By Gene Kira, June 24, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
If there's one area of human endeavor that's sure to cause plenty of heartbreak and misunderstanding, it's trying to master a foreign language.
For me, learning even half-decent Baja Spanish has been a long, bloody, uphill battle, and the end is nowhere in sight. I have a whole shelf full of textbooks, tapes, Linda Ronstadt CDs, Mexican children's books, and other Spanish stuff. I even took a college Spanish course (got an "A" too), and every night before turning in, I study at least a couple of pages of things like the Perfecto de Subjuntivo and other exciting topics.
But all to little effect. After several decades of struggle, I'm just barely starting to get a feel for polite Spanish, and I'm still totally lost and left out when, say, two pangueros start making crude jokes about each other's anatomy and gastrointestinal systems. It's tough, and sometimes I wish I had a kindly hada madrina (fairy godmother) who would just wave a magic wand over my head and say, "Poof! Now you can talk like a Mexican!"
Nevertheless, it's comforting to learn that lots of people you might expect to know better also have problems with Spanish.
About three years ago, there used to be a big billboard next to Mex 1 that advertised intensive, two-day courses offered by a Spanish language school in Ensenada. In four-foot-high block letters, the sign offered you "Weekend Curses" for a modest fee. I was always tempted to call the number and find out if they could curse you during the week too.
And, of course, there's the legendary story of General Motors using the name "Nova" (no va, it doesn't go) for a car to be sold in Latin America. As it turns out, a native Spanish speaker actually pronounces no va somewhat differently from nova, and the car is supposed to have sold quite well.
Unfortunately, however, when PEMEX also used the name Nova for its old, now-discontinued grade of leaded regular gasoline, it turned out to be an early, albeit unintentional, example of truth-in-advertising. With exasperating frequency, your car really would no va with that horrible stuff, which came in all the popular Cool-Aid colors and took on various smells, depending on what it was made out of, and who last adulterated it.
Now, it turns out, Mazda is producing a minicar for the Japanese market with the intriguing name of Laputa (la puta, the whore, in Spanish). According to one bemused Mexican observer, Mazda's sales literature for the Laputa says it has an "eye-catching exterior," a "variety of seat arrangements," "roomy interior space," and a "body designed to withstand front collisions." Fair enough. But hopefully, if the Laputa is ever exported to Spanish-speaking countries, it will be called something else.
The name Laputa, by the way, was supposed to have been borrowed by Mazda from Jonathan Swift's Eighteenth Century classic, Gulliver's Travels, wherein it referred to a mysterious floating island in the sky. Nevertheless, I'm sure that Swift, dark satirist that he was, could not have been unaware of the name's ironic implications in Spanish. Sorry Mazda, but it's La Puta all the way down.
And now, word comes of another Japanese minicar made by Nissan that is called the Moco (moco, snot, in Spanish). According to Nissan, the name comes from the Japanese word moco-moco, meaning something like "warm and fuzzy." Makes you think, doesn't it? If Mazda and Nissan ever merged, they could create a car called the Puta Moco. Talk about name recognition.
But, in my humble opinion, one of the most tragic examples of fractured Spanish ever uttered was on the shore of Baja's own Caleta Agua Amargosa in the novel, King of the Moon, as a very young Abundio Rodriguez explained to Peter Grayson III the difference between the words for beer and the Spanish goat stew birria, and between Peter's name, Pedro, and the impolite word pedo. In the exasperated Sr. Pete's just barely translatable Spanish: "Oh! No! Me beer fart no bueno espanole!"
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")