nude oatmeal

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I've always been interested in how the meaning of words can change when they migrate to other languages. For example, the English word knots, as in the unit of velocity of a ship, is actually a kind of play on words, and originally was an abbreviation of "nautical miles per hour." However, when it was translated into Spanish, it lost its connection to that original meaning, and became nudos, which is just a knot of rope.

I recently learned that the word for oatmeal (the hot breakfast cereal so traditional in English-speaking countries) is harina de avena in Spanish. This is interesting because the word meal is defined as follows.

  1. The edible whole or coarsely ground grains of a cereal grass.
  2. A granular substance produced by grinding.

In the case of oatmeal, the meaning is obviously that of "whole grains," since the flakes of oat are not ground at all. However, the Spanish word harina, according to the DRAE, always refers to the product of grinding, that is, to a powder. This is the meaning of meal in cornmeal, but not in oatmeal. Therefore, the Spanish term literally means "ground oats," while the original English does not.

Can you think of similar examples of such semantic drift, in either direction'

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updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by 00bacfba

17 Answers

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I thought of another possibility. How about, 'doughnut (donut)' and 'dona'? I hope this isn't veering into Spanglish territory.

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by LadyDi
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James Santiago said:

As to the knots question, what Quentin mentioned is probably related somehow, but in that system, the rope was paid out with a knot every few feet, and the time was only a few minutes, but they would never have paid out rope for a nautical mile, or have the knots tied at one-mile intervals, so I still think the other theory is at least partially applicable here.
One of the citations from the OED:
"1669 Sturmy Mariner's Mag. iv. 146 The distance between every one of the Knots must be 50 Foot; as many of these as run out in half a Minute, so many Miles or Minutes the Ship saileth in an Hour."

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by samdie
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Eddy said:

I know but over here it is pronounced "SIF". I thought their idea of renaming was to avoid any ambiguity such as what they had with the "J"

I know, but as you said, they haven't done their homework, because in Spain most people wouldn't even think of saying "SIF". Maybe they hired a consultant from Mexico or any other American country. I don't know.

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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lazarus1907 said:

That cleaner is Cif, and it is pronounced according to the Castillian rules of pronunciation (i.e., with a th sound).

I know but over here it is pronounced "SIF". I thought their idea of renaming was to avoid any ambiguity such as what they had with the "J"

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by Eddy
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That cleaner is Cif, and it is pronounced according to the Castillian rules of pronunciation (i.e., with a th sound).

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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lazarus1907 said:

Following ladyDi's Vaporú, what about Popeye, the sailor? I don't know in other countries, but in Spain he is known as po-pe-ye, pronounced as if it was a Spanish word. Read it as "pop eye", and no one will understand what you're talking about. Actually, I realised that Popeye's actually meant something not long ago, and about Vaporub a minute ago. I remember not understanding Colgate the first time they pronounced it in English too.More brands (please, read them in Spanish): Fairy.

I don't know about English brands with Spanish meanings but the following example of an English brand with a Spanish "sound" is a classic. We used to have a kitchen cleaner sold in a plastic container called "JIF", with the "J" pronounced as in "joke". This cleaner had this name for years. Their marketing people decided to change it. One of the reasons given was that as they were selling more and more in Europe, there was a danger that the Spanish people would confuse our "J" with theirs. Well guess what they changed it to, "CIF" with the "C" pronounced as in "cider". I guess none of their market research extended to Northern Spain.

updated ENE 15, 2009
posted by Eddy
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Janice said:

You are interested only in examples drifting between Spanish and English, I suppose?

Well, other pairs would be interesting if we can understand what the meaning.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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You are interested only in examples drifting between Spanish and English, I suppose'

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by Janice
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Following ladyDi's Vaporú, what about Popeye, the sailor? I don't know in other countries, but in Spain he is known as po-pe-ye, pronounced as if it was a Spanish word. Read it as "pop eye", and no one will understand what you're talking about. Actually, I realised that Popeye's actually meant something not long ago, and about Vaporub a minute ago. I remember not understanding Colgate the first time they pronounced it in English too.

More brands (please, read them in Spanish): Fairy.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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LadyDi said:

I've heard this happen with 'name brands'. For instance, 'Vapor Rub' in Spanish is pronounced 'Vaporú' (at least that's how my parents said it) and for years I didn't see the connection. This probably isn't what you had in mind though. smile

Thanks for that, I hadn't heard it. I remember being confused when my host mother in Guadalajara told me that there was kol-GAH-tay in the medicine cabinet. I smiled when I opened the door and saw the tube of Colgate toothpaste.

As to the knots question, what Quentin mentioned is probably related somehow, but in that system, the rope was paid out with a knot every few feet, and the time was only a few minutes, but they would never have paid out rope for a nautical mile, or have the knots tied at one-mile intervals, so I still think the other theory is at least partially applicable here.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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I've heard this happen with 'name brands'. For instance, 'Vapor Rub' in Spanish is pronounced 'Vaporú' (at least that's how my parents said it) and for years I didn't see the connection. This probably isn't what you had in mind though. smile

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by LadyDi
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Mariners first used the term knot denoting the measure of how many knots of line paid out in a given time using the chip log.

Yes, I've heard that, too, and I suppose that could explain the whole situation. But I've also read the other origin of the word, so who knows?

Thanks for pointing that out.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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I think that there might be a closer tie between knots and nudo than naut and nudo (knot). (Say that 3 times fast)

Mariners first used the term knot denoting the measure of how many knots of line paid out in a given time using the chip log. (Wikipodea)

This is similar, of course, to using a rope knotted every 6 feet to determine fathoms of depth to the sea floor or a reef, etc.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by 0074b507
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How can "knot" be an abbreviation of "nautical miles per hour"? The only N, T and O in that phrase are in the order NTO, not kNOTs.

Easy. Knot sounds the same as naut. The phrase "nautical miles per hour" was too long, so sailors started saying "nauts." Because sailors traditionally worked with ropes (lines, in sailor-speak) and knots, the spelling changed. And this change led to the confusion when the word was translated into Spanish. "Abbreviation" just means making something shorter, not necessarily creating an acronym.

English has not taken many words from Spanish,

Au contraire, mon frere! Many English words associated with the American West are adoptions from or corruptions of Spanish.

buckaroo = vaquero
lasso = lazo
arroyo
bronco
burro
calaboose = calabozo
canyon = cañon
cayuse (Indian pony) = caballos
chaps = chaparreras
cinch = cincha
desperado
lariat = la reata
mesa
mustang = mestenco
palomino
pinto
rancho
rancher = ranchero
rodeo
stampede = estampida
vigilante

But, of course, these imports don't follow the pattern that I'm referring to in this thread (with the possible exception of lariat, which is similar to alligator/el largato). What I'm talking about are cases where there is some kind of misunderstanding or confusion in the migration, leading to a different nuance.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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How can "knot" be an abbreviation of "nautical miles per hour"? The only N, O and T in that phrase are in the order NTO, not kNOTs.

English has not taken many words from Spanish, so I don't think there are many examples in this direction (I'll give you one). However, I can think of Spanish words that has been distorted in spelling and pronunciation almost beyond recognition:

Islas de Baja Mar - Bahama Islands. We decided to copy your version, and use it to replace our original one.
Islas de Bermudez - Bermuda Islands. Again, your version is better, so why keep ours?
Jerez - Sherry. Our spelling wasn't good enough, so it has to be re-spelled, to remove the J, among other things. We haven't abandoned jerez because it is still the name of a town.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by lazarus1907