“Cipotes” & “Culos”

Dear all,

First of all, I should apologise for the title of this update, because if you’re Spanish or Honduran (and I think from many other Latin American countries) these two words are rather offensive, but not in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

I have often spoken of the differences between Honduran Spanish and the Spanish which I learned in the mother country all those years ago in my blog, but today I spotted a headline in a Honduran newspaper, which wouldn’t go down well in Spain, or at least, mean something hilariously different. I will go into more detail later in this update.

First of all, it is a general belief, which I partially agree with, that Spanish from Spain is more vulgar. Yes, they do have looser tongue, especially in Seville. Not every word, though many of them, are “malas palabras”bad words – which make many people in Honduras wince. “Joder”, “gillipolla” and “coño” are examples (if you really must know what these words mean, Google them!) Maybe it’s because Hondurans are more traditional or conservative, but then amongst many Hondurans, the words “mera pija”, “hijo de puta” and “verga” – which very roughly translates as “good dick”, “son of a whore” and “dick” respectively (or ill-respectively, whichever way you see) – are used with alarming frequency. So I am not always in agreement when people say that the Spanish are the most foul speakers of this, what should be, romantic language.

When I first came to Honduras, I knew of one particular verb that I definitely should not to use. It’s quite obvious and famous to most speakers, or secondary speakers, of Spanish, but it is an amusing one to be very aware of. In Castilian Spanish, this verb means “to catch”, but throughout Latin America, it means “to fuck”. The verb is “coger”. So in Honduras, “a coger un bus o taxi” would give you some very funny looks. The Spanish brought this wonderful language to this part of the continent a few hundred years ago, but it’s strange how the meaning of words has changed over time. I’m no etymologist, but it is widely considered that North Americans still speak a type of English that still has close links to the English which the British brought over hundreds of years ago. British English has changed with style, maybe through influence from the French (i.e. adding the “u” into “colour”, when we used to say it without, is an example). Some of the vocabulary has different meanings (a faggot in Birmingham is not the same as a faggot in the US, nor is a fag), but the main difference between these types of English is intonation and accent. Many Americans love to hear British English, many believe they think it sounds as if the person speaking is intelligent (or drunk), but then many haven’t heard a Black Country accent. I’d love to see their faces whenever they do.

With the Spanish though, I wonder when the Spanish colonists came to Latin America whether the verb “coger” had a foul meaning and it has just remained that way here, then evolved into “catch” back in Spain, or if it meant “catch” when they came, and it has evolved into an expletive here. The things that interest me!

The word that I wasn’t prepared for was “culo”. I have told this story before, but it’s funny because I learned in the cruelest of ways. On my second day in Honduras, the Mormon family that I was staying with in Tatumbla asked me what I thought of regaton. When I said that I wasn’t a big fan of it, and it was just about videos with girls shaking their culos, their faces were a sight of fright and mine was a sight of confusion, but they quickly forgave me as they knew that I had learned Spanish in Spain, and they knew there was a bit of a difference in the tone of the word. In Spain, “culo” means “bum”, but in Honduras it means “arse” in the most crudest and rudest way possible, horrifying people in a way that a certain “C word” English brings distaste to British faces. Strangely, this “C word” in Spanish can be used by people when they see someone they’ve taken a shine to in a kind of colloquial way, saying things like, “¡Que culo el hombre!” I don’t understand that. All this hypocrisy! It confuses me!

With myself, it takes a few times to learn not to say certain words like this, because in private, I do like saying the odd foul word (when Lampard is playing for England, it’s not always that private!). I also have a habit of rhyming words, forming new curses, insults, jokes or phrases just for the sake of doing so, like “cara culo” – arse face – or “culos como caramelos en Cartagena en Colombia”bums like caramel in Cartagena in Colombia. Pamela is now demanding that I cut this particular word out of my daily and everyday vocabulary, especially in front of people I don’t know, but it’s going to take some time getting used to. “There’s a time and a place,” she says. I try to charm her by calling her culo as a compliment. It works like trying to fix a tv by spraying water at it and then dropping it from a great height. Don’t try it.

Another word I had an issue was with pija. This word in Spain means a posh or a snobby girl. In Honduras it means dick. When I told someone that I didn’t like a certain woman very much because I thought she was a “chica pija”, I got a very odd look in return.

As stated above, while going through La Tribuna newspaper, I saw the following headline.

"The children return home triumphant" or "The dicks return home triumphant?"

“The children return home triumphant” or “The dicks return home triumphant?”

Whereas before I was talking about the Spanish being vulgar and Hondurans being conservative and traditional with the semantics of words, this is then reversed with the word cipote. In Honduras, this is a very innocent word for “child”, but in Spain, it means “dick” in a quite vulgar way. I remember working at Casa Alianza and a girl talking about her “cipote” and being a bit confused, especially in the caring and adoring manner which she talked about it. Through explanation and context, it did come to me eventually. So, when the “cipotes return triumphant”, as it says in the newspaper, it might bring a few sniggers from Spanish readers, especially as Pamela Anderson (this Pamela was also an old flame of mine, but only to get me through the tough few years of adolescence) is positioned so conveniently on the opposite page. The headline actually refers to the Honduras under-17 team who did very well in the under-17’s world cup. Well done dicks, I mean, children.

I am including a video below which looks at the differences between Latin American Spanish and it’s mother language, through the wonderful form of Disney princes. Pamela loves Disney, she also loves princes, so she can watch this and forget her prince of a boyfriend who says “culo” a lot.


About Nicholas Rogers

I am an English journalist/copywriter living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and I have been here since 2011. I originally came to work with Casa Alianza, which supports street kids and vulnerable youths. I then stayed on, after meeting Pamela Cruz Lozano, who calls me her adopted Catracho. I work freelance journalism and I have my own translation business. Why did I come here? For the challenge, to open my mind and get out of my comfort zone. I love literature and I've written a book with street kids. I write novels, short stories and poetry, all of which you will find on this blog, as well as a lot of information about Honduras. View all posts by Nicholas Rogers

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