Nine of My Favorite Spanish Words

la muchedumbre, a.k.a. much dumb
Although I took German in high school, I decided to study Spanish, as an adult, from 2006 until 2008, and again from 2017 until the present day. I am still far from fluent, but I have increased my vocabulary somewhat, and along the way I've found a few irresistible words that I'd like to share with you. Some are handy. Some have quirky etymologies. Some are just fun to say. Por ejemplo:
  1. el rompecabezas. This is the Spanish term for jigsaw puzzle, and it literally translates as "head breaker". (Grammar tip: The s at the end of the word suggests a plural, but most Spanish compound words end in s while remaining singular.)
  2. el anfitrión. This word means party host. It refers to the obscure Greek mythological figure Amphitryon, whose wife Alcmene was seduced by Zeus – disguised as Amphitryon himself – in order to beget the legendary Hercules. Supposedly, its Spanish meaning was tortuously derived from a line in Molière's 1668 comedy of the same name: "The real Amphitryon is the Amphitryon who gives dinners" – that is, a generous host.
  3. la muchedumbre. This word means crowd, and while the suffix -dumbre pops up here and there in Spanish (similar to -tude in English: multitude, certitude, etc.), the mnemonic device I use to remember muchedumbre is that it sounds like "much dumb", an apt description for a mob.
  4. tutear. Unlike English, many languages still differentiate between the "formal you" and the "informal you". (In archaic English, "thou" was actually the informal version, however grandiose it sounds today.) Spanish is no exception, with usted as the formal and as the informal. When Spanish speakers wish to skip the formalities, they employ the unique verb tutear – that is, "to say ". "¿Puedo tutearte?" essentially means "It looks like we're becoming friends, so can I start calling you instead of usted?" Verbs conjugate differently between and usted, so this is kind of a big deal.
  5. el amigovio/la amigovia. A portmanteau is a word that squishes two other words together. "Brunch" (breakfast/lunch), "motel" (motor/hotel), and "sitcom" (situation/comedy) are some English examples. Spanish has a few portmanteaus of its own, and a clever one is amigovio (male) or amigovia (female). Combining amigo (friend) with novio (boyfriend), it's the equivalent of "friend with benefits", only more eloquent.
  6. las palomitas. How adorable that the Spanish word for popcorn literally translates as "little doves".
  7. el cacahuete. Staying in the snack theme, I give you cacahuete, the word for peanut. Not every Spanish-speaking culture uses this term, apparently bastardized from the ancient Nahuatl word for cocoa bean (somehow it came to mean "that cocoa bean-like thing that grows in the ground"). Some spell it cacahuate and some use a different word for peanut altogether: maní, derived from a lost Caribbean language. All words speak to the New World origins of this versatile legume. I, of course, like cacahuete because of the "caca".
  8. el ñoño/la ñoña. Even my native Spanish speaker friends struggle to find a literal English translation for ñoño (for women, ñoña). The best I could come up with is "wussy little whiner". Say ñoño – pronounced "nyo-nyo" – out loud and you'll appreciate its onomatopoetic quality. It sounds fussy and pouty. I love this word, even if I don't completely understand it.
  9. el/la tiquismiquis. In a similar vein is the delightful tiquismiquis, which has a more straightforward definition: fussbudget. Come to think of it, "fussbudget" is a fun word too.