WHY CALL ‘EM CATS?
I heard another gringo in a mechanic’s shack deep in the
Baja, trying to explain things about repairing his schoolbus/camper. His Spanish wasn’t bad, actually, but when you get around auto repairs, you start running into a vast vocabulary for
little gadgets and actions. Kind of like medical school.
He was trying to communicate that the guy would be best
served in his work if used a jack to raise the car. Instead of rolling it up on
old boxes, like he had my panel/camper. He was trying out variations of Juanito and getting nowhere. He’s lucky there wasn’t a Juan working there
and wondering why he was going to get thrown under the bus.
I moseyed over (I mosey a lot when in the Baja) and told him
the word he wanted was gato.
He stared at me incredulously and blurted, “Why the hell
would they call it a cat?”
I said, “Why the hell would we call it “Jack”?”
Introducing an article on “oddball” names
(from the gringo perspective) for stuff in Mexico. There is no rhyme or reason here… just more
loose change you pick up on piece by piece. And here are some pieces:
If he thought gato
is weird for an automobile jack, he’d really love what they call a “dolly” for
rolling boxes around.Which
is diablo. And, again, why
shouldn’t their UPS drivers call it a “devil” if we call it a “dolly”?
One of my favorites is the word for a sledgehammer. Because it’s macho. A word which actually means
“male” in Mexico, not our use of the word to mean ultra machote. This usage might actually explain a lot.
Cars and tools tend to lend themselves to a lot of this sort
of wordage. A paleta should be a
spade or a small shovel, as the diminutive of pala, but it turns out to
be a lollipop, sucker, or popsicle, any goodies you eat off a stick.
You assume a car’s steering wheel would be some kind of rueda,
but no, for some reason it’s a volante which means “flying” or a hand-out “flier”. Meanwhile a stoplight isn’t any kind of luz,
but a semaforo, nothing to do with what we call a semaphore. And a crane is a garza,not too odd considering the word normally refers to birds like storks, ibis or…
cranes. A change-up is frenos,
which we usually know to be brakes, but in Mexico are also found in peoples’
mouths… what we call orthodontic braces.
On the distaff side of things, the word for hair curls is chinos. Odd that a chino can be a person with curly
hair or a Chinese person, not known for curly hair. How a sanitary napkin came to be called a caballo is anybody’s
guess. There might be some knowing
speculation on why handcuffs are called esposas, but wives probably
wouldn’t appreciate it.
Palomas, which we’d call doves or pigeons, lend their
names to a lot of things. A paloma
is the whitecap of a wave, and palomitas are the much more poetic-named things we
Wrapping up with a term that’s far from our transliteration,
but makes more sense, many learn early on that a hangover is la cruda.