The Royal Spanish Academy, the body that is in charge of the Spanish language, recently announced that the twenty-third edition of its dictionary, which it has been compiling since 1780, will be published in the autumn of this year. Entries into (and deletions from) the dictionary have been closed as the publication is sent to press and it was amidst the fanfare of this announcement that we got a flavour of some of the new Spanish words that are now “official”. There will be 93,000 entries into the new edition, some 2,000 more than 2001’s edition. This is double the number that appeared in the Academy’s first. 1,350 obsolete words will struck off.
So what about the new words that the Academy has allowed into the language? What are the neologisms this notoriously fusty and conservative body has deemed fit to authorise by their inclusion in its dictionary? We have, for example, as loan words from English, bótox, cameo, dron, pilates and my favourite, jonrón. What, you may ask, when it is at home, is a jonrón? I’ll give you a clue: jonrón is a term used in the sport, béisbol. Still lost? I’ll translate: home run is a term used in the sport, baseball.
Remember, that Spanish spelling is phonetic. Every letter is pronounced and always in the same manner, no matter what the word, so jonrón is pronounced “hon Ron”.
In a process that says much about its attitude to foreign languages and its unwillingness to break rigid rules of orthography, Spanish takes its loan words, gives them a phonetic mangling and writes them down as if the word had originated in Zamora or Albacete instead of Finchley or Seattle. For me it’s annoying. Not only does it speak of a lack of respect for the languages from which the loan words are borrowed and an effort, through altering their spelling and pronunciation, to claim them as their own, but it also presupposes a lack of intelligence and erudition on the part of the users of Spanish. It additionally smacks of a deliberate narrowing of world vision and shortening of horizons that as a foreigner living in Spain I find ever present in the culture; just look at the half-hearted attempts within the public education system to teach foreign languages or world history or geography.
“Our poor Spanish speakers are too dumb and undereducated to realise that drone is not pronounced ‘drone-ay’ so we’ll take the e off it, just in case.”
“Jesus, we can’t have people going around saying ‘home-ay roon’ so we’ll spell it J-O-N-R-O-N and stick an accent over the second o, just in case.”
I also find it ironic that a loan word from English, cameo, is making its way back to the Iberian peninsula , having travelled through Latin to Old French to English via William the Conqueror and his mates in the long chain mail crombies. It shows the conservatism of the Academy that a word that has been knocking around in theatrical and cinema circles for years has only now been officially licensed. What could they have disliked about cameo for them to take so long to sanction it? Its Frenchness? But at least the Academy is taking some brave steps to combat the infamous and sometimes unintentionally funny smatterings of Spanish machismo that one finds throughout their dictionary. No longer will feminine be defined as weak or feeble (débil, endeble) or masculine as virile or energetic (varonil, enérgico). Orphan will from now on cease to be defined as a “person below the age of majority whose mother and father or one of the two may have died, especially the father”. If only they’d stop spelling freaky F-R-I-K-I!