I have now spent three months trying to decipher Catalan, and have given up hope. But I’ve learned a few words, and these are my favorites:
(NOTE: Louise is currently sailing in the Canary Islands. She wrote the post below before she left Catalonia.)
Gran. You know how we struggle to find a kind, acceptable, positive word that means senior citizen, Baby Boomer, retiree, geezer, and the elderly in general? The Catalans have it figured out. They (we) are “grans,” which makes me think of both grand and tall – who wouldn’t want to be that? If retired, you are a “jubilat,” meaning a celebrator, and not just somebody who used to be something but is now off the track. A third one popped up the other day: “mayor,” which translates as both “major” and “better.” Love it.
Gos. “Dog.” Go figure.
Pulsera. I look at jewelry a lot. Thus I’ve learned to love the word pulsera, which means bracelet. The thing that surrounds one’s pulse, gently brushing against the very heartbeat of a woman…it’s so damned sensuous!
Germanes. I could not figure out why local signs were mentioning Germans so often, until the lightbulb hit. Pronounce the “g” as an “h,” transform the plural from the Catalan “es” to the Spanish “os”, and suddenly you have the word “hermanos,” Spanish for brothers. Your stepbrother is your germanastre.
Compromis. This sure looks like “compromise” to me, so why on earth should an engagement to be married be called a compromis? Really scary. The compromise part is supposed to come after the wedding. In Catalan, the word compromis is used for any sort of commitment or guarantee, as in “Compromis de calidad desde 1857” on the mayonnaise jar. (“Compromising quality since 1857?”) But wait: The Latin root is to “promise together,” so the Catalans have it right. It seems it’s the English language that has misinterpreted the word compromise into something that means a polite lose-lose situation.
Eixugar. This means to wipe or to dry, but it’s most fun when used with a noun: eixugacabella is a hairdryer, and best of all, eixugaparabrises are windshield wipers. Tell that to the squeegee man.
Fleca. It’s where they make flaky things. A bakery.
Esmalt. Chicken fat? No, nail polish.
Xai. Pronounced “chai.” It means lamb. An X is usually pronounced with a “ch” sound. So many words start with “x” that I wish I could play Scrabble in Catalan. I also love xampu (shampoo), xines (Chinese), and xim-xim (drizzle). But of course, no Catalan would ever play Scrabble with me because I am such a total xampurrejada. (Someone who speaks a foreign language badly.)