One day in college, a few friends and I were set to have a barbecue at a park, but first we had to make a stop for some last-minute purchases. I explained to one non-Spanish speaking friend that we needed “carbon,” an important component in the barbecue process. She was confused, and I didn’t immediately understand why she couldn’t understand what I meant. But eventually, once I broke down what we needed, she told me that I meant “charcoal” and not “carbon.” I had temporarily forgotten the word charcoal and instead tried to translate carbón into carbon.
Instances like these aren’t rare for bilingual speakers, who oftentimes navigate two cultures without the necessary vocabulary it demands. This can lead to some interesting conversations.
Curious to learn more about others’ funny and embarrassing Spanish-to-English translation mistakes, I put out a call on Twitter to see what other words have tripped people up.
Below, check out a few stories and know you’re not the only one who has made some blunders.
Llantas & Yants
“I was about 6 or 7. We were playing behind my padrino’s work truck. I pointed and said, “Let’s hide behind the yants,” which of course [my older cousin] laughed at [and said,] “You mean llantas?” She didn’t even correct it to “tires.”
Spanish is my first language, but I was born and raised in LA, so I guess Spanglish is my primary [language]. I was embarrassed, but also not because we all spoke in English/Spanish and still do, so it’s more of a slip of the tongue. It’s like we were all learning our own language. It wasn’t that big of deal, even though we all thought it was hilarious. -Vanessa Torres
Estrenar & Estrenate
Still, to this day when I go shopping I say I’m going to “estranate” my clothes. My college roommates (one was Mexican, the other was half Mexican, half Basque), and I would use it all the time when we’d go shopping or try on clothes, and we all thought it was a very real word for years! Until one day, someone asked, “You’re estranating? What does that mean?” And we laughed and sat there because it took us a while to realize it wasn’t a real world. But we now continue to use [it as] a joke! -Ana Bretón
Constipado & Constipated
When I was in elementary school, I remember having an embarrassing incident because I got a cold and my nose was all stuffy. And in Spanish (at least at home), we’d say “estás constipado” when you have a cold and your nose is stuffed up. So I went to school and told everyone I was constipated. -Andrea Gompf, Remezcla’s Editor-in-Chief
Popote and Popot
I was at McDonald’s with my 5 yr old nephew & he didn’t get a straw so he walked up to the cashier and asked for a “popot”
when I was a teen, I was reading the ingredients off of a jar to my aunt's in Mexico that was in English. I got to the word "Preservatives"…I just translated it as "Preservativos". I got an OMG look from everyone and then a burst of laughs. Apparently Preservativos are Condoms.
[I used] cream [instead of] lotion. People thought I put on sour cream on my body. Then, [I confused] lotion for perfume because in Spanish, it’s loción. I was in elementary school when these stories happened. So my school friend only corrected me. She was saying how she needed lotion for her knees, and I was confused, so I asked her, “Why do you need loción. Don’t you mean cream?” She corrected me and we laughed later about it. [email protected]_