Tuesday, September 4, 2018

tool for practicing simultaneous interpreting

The site News in Slow Spanish is intended for Spanish language learners, but it seems to me that it could also be used to practice simultaneous interpretation into English if you are just dipping your toes into those waters. You can switch the speed from slow to normal, so you could practice it once on slow, and then again on normal. They also provide the transcript, so you could start with the transcript, then do it without, then speed it up.

Friday, August 24, 2018

lios de faldas: roughly, 'lady trouble'

I've been struggling with this term since the then Colombian Defense Minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, argued that the wave of murders of social leaders defending the peace accords were just “líos de faldas”—roughly, “lady trouble.”

I ran across this translation in this wonderful article in @nacla, which offers a great overview of the wave of murders and its impact.

Diana, in the image here, was of one of the 170 leaders murdered since the accords were signed - 27 of whom were women. This image is from a beautiful project that is seeking artists to draw images of each of them. Check out the ones they have so far here, and if you know an artist who might donate one, please spread the word.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

tranque [Nicaragua]: barricade

tranque [Nicaragua]: barricade

You could also use blockade or roadblock - though those terms don't necessarily convey the temporary and improvised nature of it.

Nicaragua has been full of these lately, though their numbers have been going down. I realized that this was the Nicaraguan term for them from this debate about the Nicaraguan resistance and the politics of solidarity with it on Democracy Now.

As I've blogged before, in other countries they use terms barricada or bloqueo. In Mexico it is sometimes tope de carretera, and it can be a piquete in Argentina (though that term can also refer to an entire movement).

From the photos I found online it seems like Nicaraguan tranques are often made out of cement blocks, which is not as common in other Latin American countries.

note: Thanks to Barbara Wood for pointing out over on the facebook version of this site that the cement blocks are paving stones. The same ones used by the Sandinista guerrilla as they fought to overthrow Somoza.

If you're on facebook please like my page there to get these posts in your facebook feed.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

asistencialismo: clientelism

I have blogged asistencialismo twice before - it's a term that is difficult to convey in English but this gets much closer than my previous versions if we go with the google definition of clientelism as "a social order that depends upon relations of patronage; in particular, a political approach that emphasizes or exploits such relations".

I came across this rendition in the NACLA article Nicaragua: A view from the left, which I recommend!

note: after I posted this my colleague Eric Schwartz wrote to say, "I think the other entries you had before are closer. A re-working with "charity" seems like the best bet to me.
But clientelism doesn't seem right. Asistencialismo can be part of clientelismo, but not necessarily. It could just be broader State policy to meet immediate demands and demobilize people in the process, without necessarily feeding into a patronage system." 
I still think my handout-ism option is clunky, but maybe charityism would be understood? 

Monday, July 23, 2018


There have been two radio pieces lately, this one in English, this one in Spanish, about the struggle to get this racist character in blackface (el soldado Micolta, in the photo here) off the air in Colombia. Yes, in 2018.

The Spanish piece kept the term blackface in English, and it seems there is truly no commonly used equivalent in Colombian Spanish. Is there in any other Latin American country? Anyone know? Is 'caranegra' or 'caranegra falsa' used anywhere?

Monday, July 9, 2018

velatón: candlethon (wave of candlelight vigils)

Velatón is a neologism in Spanish, recently used for an event held on July 8th, 2018 in over 100 cities across the world and across Colombia that was essentially a rolling wave of candlelight vigils to call for an end to the wave of assasinations of social leaders in Colombia.

The implementation of the peace accord in Colombia has been seriously crippled in various ways - but one of the most serious is these murders of leaders, almost all of whom were members of their local Junta de Acción Comunal and organizing to support the return of land that was stolen during the war.  This puts organizing in those communities back years, as of course others are then afraid to step up.

We need increased and continued international pressure to stop these attacks. Please keep your eye on this and keep spreading the word about it, perhaps by sharing this new word. To honor this organizing, and the creative neologism in Spanish, I suggest creating a parallel neologism in English: candlethon.

Note: I thought that this word was created for this event but I was wrong. Thanks to my tocaya Sara Tufano on twitter (who does great work there for peace and I recommend following @SaraTufanoz) quien cuenta que "Ya había sido usado en Chile, por ejemplo, en memoria de los estudiantes asesinados en la marcha en Valparaíso. Hubo velatón también por el caso de los 43 estudiantes mexicanos asesinados."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

familista: supporter of so-called family values

The newly elected right wing vice-president of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, (Colombia's first woman VP) says she is a feminist because she believes society needs more of the 'feminine' - but her views are actually deeply anti-feminist. She openly expresses a profound anti-gay bias, disguised as support for so-called family values, known in Spanish as being familista.

It turns out that the word familist actually exists in English (thanks to Carlos Gonzalez (@carlosrealm) for pointing this out to me on twitter). It means "relating to or advocating a social framework centered on family relationships rather than on the needs of the individual" - but I think that this would be a false cognate in this context (aside from simply not being widely understood in English). Instead I suggest translating familista as 'supporter of so-called family values'. I add the so-called since people who call themselves family values supporters generally only support heterosexual families, and actively attack other types of families.

(On a side note, I tweet at @spaceforpeace)

Friday, May 11, 2018


The most poetic rendition of this I have seen is "high Andean moor." But more usefully, you could keep the term in Spanish and define it, as this article did: "paramo, a special ecosystem in the Andes where vast amounts of water are produced." It is the pollution of that water that is at issue in the gold mine protests described in the article, so this seems like a useful version - though I would have called it a fragile alpine tundra ecosystem. You could also just use fragile Andean tundra if time is short. If doing simultaneous interpreting I would probably define it like this once and then go on to use the term in Spanish.

photo is of the páramo de Sumapaz, in Colombia

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

empantanado: bogged down

This article usefully describes the various ways that the implementation of the Colombian peace accords has gotten 'empantanado' - which I would render as bogged down.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

aguapanela: tea made of raw sugar

Not a social justice term - except that in my utopia everyone gets to drink lots of this!

I ran into this rendition in, of all places, the English translation of the Basta Ya! report on the armed conflict in Colombia - which I'm having my students read parts of in our Reconciliation class. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

paro armado: armed lockdown

In Colombia the ELN guerillas have declared a 'paro armado' for February 10th through 13th. As I explained in my previous post on this term, this is when an armed actor announces that there will be a shut down. What that means is that if you open your business, drive your car, even walk down the street you might get shot (or have your cab set on fire, as in these photos). Entire cities can become ghost towns on these days. These armed lockdowns have been widely used by right wing paramilitaries.

This time the ELN has declared a paro armado for the entire country, but one assumes that it is only in areas that they control militarily that people will stay home to stay safe.

What inspired me to blog about this term last time was that I heard it mistranslated as armed strike, which I think is quite misleading. This time I saw it translated by Reuters as 'blockade'. This gives the impression that all they will do is block the main roads. But then, perhaps a paro armado by the ELN is different than a paramilitary paro armado and will in fact only block roads versus requiring a total shut down? The article does say that the ELN will block major roads and warns people not to travel. I still prefer armed lockdown as a translation for this - most blockades are not armed!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

active listening: la escucha activa

I was reminded of this term by this Aquí estamos article  by Vivian Martínez Díaz about a debate in the Colombian media around feminists' response to former FARC guerillas denouncing sexual violence.

Active listening is a term based on the work of Carl Rogers, definido acá. 

The photo here is from a protest by the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres, that regularly uses body painting like this. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

atalaya: watchtower

Not really a social justice related term exactly. I stumbled on this term in Alfredo Molano's last weekly column (for now) in El Espectador, as he takes a leave to serve on the Colombian Truth Commission. He called the paper "la atalaya desde donde miro."

Listening to stories of horror for three years will be hard on the hearts and lives of all of the members of the Truth Commission, and I thank them all for taking it on and hold them in the light and send them all good energy for this important work.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


I've often struggled to render racist terms of endearment from Spanish into English like chinito and negrito. It is hard to convey in English how racism is normalized and even used affectionately. Little Chinese man is clearly not going to do it.

There was recently an incident in US baseball that brought this to the fore, and several good editorials in the NYT about a player being suspended for using the term chinito. They are worth reading. 

(and note, this blog is on a bit of a hiatus as I get settled into my new position as an Assistant
Professor of Peace Studies at Kent State University)

Friday, July 21, 2017

partners: copartes

partners: copartes

In a social justice context socios does not work, since it implies business associate, not social change organization we work together with. I've noticed lately that several groups, like Diakonia and Oxfam, use copartes.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Homophobia and islamophobia are not actually phobias: alternative terms

Homophobia and islamophobia are not actually phobias. I do not believe that they are mental health conditions (like agoraphobia or claustrophobia) and it is wrong to put them in that category when they appear to be based on hate, not fear. As such, I avoid both terms and prefer instead the terms anti-gay (or anti-LGBTI) prejudice and anti-muslim prejudice. Of course if the term homophobia is said in English I will render it as homofobia in Spanish - but if it is in a social movement context where I can say an aside to the speaker afterwards, I will make this argument to them.

It is strange that the words for different sorts of prejudice and hate can sound so different. Racism, sexism, agism, ablism sound similar, but is there a similar -ism version for the two terms in question here? Sherman argues for the term gaycism, but it seems unlikely to catch on. It could be useful for alliance building if all were said using a standard construction that we could put side by side, and I propose here we simply use anti-black, anti-woman, anti-gender queer, anti-Muslim, etc. Whether you then add on the word prejudice, bias, hate, or bigotry could vary.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

time now for: peacebuilding: la consolidación de la paz

peacemaking: el restablecimiento de la paz
peacekeeping: la conservación de la paz
peacebuilding: la consolidación de la paz

These were the translations offered in this article in Semana magazine about what follows, now that the FARC guerrillas have handed over their individual weapons.

The article begins:
Una de las mayores lecciones que ha dejado a nivel mundial el fin de conflictos armados internos es la importancia de diseñar un plan serio y consistente de posconflicto, con el fin de evitar no solamente la reincidencia de la confrontación al cabo de pocos años, sino que se produzcan olas criminales como resultado de un fracaso en el proceso de “desarme, desmovilización y reintegración” (DDR) de los excombatientes y de la ausencia de otras tareas urgentes y necesarias.

La reincidencia de los enfrentamientos armados es más común en conflictos interraciales, regionales y religiosos, como se ha podido observar en África, Asia y los Balcanes. Según un estudio clásico de Paul Collier y Anke Hoeffler, el riesgo de retorno de los enfrentamientos armados en los conflictos en estas regiones del mundo, luego del fin de la guerra fría, ha sido del 44 por ciento antes de cinco años tras la firma de un acuerdo de paz.

En América Latina, a pesar de que todos los países tuvieron presencia de grupos guerrilleros en algún momento tras la revolución cubana en 1959, tras la derrota militar de la guerrilla (Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, etc.) o su integración mediante procesos de paz (El Salvador, Guatemala), no ha habido ningún caso de reincidencia.

Más bien, el fenómeno preocupante en América Latina, particularmente en Centroamérica, ha sido el desbordamiento de la criminalidad el cual ha constituido uno de los rasgos principales del clima de posconflicto tanto en El Salvador y como en Guatemala. El excomandante militar del Frente Farabundo Martí (FMLN) de El Salvador, Joaquín Villalobos, sostuvo en alguna ocasión que en su país “ganamos la paz, pero perdimos el posconflicto”. Y nos advierte a los colombianos que debemos no solamente ganar la paz, sino, ante todo, ganar el posconflicto. Es decir, evitar una ola criminal que, en el caso de las dos naciones mencionadas, produce hoy más víctimas que durante la guerra civil.

Desde esta perspectiva, como bien afirman los expertos, una cosa es el restablecimiento de la paz (peacemaking) y otra distinta la conservación de la paz (peacekeeping) y, ante todo, la consolidación de la paz (peacebuilding). Se trata de procesos ciertamente interrelacionados -el primero es una condición para los otros dos-, pero son etapas distintas y con exigencias diferentes. Se puede tener éxito en el uno, pero fracasar en los otro dos. Como dijo el propio Villalobos en una conferencia en Bogotá, "después de firmada la paz, comenzó la otra guerra que no vimos venir", impulsada por el fenómeno de las pandillas, en especial, la Mara Salvatrucha y la Mara Barrio 18.

En efecto, el acuerdo de paz firmado en 1992 no condujo a una disminución de los índices de violencia: mientras que durante los 12 años de la guerra civil murieron en promedio unas 6.250, en los años poseriores el número de homicidios pasó a 8.000 o más, conduciendo a El Salvador a convertirse en una de las naciones más violentas del mundo.
... siga leyendo 

Friday, June 16, 2017

mindfulness: conciencia plena

For some reason mindfulness is often imported into Spanish, as it is in the poster here - even though a term does exist in Spanish. It is also sometimes rendered as atención plena, or plena conciencia, but conciencia plena seems to be the most common version.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

gentrification: aburguesamiento

For some reason the term gentrification is widely imported into Spanish, even though there's this
other great option that is more easily understood by first time listeners. Maybe it's a neologism, maybe I sort of made it up years ago - though others seem to have as well as it has at least a little googlage (including the translation of this abstract of a great geography article that connects it to gendered fear in Toronto). But hey, in French gentrification is embourgeoisement, so it's a clear parallel.

Not sure how I would render the version gentrifuckation, that's a bit harder.

(and thanks to the commenters who caught my initial misspelling as aburgesamiento)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

para nuestros muertos ni un minuto de silencio, toda una vida de lucha

On May Day the NY Times ran an article about Colombia with what I thought was mistranslation. It was an article about Julian Conrado, a FARC guerrilla famous for singing rebel songs.

In it they render a line from one of his songs as
"For our dead, not a minute of silence, a whole life of combat."

The version that I am much more familiar with is
"Para nuestros muertos ni un minuto de silencio, toda una vida de lucha." I have repeatedly rendered it as
"Not one minute of silence for our dead, but an entire lifetime of struggle!"

This is not only a line from a song, but is widely chanted at marches and events throughout Colombia, and by Colombians around the world. The vast majority of people who use this line are not guerrillas, but part of social movement struggles. They are not referring to guerrillas killed in combat, nor to continuing combat - but to people killed for their struggles for justice and peace, and to their commitment to continue that organizing work in their name.

So I thought that the original was lucha, and that to render lucha as combat here not only changed the meaning of the original slogan, but dangerously tarred a much broader movement with a guerrilla brush - a long standing tactic to delegitimize justice organizing in Colombia.

But then it turns out that his song lyrics do actually use the word combate, rather than lucha. I'm left wondering which version came first. I'm assuming that it was the lucha version, and that the FARC modified it. Does anyone know?

Friday, March 31, 2017

#Noesdehombres: thisisn'tmanly

The NYT today ran a story with this great headline:

The story is about an activist art installation of a penis seat (see this video to see what it's like and people's reactions) that is part of the campaign against sexual harassment #Noesdehombres. They offered this isn't manly as a "rough translation" of the tagline. I don't love it as a translation, but I don't have anything better. Do any readers? 

The subway seat is creative, if a bit obnoxious - but the other images in the campaign, like this one, are about getting men thinking about if this was aimed at your girlfriend, or your mother. Perhaps effective in the short term, but not exactly empowering for women. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

violencia por prejuicio: hate crime

The literal rendition of this is of course violence based on prejudice, but in English it is far more common to use the term hate crime. I suppose that the term in Spanish includes violence that does not rise to the level of a crime, or perhaps even a misdemeanor - and so is a broader term. If you wanted to be a stickler and use the less common literal translation I would add a qualifier the first time you use it, something like 'more commonly called hate crimes in English.'

I have been reading about violence against LGBT people in Colombia and in Spanish violencia por prejuicio is widely used to describe it. The report Cuerpos Excluidos, Rostros de Impunidad gives an overview of it. Carlos's is just one rostro of the 110 LGBT people who were killed in Colombia in 2015.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

add and stir: agregar y revolver

This expression is often used to argue against an "add and stir" approach. This would be, for example, hiring a few women without changing any family leave policies or creating any workplace flexibility. So the stir here means incorporate into the existing structure, without changing it. I'm working on an article where I'm trying to think through whether or not the Colombian peace accords just added LGBT and stirred, or how much adding LGBT to the accords really changed the overall approach.

I saw this translation used by Serrano Amaya in

Serrano Amaya, José Fernando. 2013. “Agenciamiento E (in) Visibilidad de La Diversidad Sexual Y de Género En La Construcción de Paz.” In Paz Paso a Paso: Una Mirada Desde Los Estudios de Paz a Los Conflictos Colombianos, edited by José Fernando Serrano Amaya and Adam Baird, 53–78. CINEP y Editorial Javeriana. available here 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Is Louise doing translation or interpretation?

Amazingly there is a mainstream movie out where a woman academic saves the day with her language skills! I can't recommend it enough. But what exactly is Louise Banks doing in the movie Arrival (trailer below)? Translation? Interpretation? Neither exactly ...

Translation renders a written source text into a written version in the target language.

Interpretation renders from an oral source to oral target.

If you have a written source text and read it out loud, that is to say, you render it orally into the target language, we call that a sight translation.

If you have a transcript of a conversation in the source language, and you render it into a written version in the target language, we call that transcriptlation.

Most of the time what Louise seems to be doing in the movie is transcriptlation - but towards the end she seems to learn the alien's language well enough to do some sight translation.

You don't need to know these later two terms really, but if you want to be taken seriously as a language professional, or even just as someone who uses language services well, it is essential that you at least use the terms translation and interpretation properly. Yes, I know they are widely misused - but that is no reason for you to misuse them.

I have posted here before on how and why I ask social movements to get these terms right. Basically, they are different skills. You could be a good translator and a horrible interpreter. I personally will doubt your interpreting skills if you tell me you are a translator when you mean interpreter!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

enfoque de género: gender approach

I am absolutely thrilled that the Colombian peace accords have been renegotiated, and that the differential approach in it is stronger than before. I continue to see the false cognate focus widely used in the media (which is one part of the broader enfoque diferencial in the accords, which now clearly include age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and ethnicity).

The term enfoque diferencial is fairly new, but enfoque de género is a term widely used in multilateral treaties and agreements. Gender approach is the standard UN and EU translation. A good tool for finding these is what used to be called the eurodicautom and is now, sadly, called iate.

As for the term differential vs differentiated, I have spent way too much time obsessing over the difference. The Real Academia defines diferencial as

1. adj. Perteneciente o relativo a la diferencia entre las cosas. Un estudio diferencial.
2. adj. Que diferencia o sirve para diferenciar. Caracteres, matices diferenciales.

I believe that it's this second definition that is at work in this term. I was utterly convinced that differentiated conveyed that meaning more clearly in English, but I have come around. It is not un enfoque diferenciado, but actually uno diferencial. It may not be a term in as common use in English as in Spanish, but it does exist. Merriam-Webster gives the simple definition of differential as

relating to or based on a difference : treating some people or groups differently from others.

Their full definition is:

1 a :  of, relating to, or constituting a difference :  distinguishing b :  making a distinction between individuals or classes c :  based on or resulting from a differential d :  functioning or proceeding differently or at a different rate

2 :  being, relating to, or involving a differential or differentiation

3 a :  relating to quantitative differences b :  producing effects by reason of quantitative differences

update: the official translation of the peace accords uses the term "gender-sensitive approach"