets of voseo can also be found in other regions within Latin America, including parts of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

In addition to the use of the pronoun “vos,” voseo includes a special conjugation of verbs in the present indicative and affirmative imperative tenses, and in most countries, the subjunctive mode (with the Río de la Plata area being the major exception). Conjugations vary widely depending on the region. For example, in Argentina, the standard tú puedes in the present indicative tense becomes vos podés; however, in Chile the same verb is conjugated as podís and in Venezuela, podéis.

In Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the use of the pronoun “vos” and its accompanying conjugations has almost completely supplanted in both spoken and written language. Voseo is considered the norm at all levels of society and can be observed on TV and radio, in literature and music. In contrast, Chileans restrict the use of voseo to informal situations, and even then, the pronoun “vos” is frowned upon. In other words, the voseo conjugation is utilized but paired with the pronoun “” (e.g. tú podís). When Chilean speakers use the pronoun “vos,” it’s generally considered offensive.

Spanish speakers who utilize voseo also replace the independent pronoun “ti” with vos. For example, “creo en ti” becomes “creo en vos.” However, the direct and indirect object form “te” stays the same (e.g. tú te pones/vos te ponés). The possessive pronouns used with the form also correspond to vos: tu(s), tuyo(s), tuya(s). Lastly, the prepositional pronoun “contigo” changes to “con vos.”

Is Turkey the True Origin of Indo-European Languages?

Thanks to a recent study conducted by an international research team, headed up by psychologist Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, new evidence suggests that present-day Turkey (which about 8,000 years ago was known as Anatolia) is the true origin of the Indo-European language family.


The findings of this study have generated a lot of interest amongst linguists, archeologists and other scientists in related fields because the discoveries directly oppose the common belief held by a large percentage of experts / researchers that the origin of Indo-European languages actually dates back only 6,000 years to what we now know as present-day Russia.

Atkinson and his team used computational methods to analyze a wide range of words from more than 100 ancient and contemporary languages during this recent study. The investigation, which builds upon previous work undertaken by Atkinson in 2003, also incorporated the use of geographical and historical data – an entirely new approach for Atkinson and his team – in order to further support the validity of the Anatolian hypothesis.

Michael Dunn, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands, explains that the commonly-accepted hypothesis (the Steppe hypothesis) is an idea which places the origin of Indo-European languages in Russia about 6,000 years.

Dunn explains that the Steppe hypothesis has been widely accepted because 6,000 years ago present-day Russia was home to the use of chariots. A constant reference to related words for “wheel” and “wagon” in most Indo-European languages connects the development of these languages to the important technological advancement of the chariot and therefore places the origin of Indo-European languages in Russia, where the use of the chariot experienced a real boom.

There are many people who are skeptical about the findings published by Atkinson and his team, including the linguist H. Craig Melchert, from the University of California, Los Angeles, who highlights the fact that most language trees relating to Indo-European languages can only be extended back a mere 7,000 years.

However, despite opposition from other experts in the field, Atkinson and his team refuse to accept that these new findings are insignificant. They analyzed 207 commonly used words across 103 ancient and modern Indo-European languages. Possible language trees were produced throughout the investigations and they were constructed using a series of estimated rates at which these Indo-European languages gained and lost cognates.

The study focused specifically on the use of cognates because cognates are examples of basic vocabulary terms that rarely get borrowed when speakers of different languages come into contact with one another.

Atkinson believes that cognates hold the key to the true origin of Indo-European languages, because when his research team combined their cognate-focused language trees with information gathered about the associated geographical locations, the appearance of Anatolian roots was the main constant, time and time again.

No doubt the debate between Anatolian and Steppe supporters will continue throughout the years to come. What is undeniable, however, is that a series of points in favor of the Anatolian hypothesis have been discovered thanks to the most recent work of Atkinson and his team.

The search continues!

The meaning of ‘pucho’

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect. Add a dash of Argentine flavor to your Spanish vocabulary with the Transpanish blog’s ongoing feature highlighting some of the most frequently used terms in Lunfardo.

Free image courtesy of

In Lunfardo, the word “pucho” has a variety of meanings. These include “remainder,” or “the leftovers of something,” but it can also be used to mean “cigarette” or the “cigarette butt” which clearly derives from the idea of the “remainder or leftovers of a cigarette.” When used in its diminutive form, “puchito,” the term means “a little,” “a bit,” or “a small piece of something.”

It is possible that the word comes from the quechua (South American indigenous language) word “puchú,” which means “residue.”

Related words in Lunfardo include:

noun faso: which also means cigarette.

Usage examples: Vamos a hacerlo de a puchos, // Let’s do it little by little
Sobre el pucho, nos dimos cuenta de….  // Suddenly, we realized….

The song “Sobre el Pucho,” composed by Sebastián Piana and with lyrics by José González Castillo beautifully features the word “pucho” to describe how it feels to be suddenly discarded like a cigarette butt (pucho) in the street.

Sobre el Pucho

Un callejón de Pompeya

y un farolito plateando el fango

y allí un malevo que fuma,

y un organito moliendo un tango;

y al son de aquella milonga,

más que su vida mistonga,

meditando, aquel malevo

recordó la canción de su dolor.


Yo soy aquel que, en Corrales,

-los carnavales

de mis amores-

hizo brillar tus bellezas

con las lindezas

de sus primores;

pero tu inconstancia loca

me arrebató de tu boca,

como pucho que se tira

cuando ya

ni sabor ni aroma da.

Tango querido

que ya pa’siempre pasó,

como pucho consumió

las delicias de mi vida

que hoy cenizas sólo son.

Tango querido

que ya pa’siempre calló,

¿quién entonces me diría

que vos te llevarías

mi única ilusión?

Use and Origin of the word “che”

It’s difficult to walk the streets of Buenos Aires without hearing the word “che” at some point. In fact, Spanish speakers in some countries such as Mexico so strongly associate this word with the people of Argentina that they’ll occasionally refer to an Argentine as “un che.” Although most commonly used in Argentina and Uruguay, particularly in the region of the Río de la Plata, usage of the word “che” is not exclusive to these two countries. Neighboring Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil sometimes get in on the act too (although the word is spelled tchê in Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

Ernesto “Che” Guevara

So, what exactly does the word “che” mean? Che is an interjection that’s generally used to call attention, similar to how the word “hey” is used in English. It can also be used to express disgust or surprise in the way that “man” or “dude” is employed. The word is almost exclusively used in informal settings, among friends and/or family.


“Che, Fede…¿salimos hoy de noche?” // “Hey, Fede…are we going out tonight?”

“Che, no lo puedo creer.” // “Man, I can’t believe it.”

There are several theories that attempt to explain the origins of the word “che”:
Some linguists speculate that che arrived to Argentina and Uruguay with Italian immigrants from the Veneto region of Italy. The Venetian dialect word “ció” is used much in the same way that che is employed.
Others feel that the roots of the word “che” lie in one of the region’s indigenous languages. In Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people of Argentina and Chile, che means “person” or “people.” Che is defined as “man” in the Tehuelche and Puelche languages. Lastly, che bears the meaning “my” or “I” in the language of the Guaraní people of northeast Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

The Dictionary of the Real Academia Española states that the word is an onomatopoeia that mimics the sound made when trying to catch someone’s attention.

Finally, there are those who hypothesize that the Rioplatense che arose from the Valencian Spanish word “xe,” which is used to express surprise.

The meaning of ‘fiaca’

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect. Add a dash of Argentine flavor to your Spanish vocabulary with the Transpanish blog’s ongoing feature highlighting some of the most frequently used terms in Lunfardo.

Meaning of lunfardo word Fiaca

In Lunfardo, the word “fiaca” is a noun that means “the feeling or state of being bored, idle, slothful or unmotivated.” When used to refer to a person, possible English translations of the word “fiaca” include lazybones, lazyhead, bum, layabout, and idler.

The Lunfardo word “fiaca” is said to have originated from the Genoese dialect of Italian. In that dialect, the word makes reference to “a lack of energy/tiredness attributed to missing a meal.”

Related words in Lunfardo:
verb hacer fiaca: laze about, bum around

Usage examples: ¡Qué fiaca que tengo! // Man, I feel like a slug today!

Los domingos me gusta hacer fiaca. // I like to laze about on Sundays.

The song “Doña Fiaca,” written by Eladia Blázquez, prominently features the word “fiaca” in the title and lyrics.

La fiaca no es pereza, no es descanso,

Es una sutileza de algo más.

Una melange de todo a nuestro modo

Un rasgo del folklore nacional.

La fiaca, es una filosofía

De la antigana de no hacer, del no querer,

La diosa del desgano y de la cama

Y la madam de la comodité.

Y convengamos que es un poco pastenaca

Aquel que nunca le da la fiaca,

Hasta el mismísimo Ministro de Trabajo

Su golpe bajo, debe amagar.

La gente fina la bautiza en su lirismo

Como ausentismo, pero es lo mismo,

Y doña fiaca es una mina que domina

En casa, en la oficina y en toda la nación.

Si alguno ha pensado en vacunarse,

Lo siento, pierde el tiempo sin razón.

La fiaca, sin remedio, va a atacarle

Porque es igual al virus de Hong Kong.

No teman, el mayor de los incordios

Serán las ganas que le den de apoliyar.

Si en alguien, el bostezo se hace gordo,

Llamen al “tordo”, que lo va a curar.