Friday, August 25, 2023


I noticed today in this interesting Guardian article about indigenous drug runners in the Amazon that they kept the term maloca and followed it with "circular communal house." That nagged at me because it does not convey that it is a traditional indigenous structure, nor that it is sacred and ceremonial space - and I know that some of them are not circular. Interestingly the wikipedia entry calls them "an ancestral long house used by indigenous people of the Amazon." Hmm, that also seems a bit off, because they are often round, not long (though in fact I've been in several long ones). I would certainly keep the word maloca and then describe it. I've seen it described as a "big house" in other places. I don't love that either, for the reasons above. I'm curious to hear how you have described malocas in your translation and interpretation. Please comment!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

panfleteo (Col): (threatening) flyering

In Colombia usually the term panfleteo references the spreading around town or just left in front of certain people's houses of short one page flyers with death threats. To use the term pamphleting or even pamphlet for this does not work well. In English pamphlets are usually in color and folded, at least once but usually as a trifold. I don't see death squads taking the time for this sort of layout and folding! Usually the sorts of things the death threats use in U.S. English we would call a flyer. But just calling this flyering in English would not carry the connotation of death threats, thus my suggestion of adding the term threatening.

This term and the false cognate jumped out at me in this powerful article, which despite this term hiccup I strongly recommend:

Ruette-Orihuela, Krisna, Katherine V. Gough, Irene Vélez-Torres, and Claudia P. Martínez Terreros. “Necropolitics, Peacebuilding and Racialized Violence: The Elimination of Indigenous Leaders in Colombia.” Political Geography 105 (August 1, 2023): 102934.
As the authors put it, panfeleto has "been widely used since the 1970s by illegal armed groups as a way of intimidating social leaders, generating fear, encouraging displacement, and attempting to gain territorial control. These pamphlets are associated with ‘social cleansing’ that has become part of everyday life."

Monday, June 12, 2023

junt*s instead of junt@s

It used to be somewhat common to use the @ to denote, say, juntos y juntas. The problem is that it still reinforces the gender binary.

I don't think the * solution is common, but I like it. I was reminded of it by the book Junt*s transformamos a Colombia. Not sure how you pronounce it though - as juntes? The e ending has become more and more common since I first posted about it in 2015 (my all time most read post). I like it, but some are insisting on including the a and o as well, so in this case juntos, juntas, y juntes - meaning that e would not capture male and female, but just nonbinary folks. Good grief. I'm fine with just the e for everyone, but if you want to be more inclusive, maybe the * is the ticket. Doubt it will catch on though.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Comuna 13 (Col): District (comuna) 13

Comuna 13 (Col): District (comuna) 13

This is another one that sometimes gets rendered with the extremely misleading false cognate commune. I wish that everyone held property together in the comunas of Medellin but that is most certainly not the case! You could also use borough for this, but that is such a New York City specific term for large divisions inside a city that I think district is a more global English rendition. You could also keep it as comuna and just add the definition of district the first one or two times it comes up. 

Comuna 13 is particularly known for Operation Orion, carried out in 2002, where the area was occupied by some 3000 paramilitaries working openly with the army. They were ostensibly seeking FARC guerillas and collaborators but many civilians were disappeared that day. The photo here is from the grassroots work to push for and support the work to find and identify their bodies. There are dramatically more disappeared in Colombia than in any other country of the Americas, and the peace accord established a unit to search for them.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

caserío: small rural community vs. small village

I have posted about caserío before, and rendered it as small village. But yesterday I was showing my reconciliation seminar students the Basta Ya video about the war in Colombia as part of our study the outputs of truth commissions (as an aside, this video is from 2013 but frustratingly the recent truth commission has not subtitled any of their videos and the few translations I have found of their texts into English have not been done by translators and are chock full of errors). I noticed that in the video they subtitled caserío as small rural community and I think that is not half bad. Village has almost as many connotations as hamlet, the other option. Community is more vague, but that's not always a bad thing. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

acumular fuerzas: build the base

As in build the number of people active in the organization, the grassroots base. 

I got this great translation in a lovely email describing 'acumular fuerzas' as one of the urgent priorities for stopping Bukele's neodictatorship in El Salvador. The letter was from CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. My first paid organizer gig was with CISPES a zillion years ago and they taught me so much about solidarity, I'm grateful and proud to be a monthly sustainer now. 

I know what a difference having a steady income flow makes for grassroots groups so this is a plug for those of you making year end donations - consider instead upping the total a bit but breaking it up and making it an automatic monthly sustainer pledge on your credit card. It will be easier on your budget and much better for theirs.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

dar la cara

Dar la cara, in Colombia at least, carries the double meaning of both face the music (acknowledging responsibility) and press the flesh (physical presence). I don't know of any way to convey both meanings in English - do you? I appreciated the discussion of the meanings of this term and how the Colombian state does and doesn't dar la cara in this episode (particularly around minute 55 and on) of the podcast Colombia calling, with Gwen Burnyeat and Andrei Gomez-Suarez discussing Gwen's new book
"The Face of Peace: Government Pedagogy amid Disinformation in Colombia."

Saturday, November 5, 2022

raspachin: coca picker

I was reminded of this term by this spectacular long read analysis in the New Left Review by Forrest Hylton and Aaron Taus of the current Colombian conjuncture, placed in the long arc of Colombian political history. I can not recommend this article enough. If you are looking for a good recent Colombia 101 piece to give someone (say students) this is a great option. Fair warning, it took me an hour and forty five minutes to read - but they were well spent!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

hackles up: erizado

To get your/their hackles up refers metaphorically to the literal act many mammals do when threatened, of raising their shoulders to protect their neck. On dogs it's particularly clear, as their hairs there stand up. I understand it to refer to how we can automatically puff up to defend ourselves,
without it being a thought out response. Gracias a Diana Ojeda for this fabulous suggestion of a Spanish equivalent. Nos erizamos, we get spiny like a sea urchin.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

desaliñado/a (noun): Scruffy, disheveled.

Or gender neutral: desaliñade. Not exactly a social change related term - other than that social change folks may tend to be (though certainly not the folks in this picture). Also not sure if this use if particular to Colombia? I was reminded of this term, and given the translation, by the great compas at Pirate Wire Services, which I highly recommend. Check out their inspiring story this week on a gang truce in Colombia (that the picture is from) and subscribe! You can subscribe for free though donations help them keep doing this good work.  

Sunday, September 18, 2022

a skill share: una circulación de saberes

Yesterday I participated in Reeds and Roots, a very sweet earth skills skillshare event. Here we're learning about composting using the bokashi method, which I'm excited to try. I also learned a ton about the latest soil science. The way bacteria communicate and move around in the soil blows my mind. It all left me feeling really hopeful. There's so much we can teach each other in spaces like these.

Monday, July 25, 2022

hacer una denuncia: issue a public condemnation (or ...)

hacer una denuncia: issue a public condemnation (or ...)

Depending on the context sometimes 'file a complaint' will be a better fit. Sometimes you can just use denunciation (it has surprisingly high googlage actually) but I think public condemnation will be more clearly and widely understood.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

vivir sabroso: living deliciously

I suppose this could also be deliciously alive, but vivir sabroso is clearly a play on vivir bien - and since that is living well it makes more sense to me to keep the same structure. Note that this is quite different than vivir bonito. For those who haven't been following the Colombian election campaign, vivir sabroso is a tag line being used by the historic pact on the left. Here's a ton of energy and excitement for real change this Sunday! And a goofy fun short video to set the mood. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

terrajero: tenant farmer

 This term is used in Colombia. Is it is also used in other countries? If you've heard it elsewhere please say so in the comments. I saw this translation in this NACLA article about the inspiring resistance of the Misak: Indigenous Community Confronts a Colombian Paper Giant. 

They are “reclaiming the territory to reclaim everything.” Indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2022

grassroots diplomacy: diplomacia desde abajo

I usually render grassroots as popular (and vice versa), but sometimes as 'de base.' I've posted before about trabajo de base, and organización de base. An exception is comunidad de base (in the liberation theology tradition), where instead of grassroots I would use organized community. For grassroots diplomacy (people to people work, like delegations and exchanges) you could use de base too, but I heard this desde abajo rendition from Maguemati Wabgou and I love it. He used it on a panel entitled Geografías afrodescendientes y diálogos con las Áfricas which was part of the section Diálogos improbables: movilidades y disputas de saberes en el Segundo Encuentro Latinoamericano de Movimientos Socioespaciales y Socioterritoriales. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

bollard: bolardo

Perhaps not normally a social justice term, but back in 2016 there was an explosion of bollards in Bogota, which was seen by many as a misuse of city funds by the mayor to cover up other scandals. They even put in bollards to protect other bollards, such as those in this photo (thanks to @ContraGodarria on twitter for the pic).

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Plan Lazo: the Snare Plan

I have always seen plan lazo imported into English in discussion of Colombian history and politics, so I was surprised by this rendition in this recent very mainstream timeline of US-Colombia relations published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). 

Plan Lazo is widely written about as establishing paramilitaries. Note how the CFR reframes this in the following text:

Plan Lazo Creates Counterinsurgency Blueprint

In response to the persistence of armed guerrilla groups in the countryside, U.S. military advisors, led by General William P. Yarborough, work with the Colombian army to develop a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy known as Plan Lazo (the Snare Plan). The plan centers on public works projects, civilian defense networks, and an aggressive military assault on “independent republics” formed by communist insurgents during La Violencia. Plan Lazo becomes the template for decades of counterinsurgency and civic action programs in Colombia.

(photo is of Yarborough) 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

green new deal: nuevo pacto verde

Webinar: Impactos de los nuevos pactos verdes sobre Amèrica Latina. ¿Hasta qué punto los diferentes GND propuestos en los EEUU, Europa y en otros lugares, tienen en cuenta los impactos que podrían tener en otras regiones del mundo?


Thanks to compa Nancy Piñeiro for the heads up on this. Looks great, though I'm annoyed that they use translation when they mean interpreting. I know Nancy disagrees, but I thinks it's important to distinguish these as two different skills! You can show that you know and care about language access by getting it right. 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

frailejón: frailejón (mountain sunflower?!)

I have always before seen frailejón just imported into the English - so it stood out to me that this article in CNN did so but then followed it with the description "mountain sunflowers 6 feet tall that capture water vapor from clouds and release it to the ground creating water springs." I've never thought of them as sunflowers, but now I see it. You could also of course use the latin name, espeletia. But mountain sunflower isn't bad. Relevant for social justice because these grow in the fragile páramo in Colombia which is at serious risk from both the climate catastrophe and extractivism.

Monday, January 17, 2022

campesino: another option

I have blogged repeatedly about options for campesino. None of them are great wihch is why I tend to import it. It's a concept that just doesn't translate well since it includes not only family or small-scale farmers but also farmworkers, loggers, artisanal miners, and lots of other people that live in the campo. I liked the way this great article (that helped me see how we need to look both above and below the land to understand land issues in Colombia) went back and forth between using small-scale farmer and campesino throughout, though again, that leaves a lot of people out.

My compa Kath Nygard has lately been trying to convince me to use peasant. As I've blogged before, it's worth nothing that the Via Campesina uses International Peasant Movement as their official translation. I don't think I'm quite there yet, since the connotations in English seem still too closely tied to Monty Python type peasants (see video).

Saturday, December 11, 2021

cacerolazo: pot bang-out

Cacerolazo often gets imported into English, as it has been in the English wikipedia entry.  I like this solution but my concern is that often people don't know the term and won't understand it at first. To build stronger movements it is worth translating it at least the first time it comes up.

Sometimes, as in the word reference forum, I've seen it rendered as pot banging. But it's not just any random pot banging! It's pot banging as a political action. My first thought was a pot bang-in - playing on the term sit-in. But that will sound to most listeners just like banging. It's also true that what is magical about this action is that is an action of dispersion, not of concentration. We generally do it in our homes by the window, not gathered together (though in Bogotá last spring sometimes people would gather on street corners to bang together). The term bang out is completely a play on words neologism made up by me, but I like it for conveying this idea of leaning out your window and banging your pot. I've definitely broken a pot from too much banging so don't use your best one, or set aside an old one for this activity! 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Otra Cosa: Something Else

This is the translation give by a group of this name that is a queer collective land project in Puerto Rico. They are working for food and land sovereignty in Borinken, including designing a solar composting toilet. They are asking for support for their work to share the design and the tools and support to help folks across the island build their own. Brilliant. I'm a huge fan of composting toilets when done right - but it really helps for folks to have support to make that happen. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

extranjerización: foreignerization

I've blogged before about the terms gendered, and racialized, and ethnicized. Well, yes, you can also be foreignerized. Yup, totally made up that neologism - but I like it. That has zippo googlage but foreignerization has a tiny bit. I learned the term first in castellano, de Melisa Yaleva, who was on a great panel with me titled "Sentir-pensar la traducción: geopolitics of knowledge and south-north dialogues" que fue parte del Segundo Encuentro Latinoamericano de Movimientos Socioespaciales y Socioterritoriales. You can watch it online here. Melisa talked about being foreignerized as a woman with darker skin in Argentina, where people always assume that she is from some other country. Several Colombians with red or blond hair have told me that the same happens to them. It's a useful term for understanding these dynamics, we should use it more often! 

I will note however that the German word ''Überfremdung'', widely used by anti-immigrant parties, is translated as over-foreignerization and one assumes they mean something entirely different by that. But let's not let them steal the word from us!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

How movements are staying (and becoming more) multilingual

Fantastic article here by Allison Corbett about movement T & I (translation and interpretation) - and going beyond T & I. I can't recommend it enough if you care about how we make our movements stronger by making our spaces more multilingual. Love the geneology given and the important nods to my compas Alice and Roberto here. The one correction I would make is that we also had a team of interps at the first US Social Forum in Atlanta, though certainly not as large as we would have liked.