“English” Words Spaniards Use

Spaniards love to use English in advertisements, to make things sound cooler. Nowadays it’s hip to say things like, “Soy runner” or “Es el manager” instead of using their equivalents in Spanish.

It’s natural that languages adapt words. English wouldn’t be what it is without the myriad of words we’ve borrowed from other languages, most notably French. English has become a very influential language, especially in the areas of technology. It makes a lot of sense to use words like “smartphone,” “Internet,” “click,” and many more. These words have the same meaning in Spanish as in English. However, during my years in Spain I’ve come to realize there are several which have very different denotations in Spanish than in English. Obviously, I love them and need to share them with you. Here are some of my favorites.

Zapping

Nothing to do with shocking anyone with rays of electricity. Nope, this is your basic channel surfing. In Spain as well as in the US, men are especially gifted at this practice.

Footing

[Source]

Meaning: to go jogging, to go for a run, as Spain’s former prime minister is showing us in the above picture.

Panty

(Also known as pantimedias.) My mother-in-law asked me if I needed one of these for a wedding. I was rather surprised to hear the question, as I associate panty with panties—you know, underwear. Nope, un panty is just a pair of pantyhose that also cover you up to the waist. You know, the normal kind, or at least what I considered to be normal. Medias, the word I use, can also mean the kind that only go up to your thighs, so be forewarned, ladies.

Body

Similar to the panty, un body covers even higher up.

Top

A top is an article of clothing for women that has no sleeves or straps, but I’m pretty unsure on this. If you go into any Mango store, you’ll see a section for tops. Maybe my readers can help clarify if this is true!

Jersey

When I learned Spanish in high school, I learned to say “sweater’” as suéter, a term obviously derived from English. I was very surprised when I came to Spain and learned that the term here is jersey. For me, jersey is the shirt athletes wear, whether it be in basketball, soccer, or football.

By Incal (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Smoking

This is so funny to me. We do indeed have a smoking jacket, also called “black tie,” so it makes sense that Spaniards call this un smoking, which is alternately spelled un esmoquin.

Parking

This is close to the original English meaning, but you’d have to add “lot” for it to make any sense. “A parking” without “lot” is meaningless to me. After all, it could be a “parking space” or a “parking spot” just as easily.

Crack

Tu hijo puede ser un crack -- Jaime Alguersuari

[Source]

A crack has nothing to do with with our definition of “a slight opening, as between boards in a floor or a wall.” Nope, crack in Spain Spanish usually means a really great athlete. For example, Rafa Nadal or Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Personally, I’ll go with my favorite, Victor Oladipo.

Heavy

This has nothing to do with weight. No, a heavy in Spain is a word derived from the music genre of heavy metal. Un heavy listens to heavy-metal music, and lots of it. Some “tips” for being heavy, according to this website, include wearing one’s hair long, wearing spiked bracelets, and saying things like, “Mi rollo es rock.”

Freaky

Usually spelled friki, it means freak. Yes, it is very close to the English “freak,” but I love that in English this word would be an adjective, whereas here it’s turned into a noun. In 2012, the Royal Spanish Academy which is responsible for regulating the use of the Spanish language, added the word to its latest dictionary edition. If you understand Spanish, I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entry for this term, as it delves into the different levels of “frikismo,” among other things.

What other “English” words have you seen being used here in Spain or in other countries?

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53 comments

  1. Too funny!!! I was compiling the exact mental list to write on my blog in the very near future! You did all the work for me! I have to add the word “kinky.” My husband uses it all the time. “Eres una kinky.” He means it to say you’re being silly but I always laugh because in English it has a veryyyy different meaning!

    1. Hi. I’m Spaniard and but I’m a reader of this blog and other similar because I’m interested in the opinion of foreing people about Spain.
      Respect to your point, I’m afraid you are wrong. Probably, your husband are really saying “quinqui”, a Spanish word meaning robber, criminal or simply dirty people. Despite its simility to “kinky” the origin is totally different. It’s a contraction of “quincallero”, meaning person recovering and selling scrap. Many times they are Gipsies or lived as nomades and felt in crime

      1. Thanks for the information but my husband and I have talked about this word and I know how he wants to use it and I don’t believe it’s what you are describing. If we use words that the other doesn’t know, we ask each other what it means and if we aren’t sure or can’t describe what it is that we want to say, we simply look it up.

        1. Hello
          I am also Spanish and I have to agree with Félix. “Kinky” is not used at all in mainstream Spanish (of course, your husband may use it as a personal term of endearment) but nobody else will understand it like that. The only term remotely similar in pronunciation is quinqui with the same meaning Félix indicated. As per the RAE:

          Quinqui
          1. com. Persona que pertenece a cierto grupo social marginado de la sociedad por su forma de vida.

          Very interesting article!
          Ana

    2. I was also thinking of writing a post on this! This is an excellent list. Thanks for posting it. I’ll be sharing it with my students. They’re always shocked when I tell them these words don’t make sense in English.

  2. We have some of these words in Brazil too. Smoking is the same here, a tux. We spell ‘craque’ for a great athlete and ‘crack’ for the drug, but the pronounciation is the same for both “cracky”. Step here is a spare tire, shopping is a shopping mall, outdoor is a billboard.

  3. Yeah, we learn sueter because it’s an English-ism based on American English but jersey is used here because its based on the word the British use for sweater.

      1. Jersey is the original term for what Americans call a sweater and Brits call a jumper, since they were first made on the island of Jersey. South Africans still call them jerseys.

        A lot of these are the same in France too: le zapping, le footing, le smoking, le parking, etc. Interesting!

  4. We took “zapping” from British English, it means changing channels. But it’s funny how a language changes borrowed terms! I like that we also make up words which look like English; “puenting” being my favorite of all times!

  5. I think footing is also from British English. Maybe some Brits can help me out here but I feel like “footie” in the UK refers to jogging. Zapping, footing, smoking, and parking are all borrowed English words used in France too and they all mean the exact same thing. The French are even worse with the word borrowing: they also use shorts and T-shirt, hamburger and hot dog, and also weekend!

    I think they also use “crack” in Spain to mean someone is amazing or something? I remember seeing that for the first time and thinking, “What, you think he is a drug?!”

    1. Amelie88, I checked with my British friends, and “footing” is not a term ever used in England. I keep running into the problem as an American teaching English in Spain where my students say, “Maybe it has that meaning in the UK,” to question my authority. Fortunately, I lived a year in London, and have plenty of English friends. 9 times out of 10 it is not a different between UK/USA English. It’s just weirdly imported English.

      On that note, nobody here has mentioned, “una rebeca” (for a cardigan). I love this term. It was started in Spain after the success of the 1940 Hitchcock film, Rebecca.

      Sorry to be scribbling all across the comments on this entry, but I had really been considering writing something on this for over a year. Kaley, many, many thanks… not just for doing it, but doing it so well!

  6. I was taken very much off-guard whenever a friend suggested we go shop for “pantys.” Also, I love how shocked my students are when I explain that “footing,” “puenting,” etc are NOT words we use in English…

  7. That was fantastic, Kaley, thank you! Tweeted!

    I’ve never heard most of these either (have heard of “un smoking” and always thought that was funny, apparently derived from “smoking jacket”). I immediately thought of “crack shot”, i.e. someone good at shooting something, upon learning what “crack” meant above in Spain, that’s my best guess for that.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    1. I assumed that the origin of “un crack” (meaning something or someone awesome) came from the drug…. but who knows?

  8. Very funny! Another one I remember from Spain was “un lifting” — meaning a facelift or plastic surgery.

    In Italy they have “il toast” which is not actually toast, but a toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Lift your glass at dinner and say you’d like to “make a toast” and you will get some very confused looks!

    And here in Germany they call their cell phone “ein handy”… no matter how many times I correct my students, it’s always “handy.” :)

  9. This is great! I was so confused the first time I heard my kids talk about un “smoking”…it took me forever to figure out what it was. I’ve also heard “crack” used as talking about someone really cool. I didn’t really realize how many words were borrowed!

  10. Quinegua is used to describe the King Edward potato variety on the Canary Islands. I love the way they condense two words into one. Although in doing so, it took me a while to work out the original English words.

  11. Kat said my favorite one – ‘un lifting’!

    I also love when they say something is ‘un look’ or ‘muy fashion’. It’s almost used the same way as in English but not quite, so it always makes me giggle.

    (Also, Amelie, ‘footie’ is football!)

  12. Great post.

    Amelia, Jessica is correct that ‘footie’ means ‘football’. However, f’ootball’ in the British sense, which of course is known as ‘soccer’ in the States. I believe the word ‘soccer’ derives from ‘Association Football’ , the regulatory body of the sport in Britain,

    The way the Spanish use and pronounce the word ‘pub’ always confuses me. Here in Granada, a pub is what British people would probably call a ‘bar’, full of gorgeous young people sipping expensive drinks and talking over loud music. My local pub in the UK is full of old men drinking pints of beer and watching football.

    I’ve just written a blog post about translating film titles in Spain if anyone would like to have a look:

    http://tefltrainerspain.com/

  13. Love this! I think it’s interesting how each country really has incorporated such different words from English into their dialect of Spanish. Here in Puerto Rico none of them would be understood, except parking and panty, which means underwear here. My best friend is also Mexican and the words she uses are totally different from Spain and PR as well! Very interesting :)

  14. I like this! One English word that one of my cuñados always calls me (and that I’ve heard from other Spaniards) is “yankee”, however it took me the longest time to figure out what he was saying because he pronounced it “junkie”. The funny thing is that being a non-smoker from New Mexico I’m neither a yankee nor a junkie.

    1. Don’t you love that all non-Americans seem to think that Yankee = American (regardless of where in the US the person is from?) I get weird looks from Australians when I say that my brother-in-law, who they know is definitely American, is not a Yankee (he’s from Virginia).

  15. Great article! You are the milk, Kaley! Or a crack! I´m going to make it required reading for my students– and maybe my Spanish friends. Thanks!

    Not Hemingway’s Spain also nailed it with “paf”. It’s my newest obsession to at least get Spaniards to pronounce the “b” at the end. And before everyone jumps on me with the “b” vs. “v” pronunciation debate: you never hear “Varcelona juega esta noche.” nor “Cogeré el Vus.” Yes, they can.

    I would also add some others that consistently cost me time in explaining and correcting again and again:

    UN MAIL = an e-mail.

    EL WATER = the “w” is pronounced with a “v” (???), and short for “water closet.” Used for the actual toilet, or metonymically for the bathroom/washroom/restroom/whatever. But they NEVER say “Vater” when translating “agua”.

    UN VIDEOCLIP = a music video. Where did “clip” come from??

    UN CATERING = a caterer. The pronunciation in Spanish of this word threw me so far off that I had no idea what the person was talking about. All I heard was “un Catherine.” Of course, they were baffled too. “It’s an English word!” Sigh…In Valencia, there is a catering COMPANY whose name plays with this pronunciation, “Catering Zeta Jones”! Brilliant!

    UN BOOK = an photo album or an artist/designer portfolio, as far as I can tell. I often hear it used with those Hoffman photo albums you can get online.

    EL MÍSTER = the coach of a football (read: soccer) team.

    UN RENTING = a car rental company (car hire for the British).

    FEELING = as in a “good vibe,” “connection,” “understanding” (I’m sure there are better translations, but these come to mind right now) between two or more people. “No hubo ‘feeling’ entre nosotros” –> “We didn’t connect.” This one drives me crazy. Quevedo, Góngora, Cervantes, Lorca and company must be turning over in their graves. They couldn’t come up with a word from the richness of Spanish or Latin to capture this??

    LA CRISIS = Not officially a borrowing, but it obviously comes up all the time in students’ writing and speaking as the source for all ills in Spain. They translate it to “the crisis” when I would say “the current economic situation/turmoil,” “the ECONOMIC/FINANCIAL crisis,” etc. Otherwise, the English-speaking listener would naturally ask “Which crisis?” Then I launch into a beautiful review of the differences between the definite and indefinite articles. Of course, after I give them these explanations and translations and await their rousing applause and the naming of their first-born after me, my students roll their eyes and use them– as a condescending favor to me. Or they defiantly continue using “the crisis.” Sigh…See below.

    Then there is the increasing frequency of truncating proper names. And these are not from teenagers! This always amazes me. Suddenly, time is money in Spain and there is too much of a rush to say an extra word?! Je…Je…Je…
    I have heard:

    “Me encantan los Red Hot”–> as in The Red Hot CHILI PEPPERS.
    “Le vi en el Face” –> FaceBOOK
    “Me chifla The Big Bang”–> The Big Bang THEORY (TV series)
    I think “un mail” and “el water” could also fall into this category as well, though not proper names themselves.

      1. With all due respect, I really don’t see your point.
        Most–if not ALL– of the words in the blog and in the subsequent comments (or at least the 20 or so I looked up) are in the RAE. So, by your logic, all of the words are then Spanish and different.
        All languages borrow and adapt, as Kaley duly pointed out. English is no less “guilty” of transmogrifying the meaning/spelling of foreign words. However, few English speakers would say they are “English” (itself almost a problematic term with the differences between American and British English) until they are über-old (ha!) and thus, seamlessly woven into the fabric of the language so as to be indiscernable as a loan word.

  16. LOLd at a few of those. Wicked post Kaley– i’ve often been left rather dumbfounded when Spanish friends/students of mine have produced such wonderfully re-interpreted words. ‘Footing’ I seem to remember was the most confusing of these. And I’ve heard ‘crack’ quite a few times too – usually within the context of describing something amazing or ridiculous – ‘¡Que crack!’ my flatmate used to always say. I must admit I was a little taken aback the first time as she was holding a rolled-up cigarette in her hand. Who knows what she was referring to.

  17. I see and hear a lot of these too – As an American living in Southern Spain with a lot of British expats the language can be a little funny, especially when people claim to be speaking each others’ language! On TV they talk about “un casting” which seems to be basically the same thing, just taken out of context. And I came across “escay” to describe some armchairs – it means some kind out fake leather – like pleather or vinyl, but the website where I looked it up claims it came from English – I’ve never heard of that! The other thing my students do is mispronounce a word and then argue with me about it, for example “beerd” instead of “bird” and “blood” as if it rhymed with “mood” and then they claim Scottish pronunciation!

  18. Another one for the record is “choped” (or even chóped, chope), a type of cold meat similar to Bologna. Apparently, it comes from “chopped ham”. And of course a “Christmas” is a Christmas card.

  19. Fantastic post! I love comparing these borrowed words across languages. Some of them really don’t make any sense and I love them for that. :) I have to add that “footy” can actually refer to football (soccer) in British English, and a variety of football played in Australia. But apparently the word “footing” in Spanish does not come from this meaning…it comes from English but through French, according to the RAE: “Voz fr., y esta con cambio de sentido del ingl. footing ‘posición’.” It’s weird anyway. And can I say that I hate the use of “crack” in Spanish? It’s so absurd AND way too popular! :P

    1. How interesting re: footy/footing! I had heard about the Brits using it, but I didn’t think they were related! Guess I was actually right! And if I hear the word “footing” I think of “Don’t lose your footing” or something like that.

  20. I saw two days ago, at a bar in Valencia: “Se vende perro. Con su peligrín”. We have improved your ‘pedigree’!

  21. They also use “smoking” in Czech in the same way. Sounds bizarre. Though one of my favorite examples of this will forever be the German “handy” – a mobile phone, because it’s handy (many Germans think this is also the English word.)

  22. My wife and I just came up with another one: “un mitin”… from the English word “meeting”. And it is not just a meeting, but rather a rally or public meeting where an official or politician presents themselves or their ideas to the public.

  23. Hi.

    Some thoughts:

    Footing: I’ve never heard this but i do know that people have started to use “running” en plan “voy a hacer running”

    Crack: “Eres un crack tío” – not just for sportsmen, it means someone is great or funny.

    Friki: a geek whether they’re interested in comics, obscure films etc.

    :)

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