Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wheels and Language

Spanish is a funny language. Although it, like English, has regional variations, the variations of Spanish are widely disconnected from one another; so much that its speakers are allowed to forget they exist. This leads to the arisal of many funny words whch don't propagate at once. A country may create a word when the country next door had a word that perfectly well described that phenomenom.

Where am I going with this? I recently learned a new word in Spanish. Don't ask me which region it's from, but it's enough to say I had no idea it existed, so it's probably new (in the way "cool" was new in 1975 and "groovy" was new in 1950). It came to me through a pun, possibly exploiting its novelty. It goes like this:
Alumbras más que un sol, lamparita!
Now, to translate this, I first need to tell you what it means. The literal translation is, "you light more than a sun, lamp." The "lamp" at the end makes no sense when written like this; but the "you light more than a sun" part sounds awfully romantic.
The only way to "get it" is by looking at the context in which it was said. We have two boys and a girl. It turns out that one of these boys is going out with the girl, but the other one has nothing to do with her. Get the attention of this "other" boy, and throw the pun. What does this tell us?

The "other" boy is a third wheel; a person that is with a romantic couple in what would otherwise be a romantic moment. He's in the way. He's like those little lamps on the table that just stand there, regardless of what you do; regardless of whether they're turned on or off. Just standing there, watching.

Knowing this, one possible translation might be:
You sure know how to roll there, you third wheel!
Of course, an explained joke is not nearly as funny as just throwing the joke in context.

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