Spanish lesson #1409

6 April 2006
7:20 AM

Language learning is an unparalleled tool for making people laugh at you, emphasis on at you. Usually it’s unintentional, but you take what you can get.

The other day Tom was trying to use a new word he had learned, enólogo. According to my dictionary, it means wine expert. Given that we live in the midst of wine country, it seems like an appropriate word to have in one’s vocabulary. With one inadvertent slip of the tongue, Tom said anólogo and had everyone doubled over with laughter. One different vowel, it turns out, is all you need to go from being a wine expert to an anus expert.

Ironically, trying new words landed me in a similar situation with the same problem word. By watching Lord of the Rings with Spanish subtitles, I learned that amo means master. Step one: learn, step two: apply. After I crushed my Bolivian brother Jorge in a game of cards, I tried to teach him a little lesson about victorious trash talking. “Quién es tu ano?” I taunted him—“Who’s your master?” or so I thought. My whole host family gave me quizzical looks. We had a session of clarification and apologies, and I explained that “Who’s your anus?” is not a traditional American taunt.

Frankly, I’m surprised that I wasn’t warned about this potentially dangerous word. I got lessons about embarrazado—doesn’t mean embarrassed, but pregnant, though I suppose the two go hand-in-hand every now and then. I was told to avoid exitado, which you can use to say you’re excited, but not the kind of excited that you want other people to know about. But I remember nary a word about ano, “anus,” which is just a sound away from año, “year.” Say tengo 23 años—“I have 23 years”—and people will know how old you are. Say tengo 23 anos and, well, you’re going to need to see a doctor about that.