Football and The Romans

November 10, 2008

If you’ve ever wondered why Sevilla’s second football team is called Betis, then this is for you.  Recently an online magazine called Subbética News started running our themed Taste of Garlic mini series.  I had never heard of Subbética anything before, but soon recognised the ‘bética’ part, and discovered that La Subbética is a comarca (which you might translate as county) in the southwest of the province of Córdoba, bang in the geographical centre of Andalucía. Its capital is the town of Lucena, a name I have always loved.

Under the Romans, Hispania was divided into three provinces: Lusitania (now Portugal and Extremadura), Hispania Tarraconensis in the north and north-west (capital was Tarraco, now Tarragona), and Hispania Baetica in the south.  Betis was what the Romans called the Guadalquivir river.  And Real Betis Balompié is one of Seville’s first division football teams (the other is Sevilla FC). Interestingly ‘balompié’ is the literal Spanish translation of ‘football’ as opposed to the anglicism ‘fútbol.’  More about the word balompié in the book.



November 6, 2008

Last weekend a friend from England came to visit me in Barcelona, where I am currently doing a work experience placement. This proved the perfect excuse to visit the Camp Nou, where I had been meaning to watch a game ever since arriving in the Ciudad Condal in August. Although our limited funds only allowed us to view the action from the cheap seats, which meant we were probably closer to passing aircraft than to the pitch, it was a very enjoyable experience. The small bunch of die-hard Almería fans, who had made the long trip up from Andalucía only to see their team lose 5-0, might not have had a great time, but for the rest of the crowd it was a good evening’s entertainment. And this being Spain, we still had plenty of time for a proper night out afterwards, despite the fact that it was nearly midnight by the time we’d left the stadium.


However, I couldn’t help thinking that, by watching the match live rather than on TV, we were missing out on one of the most entertaining aspects of watching football in Spain – the commentary. Not even the most excitable of English commentators can compete with the pure enthusiasm and lung capacity of any one of his Spanish counterparts. A goal of any kind, even when it is fairly unimpressive or unlikely to affect the result of the match, is greeted with an unbelievably long shout of “Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool” that always leaves me unsure whether to laugh at its ridiculousness or marvel at the commentator’s ability to keep it going so long. Even more impressively, said commentator then proceeds, with some mysterious secret reserve of breath, to give a fast-paced and highly enthusiastic description of the goal. I’m quite intrigued to know how the comenteristas got on with this particular match, which saw 5 goals in 21 minutes. I suspect they’d barely finished announcing one goal when the next was scored.


Still, despite the overly-long amount of time devoted to one three-letter word, football commentators have probably taught me more Spanish vocabulary than most other programmes on TV, some of which are so bad they verge on the unwatchable. Unfortunately much of this vocab is pretty useless in other areas of life but, considering the importance of the beautiful game in Spanish culture (the country’s most-read newspaper is devoted entirely to sport, mainly football) it can come up in conversation quite often. So, in true In the Garlic style, here’s a quick rundown of the Spanish words you really need to know.


Gol is pretty easy to remember, even if, written down, it appears to be missing a letter. From this you get other terms such as the augmentative golazo (a really great goal), goleador (goalscorer) and the verb golear (to thrash, i.e. score a lot of goals against). In a similar way, it’s not difficult to work out the meaning of fútbol, though this odd-looking attempt to apply Spanish orthographic rules to an English borrowing is only used to describe the game and not the ball itself, which is a balón. Other self-explanatory terms include penalti and córner (though the latter is also known as a saca de esquina) while less obvious but still important are equipo (team) falta (foul), portero (goalie) and árbitro (referee). Best of all though, in my opinion, is el crack. Though this might sound like a Class A drug (and does in fact also have this meaning) it is used in football terms to describe a team’s star player. So, for example, Messi might be described as el crack del Barça.


These terms, along with a good mixture of your favourite Spanish swearwords and a large dose of vociferous enthusiasm are just about all you need to get fully involved in watching a match at a local bar. The only thing left to do is order yourself a beer, and if you’re struggling with that then see the next post.

Like everywhere else in the world half of the ads on TV in Spain are for cars. The other day I was doing my usual mental absence of leave act when I became vaguely aware of a bunch of turkeys on the screen and a voice-over going on about how you could have the all-singing (well, talking), all-parking, all-navigatiing, what-do-you-need a-driving licence-for coche fantastico for just 50 pavos a month. Fifty pavos. A play on words. Pavos are turkeys and, until recently, they were also slang for American dollars – in other words, bucks. Well, they still are. But now the term has been co-opted for euros too.

It was only a matter of time. When we said adios to the peseta back in 2002, we also said goodbye to a whole bunch of peseta-specific slang. Some have hung on: estar sin un duro literally means to be without one of the old five-peseta coins, but is still everyone’s favourite stony-broke expression. But no-one ever talks about talegos (1000 peseta bills) any more, and only those over sixty (?) still understand that mil duros = 10,000 pesetas = God knows how many euros.

For a while it seemed euros would stay boringly euros. Then came euracas, eurillos and euritos. Euracas didn’t really catch on, but eurillos and euritos – which makes the damn things sound quite cute and friendly – are here to stay. Along with pavos, it seems. I’ve also heard or read – slight variations here – leuros, leuritos, lerus and aurelios. Oh, and bin ladens are 500-euro notes: we all know they exist but no-one’s ever seen one ….

Another related bit of euro slang is the term mileurista – someone who manages to earn the princely sum of 1000 euros a month. Depending how you look at it, this is something to aspire to (plenty of full-time workers earn way less than that), or a situation you find yourself in that makes you wish you’d trained to be a mechanic or a plumber or a carpenter rather than taking a five-year arts degree at university.

The word was coined in 2005 in a letter to El País newspaper and soon caught on to describe a new social class. Your average mileurista is 30, a university graduate, possibly with a master’s degree, and speaks at least one foreign language, but earns a salary that is hardly commensurate with his/her qualifications.

To end on a euro note (groan), most of the other Euro-zone countries are busy evolving their own euro slang. In Austria and Germany there’s Teuro – a play on the word ‘teuer’ meaning expensive; in German youth culture – in the plural only – they are Euronen (after a Star Trek Internet spoof introduced a race called Euronen), and in Ireland, don’t know why but sounds great, they are yo-yos.




All You Need Is…

May 4, 2008

According to Jackie Corley, writer and publisher of, in an interview featured at the super Absolute Write, with practice, anyone can become a wordsmith. “But it takes something more to be a writer. It takes cajones.”

Yeah, right.

Cojones is the body part of choice used to express such diverse states and activities as literally having balls (guts) (tener cojones), getting up people’s noses (tocar los cojones), sitting around on your butt doing bugger all (tocarse los cojones). And, as we wrote in In The Garlic, the word is probably doomed forever to be muddled by foreigners with cojines (cushions) and cajones (drawers – the furniture). There isn’t a foreign speaker of Spanish in the world who doesn’t have an embarrassing cajón/cojín/cojón tale to tell. (Theresa’s, which involved a Christmas play, a class of kids, and a pile of cushions, is in the book).

So I was both delighted and incredulous to have found a very public written example. But obviously the first interesting point is that the word cojones in its ‘guts’ meaning has entered the English language in the US as a slang term.

I fell about with laughter for a bit. Then I checked out with Wikipedia: cojones was famously used in 1996 by Madeleine Albright, then serving as the USA’s ambassador to the United Nations, in the aftermath of the downing of an Hermanos al Rescate light civilian aircraft by Cuban airforce MiG 29s on 24 February. Following the release of a transcript of radio traffic between the fighter pilots in which one exclaimed, ¡Le partimos los cojones! (“We busted his balls!”), Albright offered the following comment: “Frankly, this is not cojones. This is cowardice.” Albright later described the vulgarism as “the only Spanish word I know”.

Cajones is a very frequent mispelling, and is sometimes used as a euphemism for cojones. An English speaker would pronounce them more or less the same.

Then I googled ‘cajones’. Amongst the websites devoted to ‘wooden box drums’ (a second meaning alongside drawers) was this:

Bush Admires Blair’s “Cajones”

And this: Do “Big Cajones” Help You Succeed in the Stock Market?

Now, to my ears, Big Cajones is beginning to sound like a rather fabulous nickname for a grizzled sidekick in a B movie of a wannabe Steinbeck-esque Great American Novel. Which I’ll be writing myself, cajones permitting.


April 10, 2008

It may look like a British phone box but it is, in fact, una preservatería, or una tienda de preservativos. No, no, nothing to do with ‘e’ numbers and chemical dyes – that would be conservativos, sorry, I mean conservantes (what a minefield!). What we are talking about here is a ‘condom shop’, a sort of sexy sweetie shop full of multi-coloured, multi-flavoured, multi-textured preservativos or condones. Spotted in Málaga.

Bits of Business

April 8, 2008

The other day I went down the mountain to do some gestiones. Down the mountain. Bit of an exaggeration; Macharaviaya, the village where I live is only 240 metres above sea level, but it’s ten minutes of spiralling downhill bends to get to the coast, so ‘down the mountain’ it is.

Bueno, back to the gestiones. On this occasion, these involved queueing for 15 minutes to send a registered letter at Correos, nipping into the Town Hall to sign an application for a home improvement subsidy, popping into my bank to ask for yet another debit card replacement on account of the magnetic band’s every-decreasing half life, dropping in at the insurance company where I have a plan de jubilación (pension scheme) to see how many millions (ha,ha) I’m due in the unlikely event that both of us are still around in 20 years’ time – and, a trip all the way into Málaga to hand in my three-monthly tax returns to the person who does gestiones for a living: the gestor, the sorter outer of all the bits of running around I haven’t got the time, energy or grey matter to do myself.

A gestión, in case you didn’t know / hadn’t guessed is a sorting out, an administrative or bureaucratic errand, a bit of business. To quote from our book In the Garlic, Hacer gestiones can range from solving a minor problem with a bank to major negotiations like pulling troops out of Iraq.”

The gestor, on the other hand, is mostly concerned with running around or sending his/her minions to run around on your behalf to obtain official documents, permits, licenses and authorisations. He/She costs good money, but may save you from stress-induced heart attacks in the long run.

Though not necessarily – should your gestor’s office be located in the busiest part of town, where the nearest extortion racket, sorry, municipal car park, is always full, and the adjacent side streets are a mess of one-way, wing mirror-clipping madness.

Luckily, on this particular day, someone actually pulled out of a prime parking space less than 200 metres from the Gestoría. The sun was shining, the pavements were buzzing, and when I handed over my paperwork, it seemed that absolutely all my papeles were in present and correct – that for once, La Ley de ‘falta uno’, The Law of ‘One Missing’ did not apply.

A reward was in order. A nice sunny table on a sidewalk cafe, a copy of that day’s El País newspaper, and a leisurely breakfast – consisting of a sombra doble (large, not-too-strong coffee) and a pitufo (large toasted roll) smothered in fresh tomato pulp and garlic-steeped olive oil. Oh, and a small glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice thrown in for good measure. And all for €2.10.

Well worth a morning’s gestiones.

Talking of Spanish chickens (as did we in connection with El Prat airport), did you know that when you buy a chicken at the supermarket, the head is still on it? Had forgotten this detalle of Spanish life, one of the 101 Things They Never Told Us Before We Came To Spain featured at Brighter Spain. Go and read them here. And send in your own for the next 101. Brighter Spain (and Brighter Catalunya) is based near Tortosa in the Baix Ebre and they have some gorgeous holiday accommodation for rent and lots of info about the area.