Thursday, April 16, 2009

Las Siete Maravillas (The seven wonders). Or not.

What? Have I not written about language in a day or more? Well then, it must be time. I actually have studied linguistics for years and years, so most of what I say on the topic is not a complete invention, if you must know. Unfortunately, due to my own inability to correctly identify the field of language study that would truly thrill me (random observations and wonderwhys, of course), I mostly studied what can only be called "heavy theoretical linguistics." Which, by the way, is not a field of study that should be embarked upon by a web, rather than linear thinker. But I digress. As I often do. Did you say you saw something shiny?

Anyway, today's linguistic observation is based on something that happened at onces (teatime, which neither has eleven of anything, nor is served at eleven, which is another etymological mystery that I can take time to explain at another juncture) at a friend's house. Part of the pre-meal snack was sunflower seeds, or semillas de maravilla. I always forget that sunflower seeds are called maravilla in Chile, since I learned the word in Spain, as I passed field upon field of these leggy beauties, literally turning to the sun (girasol in Castillian Spanish).

So as the cracking and spitting of the semillas de maravilla went on and on, and our blood pressure rose from the tasty but high sodium content, we were talking about sunflowers. Sunflowers this and sunflowers that (though not seashells and sunflowers because my friends don't read a lot of blogs in English, mine included). And one of my friends said something that made the other two of us stop and wait.

Las usan para las siete maravillas. Sunflowers are used to make the seven wonders of the world? What? Like if I plant a seed, I can get Macchu Pichu in my yard? That's incredible. Oh wait, I don't have a yard. I'll have to plant it in the flowerpot with my cacti that live on the outside windowsill. Might get crowded.

So we waited, and waited to find out where this bizarre (even for me) tangent was going. Las siete maravillas. The seven wonders of the world? From sunflower seeds?

And then we realized where we'd gone wrong. (Actually, we had to ask). They're used to make sunflower oil, he said.

Las usan para el aceite de maravilla
. Not: Las usan para las siete maravillas.

I used to think that my inability to correctly identify where words began and ended in Spanish was what made my listening poorer than my speaking (read all about it here). But here I was, beside a native Spanish speaker, the speaker's partner, and she didn't know what he'd said either.

Which is how I furned FODA (SWOT, in English, a business acronym to begin discussions about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, or fortalezas, oportunidades, debilidades y amenazas) patas arriba (upside down). My D was now my F, or my W my S, if you prefer. I was as easily stymied as a native speaker. Gooooooooool!

And anyway, considering that sunflowers are not yet genetically engineered, unlike the soy beans from which they make the oil we get here in Chile, I'd consider that pretty darn wonderful. Las siete maravillas indeed.


Katie said...

Thanks for the mention, Eileen.

"I was as easily stymied as a native speaker. Gooooooooool!"

Ah, that is sweet, isn't it? I always feel a smidgen of pride when I'm stumped by something someone has said, and I turn to Daniel for a translation only to find the same look of befuddlement on his face. It wasn't just me...yay!

Here in Argentina, sunflowers are called "girasoles," and they are big business. Daniel's family grows them to produce la siete maravilla. :)

Anonymous said...

Aceite. Heehee.

It reminds me of the time my friend's boyfriend told her he wanted to see El Tonjon in concert.

I think she was quiet for a while and finally asked who El Tonjon was since he seemed to assume that she would be familiar with him.

You know, the singer of "Daniel" and "Your Song." OHHHH.. Elton John!

Sara said...

I love it when I don't understand something, but a native Spanish speaker doesn't understand either. Plus, that was a hard one to interpret.

Fly Girl said...

I love sunflowers and sunflower seeds. I don't love being caught in any kind of linguistic web. I can't take the frustration. I think it's wonderful that you found an instance where it wasn't just you and your Spanish skills. I know it makes me feel better cause I certainly read it to mean 7 wonders of the world!

Anonymous said...

Great blog!
According to the story my Chilean husband tells, "when she first got here you could say "como estas" and she'd ask what verb it was." The REAL story is that it wasn't "como estas," but "comoasido" and I didn't know if it was "cómo has ido" or "cómo ha sido"... ¿cachái?
I'm an anthropologist and love linguistics and just happened to post on a new "dicho" I learned today (nacido con la marraqueta bajo el brazo)