Monday, December 29, 2008

more useful tools

I put four new sites in the tools section on the sidebar

For pronunciation there was already forvo, which is nice because people all around the world add to it (you can to), but I added howjsay because I've found it has more of the words I'm looking for (such as amortize). It has a lovely British accent in English.

For strange expression and idioms in English try what does that mean?
for example: "if wishes were horses this beggar would ride"

For mysterious acronyms try this finder

and someone worked to make google translator prettier and easier to use as an online bilingual (or lotsa lingual at once if you like) dictionary - shame they picked the horrible name nice translator

Thursday, December 4, 2008

tipping point

tipping point: punto crítico, momento clave del cambio

the latter I think works for when this term is used in marketing (as in when so many people have ipods, suddenly everyone has them), and the former for the climate crisis, as in what may well happen in 96 months (see

according to wikipedia: The tipping point in the study of the Earth's changing climate is the point at which change due to human activity brings about sufficient new processes in nature to make any human reversal of the change impossible.

punto limite and punto de inflexion both seem to mean different things, mathematically.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

climate crisis

climate crisis: crisis del clima

love this video - I think it does a great job of breaking it down and explaining the tipping point (punto limite? other suggestions?). anyone want to help translate it into Spanish? if you can do the whole thing, or just part, email

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


creepy: hormigueante

creepy, according to wiktionary:
  1. producing an uneasy fearful sensation, as of things crawling over one's skin
  2. strangely repulsive
my friend Jonathan suggested the dictionary site Tomisimo, which came up with hormigueante. good! much better than what word reference came up with (espeluznante)

(thanks to the fab beehive collective for the image)

Saturday, November 8, 2008


cheesy: cursi

cheesy, according to the wiktionary = of poor quality through being overdramatic, excessively emotional or clichéd

cursi, por la RAE = Se dice de un artista o de un escritor, o de sus obras, cuando en vano pretenden mostrar refinamiento expresivo o sentimientos elevados.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pueblos Originarios

Pueblos Originarios: First Peoples

A term that I had rarely heard in English for indigenous peoples (note the importance of the s and the end of peoples) until I moved to Canada, where it is common. It is slowly becoming more common in the U.S. and in Spanish.

The struggle of First Peoples in Colombia is still very very hot. Amazingly, after pulling together 30,000 people for a several day march, they were stood up by president Uribe on Sunday, and continue to face repression like the bullets shot straight at the crowd shown in the video below. If you're a U.S. citizen please support this brave struggle with this quick click action organized by the Lutherans to write a letter to the ambassador. Or if you haven't done the witness for peace quick click to the State Department, please do that one instead. Good updates on the situation here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

bastón de mando

bastón de mando: (ceremonial) staff of authority

Kudos to CNN for showing this clip of activist video - it has forced Colombia's president Uribe to sit down and talk with indigenous protesters. Here's hoping something comes of that. And much strength to the brave protesters, especially those taking video like this! They are still facing repression, you can take a quick click minute to support them here. Thanks.

Monday, October 20, 2008


waterboarding = el 'submarino'; asfixia "simulada" (?!) con agua

The mainstream media claims that it is "simulated", but I personally would not include that word in the definition at all - if you must include it, certainly put in the scare quotes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


concientizar: raise awareness

segun wiktionary (check out their conjugation table): provocar que alguien tome conciencia de algo.

relatedly, la conciencia publica is public awareness.

como se ve en la foto, there are lots of creative ways to do it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


desplazado: displaced person; person who has been displaced (ie. forced to flee their home, land and community)

the latter takes longer to say if you're doing simultaneous, but emphasizes the person before their status

Errante Diamante from B a s t a r d i l l a on Vimeo.

Monday, September 8, 2008


solidarity: solidaridad

Yes, yes, this one is obvious, but I'd like to point you to a good tactic when working on translations - comparing definitions like this one in the English and in the Spanish versions of wikipedia. It's useful and fun to see how different they are, even for cognates like this one. A good reminder of how words and language are always exist as part of larger social fabric - and as much as we try to build bridges through translation, there are always gaps to mind.

Monday, September 1, 2008


asistencialismo: charity

On proz I found cult of dependency, and welfarism - neither are quite it, and I don't think would be well understood by most English speaking audiences. Charity will work in most contexts I think, though you may have to add charity attitude or mentality, etc.. Really, it's more like "hand-out-ism" - but I can't quite imagine that will catch on!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


cognitariado: cognitariat

(image from the fab phdcomics)

This is a term invented by Franco Berardi, alias Bifo¸quien describe esta "clase virtual" en su libro La fábrica de la infelicidad, subtitulado Nuevas formas de trabajo y movimiento global.
En este articulo Casado Da Rocha cita a Bifo definiendo el cognitariado como: "trabajo cognitivo dotado de un cuerpo social y carnal, que es sometido conscientemente o no al proceso de producción de valor y de mercancía semiótica, que puede ser sometido a explotación y a estrés, que puede sufrir privación afectiva, que puede caer en el pánico, que incluso puede ser violentado y muerto. La clase virtual ha descubierto un cuerpo y una condición social. Por eso ha dejado de sentirse clase virtual y ha empezado a sentirse cognitariado." (11)

Sigue Casado Da Rocha diciendo "Claro que el trabajo siempre es cognitivo. Como dice Bifo, hasta la producción de una flecha de piedra por parte del hombre de Neanderthal conlleva el empleo de una inteligencia. Pero el cognitariado, presente o futuro, se caracteriza por "un empleo exclusivo de la inteligencia, excluyendo la manipulación física directa de la materia." (97)"

Here's an interview with Bifo in English, and another, in both he defines the concept more at length.

Monday, August 18, 2008

more tools

    more online tools for translators - with descriptions taken directly from a list posted at
    Dumb Little Man

  • is probably the most common and most comprehensive of all the dictionary tools available. Apart from giving the word meanings and pronunciation, it also provides various tools (like the toolbar), RSS feeds to improve vocabulary and word explorer podcasts.

  • Merriam-Webstar Online
    Merriam-Webstar Online is a huge online resource for learning and improving your English. It provides dictionary and thesaurus which includes spanish-english and medical dictionaries. You can easily look up words and listen to their pronunciation. Further it provides other resources like crosswords and word games. It also has a visual dictionary which combines words with images.

  • MetaGlossary approaches the task of finding meanings of words in a different way. It aggregates various links on the web which provide an explanation to the term and shows the results. Hence it does the job of pulling definitions of the word from the entire web.

  • Thsrs
    Thsrs helps you to get shorter synonyms of long words. Although it's not dead accurate but still can be useful at times. It also provides a browser plug-in to easily look up shorter synonyms of words with a right click.

  • Wordsmith
    Wordsmith is a nice resource for new words, especially its ' A Word A Day ' newsletter, which is immensely popular and delivers new words everyday to your email inbox.

  • Ninjawords

  • Ninjawords, like Definr, claims to be a very fast dictionary. Although it doesn't show words as you type like Definr but is certainly very fast in displaying the meanings and synonyms once you hit enter. It also has a random tab which can be used to play around and learn new words.

  • Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus
    Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus is a free-to-try visual tool which shows related words in an interactive map and helps you to easily find their meanings and listen to their pronunciation.

  • AskOxford
    AskOxford is the online version of the famous dictionary by the Oxford University press. It's comprehensive without a doubt and includes various other vocabulary resources and a quotations dictionary.

  • Alpha Dictionary
  • Alpha Dictionary doesn't directly show you the meaning of a word. Instead it searches all the available online dictionaries (most of them) and displays the results in the form of links to the meaning of that word in those dictionaries. So choose your favorite dictionary (if at all you have one) and click on the corresponding link to view its meaning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


beachhead: cabeza de playa

Well I for one wouldn't have guessed this would be a literal translation, but what do you know - it is. And yes, I agree with a recent El Tiempo editorial that "El presidente Uribe ha aceptado que Colombia se convierta en la única cabeza de playa que le queda a Estados Unidos en el subcontinente americano."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


token: cuota

I've often wondered how to say token, you know, the one woman on the panel, the one person of color, the one youth - not that aiming for diversity in our organizations is meaningless, but it can be counter productive when it turns into a de rigueur nod that doesn't question the underlying system of domination that makes it more likely that the panel will be a bunch of older white guys. Anyways, in Colombia the only Afro-Colombian in the cabinet is Paula Marcela Moreno, the Minister of Culture. She was recently asked in an El Tiempo article if 'se siente cuota de los democratas' (as in, was she appointed to appease US Congressional Democrats concerns about racism in Colombia and the far greater impact of the conflict on Afro-Colombians). Her answer was 'yo me siento cuota de Dios'. Odd.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


jaque: check

By now you must have heard of the spectacular rescue of Ingrid Betancourt, the three U.S. mercenaries (no, I don't think they should have been kidnapped, but by definition that's what they were, I consider 'defense contractor' a euphemism), and 11 military men. Of course I'm very glad they're out, but the timing of it was quite something. Coincidence that it came right after a particularly difficult week for Uribe? Last week the Yidispolitica scandal got blazing hot as the Supreme Court confirmed that indeed the Congressional vote that allowed him to run for a second term, that passed by one vote, was rigged and Yidis sold her vote. As in, though he won the second election, it was not legally held. And then there's the 'only in Colombia' bizarre Tasmania scandal. A former paramilitary thug named Tasmania was before saying that the supreme court was trying to get him to falsely accuse Uribe, but now he says that Uribe's men (his cousin Mario Uribe actually, who is in jail for parapolitics) got him to say that. If you can follow all of that back and forth, which I can't really. At any rate, it was looking hairy there for a few days for ol' Alvaro - but what do you know, now after this rescue he's the big hero. Since the infiltrators who pulled off the rescue had been in there for years, presumably Uribe called the timing. In case you had any doubts about what an amazing chess player the man is, he called it Operacion Jaque. And he took the Queen.

from Diccionario Espasa:
me dio jaque, he put me in check
tener/traer en jaque, to bother, worry

and of course check mate is jaque mate

Thursday, June 26, 2008

global village

global village: aldea global

Segun wikipedia, "es un término posiblemente acuñado por el sociólogo canadiense Marshall McLuhan. Este concepto se refiere a la idea de que, debido a la velocidad de las comunicaciones, toda la sociedad humana comenzaría a transformarse y su estilo de vida se volvería similar al de una aldea. Debido al progreso tecnológico todos los habitantes del planeta empezarían a conocerse unos a otros y a comunicarse de manera instantánea y directa."

Of course lots of people don't have that kind of access. As one of my favorite geographers, Cindi Katz, argues, while the world is getting smaller for some, it's becoming much larger for others (see the recent hardening of Fortress Europe).

But really I blogged this term because I'm still mulling over vereda. Thanks to all who have commented on that post. My current favorite is rural township, but I'd love more thoughts. Anyways, when I saw aldea global in the paper the other day it struck me that it's odd that aldea seems to only get used figuratively in Colombia.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


miembra: member

yes, yes, I know, the Real Academia does not recognize this as a real word. and what do you know, there are hardly any women in the RAE. but doesn't it seem ridiculous to you to interpret for a large women's organization and have to call them all miembros? the joys of patriarchal language. well apparently I'm not the only one who'se annoyed. recently the Spanish Minister of Equality (how cool is it that there's a ministry like that?) used 'miembros y miembras' in a speech and set off a whole discussion about this word in Spain.

how we say the world shapes how we see the world shapes how we can be in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

online tools

The Firefox search bar is a wonderful thing. I use Firefox because of the beauty of open source, but I also love it for making amazing translation tools easy to use. The search I use most is Wordreference. I set up a separate one for Sp>En and one for En>Sp. If you don't already have it you also must must set one up for the all powerful RAE. There's the obvious (actually, to get there in firefox you can just type dict and the word in the address bar), and There's also definr. For fun I like the urban dictionary. What I've given you so far are links to the main sites for these pages. Some of these, like wordreference (at the very bottom of a page once you look up a word), have quick links on their pages for adding it to your firefox search bar. The RAE search is here (huge kudos to the designer). For others go here and search for them under all add-ons (lots of other cool ones to get while you're there).

Not in the search bar but also cool: Visuwords graphs a word's relationship to other words. The visual dictionary is good for learning terminology for tests (in theory these types of dictionaries are also good for when you know what it looks like and not what it's called - though I've never had much luck using them that way). If, like me, you still wonder if you want to lie or lay down, check out confusing words. And for pronunciation dudas try the cool collective project of forvo.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Procurador General

Procurador General: Inspector General; Attorney General

I've usually seen Procurador General rendered as Attorney General, but on Colombia Reports I recently saw it as Inspector General. It got me to thinking. The mission of at least the Colombian procuraduría does seem more in line with the definition of an Inspector General that that of an Attorney General. Thoughts? Either way the procuraduría would be the Office of the ... And as if you needed one more sign of just how corrupt the Uribe administration is, the brother of the procurador was recently arrested.

wildcat strike

wildcat strike: huelga loca (Col)

A wildcat strike is a walkout that is not authorized (or supported) by union leadership. Often definitions say that for it to be wildcat it has to happen during a valid contract - but workers often claim that management or union leadership has broken the contract. I would also argue that if workers walk out after a contract has expired, but without elected leadership support, it would be wildcat. At any rate, in the US, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), federal courts have held that wildcat strikes are illegal and that employers may fire workers participating in them. Some might argue wildcat is a derogatory term, though I think it's a fantastic fierce image. This Spanish version is more obviously derogatory. Anyone know better renditions?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

getting these terms in your email

I used to have a "sign up for email updates" box from blogarithm on this page. I recently changed it to a feed burner service because blogarithm has been bought out. If you were getting updates from blogarithm you should keep getting them though. Or you could ditch blogarithm like I did and sign up again with the new box on the site if you want a cleaner email - the ones from feed burner look much nicer. Or you could switch over to a reader. I used to keep up on my favorite blogs through blogarithm but have shifted over completely to reading them on google reader, which I find much faster and easier.


señalado: singled out, fingered (better options?)

No, this great video doesn't use this term, but a friend who is helping the fabulous ACA media team (who did the above video) to subtitle another video of theirs asked for help with it and I've been struggling with the term. The use here is señalado as in when someone (often a demobilized guerilla or paramilitary) says oh so and so used to work with us (which is often not true). These are the best I came up with. Any other suggestions?

ACA has a ton of other great documentaries about Colombia up on youtube here. Certainly not mainstream media.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

mainstream media

mainstream media: medios dominantes de comunicación

This rendition caught my eye in the article Traducción y compromiso by Manuel Talens at He actually renders it as medios dominantes globales but I think they can be medios dominantes in a local context without being globales, though more and more of course they are indeed tied to global conglomerates. El Tiempo, the "leading" newspaper of Colombia, was recently bought by the Planeta group, for example.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

the belly of the beast

the belly of the beast: las entrañas del monstruo; el corazon del monstruo; las entrañas de la bestia

I hear corazon far more in social justice contexts in Colombia. why in English it would be belly and Spanish heart is an interesting question, no? digestion vs love. or lack thereof. but as Jon points out in the comments, for Martí it was entrañas - and of the three, that first combo has the higher googlage. thanks Jon!

Monday, May 12, 2008

an injury to one is an injury to all

an injury to one is an injury to all: un daño contra uno es un daño contra todos

This famous IWW (wobbly) saying is widely used throughout the North American labor (or if you're Canadian - labour) movement. Unions in Latin America widely use the term 'agravio' for this broader sense of injury, so I used to render this as un agravio contra uno ... but really, are folks with limited literacy going to understand that? and does it have a good ring when you shout it to a crowd? not so much. my next try was lo que perjudica a uno perjudica a todos. more understandable. still not very shoutable. and kind of changes the meaning a wee bit, no? so when my friend Jeremy asked about this one, I went hunting for new options on proz. Thanks to David for this one. really, rather obvious. sometimes I make things more complicated than they need to be. but the simple part? yes, let us keep widening the 'all' in an injury to all, and make our solidarity more international.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


espantabobos: drizzle

not really a social justice term, but one of my favorite expressions - and wow, wouldn't it be bad news if this came up in some sticky conflict context and you didn't know what it meant and rendered it literally? This morning there was a constant espantabobos, pero como no somos bobos, sino que mas bien de Seattle, salimos de Bogotá de todas formas - y alcanzamos a ver cantidades de frailejones en el páramo. lindisimo. In my family we have a similar term in English, but for a different phenomena. A "sucker hole" is that little patch of blue in a grey sky that makes you think that it's worth going out on a hike, that surely the sun will come. ha. sucker.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


solidarizar: be/work/struggle in solidarity with

I was asked to by Ana to come up with a translation for this, I agree with her, fantastic verb in Spanish. I mean how great is it to be able to say "solidarizémonos"? Let us be in solidarity (with x cause, or with one another, etc) just doesn't have quite the same ring.

If you have other stumper social justice terms send them this way.

Monday, April 21, 2008

open source

open source: codigo abierto

the full word is really source code. funny how the code gets dropped in En, and the source in Sp. feeling depressed about social change? it can help to spend a moment in awe of the beauty and potential of the open source movement.

an article that I recently translated into English for the fabulous Association for Progressive Communications reminded me of this one. APC puts geekiness to work for social justice struggles - not just as in recruit geek volunteers, but really far more thoughtfully think about how different information and communication technologies could help us make different kinds of worlds.

Friday, April 11, 2008

mano dura

mano dura: firm hand

usually as in "firm hand policies" - a polite way of saying ruthless crackdown. there was a disturbing article about women in Central American gangs in the nyt today that mentioned this term and reminded me how bad it sounds when interps use the literal "hard hand". shame the amazing photos aren't online, but still worth reading.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


empire: imperio

not a tricky term, though I could go on about capitalizing it a la Hardt and Negri or not (I vote not), but really, this is just an excuse to post this great video. Zinn has a whole new graphic version of his classic. (you could read this essay here, but why not have it read to you with fun pictures?)

Friday, March 28, 2008

pasar la voz

pasar la voz: give the floor

As in when a speaker is done and wants to name the next person who gets to speak and says, "ahora paso la voz a Amalia" or "I give the floor to Amalia". This is another one of those that sounds really funny with the false cognate in English. Pass the voice? But then regalar el piso sounds pretty weird in Spanish. Ah, the beauty of idiomatic expressions.

Friday, March 21, 2008


progressive: progresista

Progresivo is one of the funnier false cognates that I keep running in to. In Spanish it's widely understood as a type of rock music. Apparently the term progressive rock exists in English too, it's just not the first thing we think of when we use the term progressive!

Sunday, March 16, 2008


invierno: rainy, or rainy season

You might have thought that invierno meant winter and verano meant summer, but really, in my experience in Colombia and El Salvador this is another one of those "the dictionary is lying" words. Ok, ok, a word where the connotation is quite different than the denotation. In El Salvador it really only meant rainy season. Here in Colombia it often means this (and not just the one rainy season mind you, there are several in a year) - but people also use it to mean just rainy, as in "hizo mucho invierno ayer". Verano generally means not just dry but hot and sunny, as in, "por las tardes hace verano". We have had a lot of invierno around here lately, and far too much of it has been making its way inside our apartment.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


so-called: mal llamado

As in, the so-called Justice and Peace law in Colombia, es decir, el mal llamado ley de Justicia y Paz. More and more Colombian human rights activists are insisting on just calling it Law 975, since even saying "mal llamado" you still end up associating it with justice and peace.

But there is all sorts of brave work being done for real peace here. There was a truly inspiring march in Bogota (and others around the world) on March 6th called by the Movimiento de victimas de crimenes de estado. I went a little crazy taking pics. Here is one of my faves.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

vereda (Colombia)

vereda: township (Col)

Of course it's not really the same thing since even the most rural place in North America is nowhere near as rural as most veredas, but it's the closest equivalent I could come up with. A vereda is not really even a village, just scattered homes in the jungle in a general area, say, all within a 2 hour walk. If there are a few homes are close together in Colombia they are called a "caserío" (now that you could call village maybe, though it's often barely that). There can be a caserío in a vereda. Vereda in Spain means path, so maybe this originally meant all the homes along one path, but it is no longer that specific. It is, however, (along with corregimiento) a legal division of space inside a municipio - which I actually in Colombia usually render as 'county' since they function more like a US county than a municipality. Of course, Canadians and Brits probably won't get the term county. Ah, the joys of context. (Thanks to Kath for additions on this one)

Anyways, my recent walk with the peace community up to the vereda of Mulatos was amazing.

It turned out that this trip was not only a commemoration of the massacre of the leader of the peace community of San Jose, Luis Eduardo Guerra, and his family and another family, as I had explained in my last letter. It was even more powerful than that.

When Luis Eduardo was killed he was up in the area of Mulatos. For me Mulatos is a long painful 9 hour hike straight up the very end of the Andes, right before it ends at the sea. And really, I mean straight up – not a single switchback, just very steep muddy rocky trails. Somehow the community members do this hike in 5 hours. Mulatos is one of the veredas that many of the peace community members had to flee 15 years ago when they were attacked and bombed by the army.

When Luis Eduardo was killed three years ago he was up in Mulatos working his crops on his old land, helping to prepare the way so that community members could return to live there. Obviously after he was killed that dream was put on hold, but it did not die with him.

Amazingly, though slow judicial investigations confirm that the massacre three years ago was committed by the army, and though the army continues to harass them (just last December they killed another community member), seven brave families moved back to Mulatos on this march! They have declared Mulatos a humanitarian zone, in association with the peace community, and are likewise declaring that they will not participate with any of the armed actors in any way, and asking all actors to stay out of the area.

We hiked by a lot of bombed out houses that people had fled years ago and are now being taken over by the jungle. But these brave folks are moving back into some of them, fixing them up and building new ones. They are even working to clean up the old school, now covered with wasp nests and creepy army graffiti, where a 3 year old girl was killed during an air raid. Of course they are too far away for kids to go to school down the mountain, and getting classes going is one of their first priorities.

The land was gorgeous and crazy fertile. We ate bananas that were growing along the path – much more fun than my standard hiking salmon berries! And I ate my first raw cacao, which has big white fuzzy seed pods inside a big yellow fruit. Tastes absolutely nothing like chocolate. Folks (and dogs) from the community caught huge river shrimp, a wild boar, and an armadillo. There were heliconia flowers growing all over, and trees full of those wacky hanging oropendula bird nests.

I thought that I was going on a pilgrimage to sites of death, and indeed, we did hold very moving ceremonies at the two massacre sites, at each of which the community has built beautiful simple little chapels. But this was not a trip focused on death - it was very much a trip full of life, of carrying on the dream, of building and rebuilding community. There was a lot of laughing and singing, and fun with kids on the trip. The youngest was Luis Eduardo's 7 year old son. He was so proud of going the whole way.

There were about 30 internationals on the trip, who were key to making it safer for them to move back. There were folks from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Argentina and the States. Most were there only for this trip, but the folks from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (that I am doing my dissertation research with) are there year round. They live in the area full time, offering accompaniment to this peace-making process. Peace Brigades comes up to the community once a week. Of course, this accompaniment only works if there are folks around the world that care and are watching along from a distance.

The community is providing such an important example and model for us all of how to resist nonviolently, engage in collective civil disobedience in the middle of a war, and make space for peace and life. I was honored to be with them on their return, and hope to return to visit them again.

ps: We watched the lunar eclipse from Mulatos and it was magical. There is a far less beautiful eclipse of information about what is happening in Colombia, and in general of peaceful resistance to war. Here is a great article with more background about San Jose and the return, written beforehand by a NACLA journalist who was on the trip.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

comunidad de base

comunidad de base: organized community

in the last post I argued that base is usually grassroots, but here is another example that occurred to me where, in context, it can refer to organizing

You may have heard of the term christian base communities - a key part of liberation theology. sometimes when people say comunidad de base they mean these, but often they are simply referring to an organized community, be it that they have a strong community council, work groups, or that they are part of some larger campesino organization of what have you.

I am posting today from Turbo, and leave soon for the peace community of San Jose, an organized community if ever there was one.

What is a peace community? In this case it is a group of campesinos who have chosen not to participate in the war in any way, and have asked all of the armed actors (paramilitaries, guerillas and the military) to stay out of their community. As a result they have been attacked by all sides. In their eleven years they have suffered over 160 violent deaths. Three years ago one of their leaders was killed in a horrific massacre with his family and another family. Luis Eduardo Guerra had only a few years earlier come to the School of the Americas vigil to denounce attacks on the peace community. (that link has more info on the massacre)

The brigade accused of killing him was led by an SOA graduate. Since his death the community has bravely continued sending community members to speak at the SOA vigil in the US about the attacks and to work in solidarity with us to end US military involvement in Colombia. I have been honored to interpret for them. Now it's my turn to go to the community in our joint struggle against militarism.

February 21st will be the third anniversary of the massacre, and I am going with the community on their "return" – a three day hike up to where Luis Eduardo and the others were killed. This is territory that is seriously disputed between the guerillas and the military and the paramilitaries. There will be a big group of folks from the community and a significant number of international accompaniers on this hike, which helps with safety, but there are no guarantees. Please send us all lots of safety wishes. I'll send a report on how it goes when I get back at the end of the month.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

trabajo de base

trabajo de base: grassroots organizing

I heard this rendered as "base work" - which has got to be one of the all time most dangerous false cognates.

in other news I found fabulous affordable housing in the funky neighborhood of la Macarena. yay!

I've (reasonably) been asked to explain why it bugs me so much that base gets mistranslated with its cognate. To me the first connotation that comes to mind with "base" is low, and in some contexts it could even be misunderstood as degrading. yikes! The next definition that would come to me for "base" would be military base - which might actually seem to make sense depending on the context, and again would be a total misunderstanding. Base is commonly mistranslated with its cognate, not just as part of this term. bad news! avoid it!

Of course "work" means something very different than organizing - but usually in movement contexts speakers are really referring specifically to organizing with this phrase, which is understood in Spanish, but needs to be specified in English.

Friday, February 1, 2008

affordable housing

affordable housing: vivienda asequible, vivienda al alcance economico, vivienda economicamente accesible

The first if the standard, and the easier and quicker term, but sometimes I wonder if low literacy listeners get it - which is when I would turn to either of the latter two, or if in a real pinch while doing simultaneous, just 'vivienda al alcance'.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines "affordable" as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household's monthly income. That includes the cost of utilities. Other public agencies sometimes define affordable housing as those units that are subsidized such that renters or owners do not pay more than that 30%. The number of units with those kinds of subsidies has been cut drastically in recent years. Sadly way way too many people, in the US and around the world, pay far more than 30%.

Right now I'm looking hard for some housing that's affordable, sunny, and in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogotá. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 25, 2008

town hall meeting

town hall meeting: cabildo abierto

Sometimes, though less so, also called 'cabildo general'. I also recently heard "evento de opinion publica" (gracias Juan). That may be more easily understood, especially by those with lower literacy, but I like the historical referent of cabildo abierto, especially given that town hall meetings also have historical roots.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

to ground

ground: poner polo a tierra

In both English and Spanish this term comes from the electrical meaning, but is used metaphorically to mean to bring a discussion back to earth, to the concrete, or it can refer to bringing your body energy and spirit back down to earth, in a chi gong kind of way. We could all probably use more of this too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


veeduria: oversight

We could certainty use more of it, in government institutions, NGO's, and in movements. I am a big fan of the Quaker 'oversight committee' model. On a similar note, seguimiento can be follow-through, but when it's a comisión I would render it as a Monitoring Commission.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


shopdrop: deja-compras

Ready to engage in some anti-capitalist monkey wrenching after that commodity fest? Try shopdropping. Thanks to Jonathan Luna for this creative rendition in Spanish.