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Dan Smith
"Idea-collocations?" Is there a name for this?

As I learn Spanish, some of the most interesting things to me are what I will call "idea-collocations."

I will encounter a puzzling expression in Spanish, that doesn't seem to make sense, because the meaning of the phrase has little to do with the meaning of the words in the phrase. And after I learn them, suddenly, five minutes later, I will realize that there is a perfectly parallel expression in English. The reason I don't recognize it right away is that the English equivalent is not a word-for-word translation of the Spanish. Both being idiomatic, they are "stock expressions" that do not necessarily use the first words you miht pick.

Let me give two examples.

"A mi Isabelita le gustaba horrores." At first, I thought, "Isabelita always enjoyed horrors." And Google Translate seemed to confirm this: "My Isabelita liked horrors." But what does it mean? Isabelita is a pessimist who actually enjoys thinking that things will turn out badly? Isabelita enjoys Edgar Allen Poe, or Stephen King?

My Spanish teacher explained that, no, "le" referred to someone mentioned a few sentences before, and it meant that Isabelita liked him a great deal.

Liked horrors means likes a lot?

Five minutes later I said, "Of course! She liked him awfully!" Or, "she was terribly fond of him." Or, yes, even "She was horribly fond of him."

So now I have at least a trick for remembering it, but now I have a triple puzzle. Why on earth can "terribly," "horribly," or "awfully" mean "very" in English? Why does it mean that in Spanish? And why does it mean the same thing in both languages? Did English borrow it from Spanish, did Spanish borrow it from English, did we both borrow it from Latin?

Here's the second: "Mi hermano nos tiene a todos cogido el número." My ignorant translation: "My brother has collected the number from all of us." He has written down our phone numbers? What on earth is "the number?"

Again, my Spanish teacher began to explain, "It means he is good at understanding things about us that are, well, it's kind of an insult, it means he understands the things about us that are not very nice, and--" And suddenly I realized that although I've never heard it applied to a group, if Paul is, let's say, a person who doesn't keep promises, and Sam knows that, we might say "Well, Sam's sure got Paul's number."

But why does it mean that in Spanish? And why does it mean that in English? And why is it the same in both languages?

Apr 13, 2018 9:16 PM
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Dan Smith
Language Skills
English, Spanish
Learning Language
Spanish