English only, please


A poorly translated sign at Mercy Hospital.

We have so many foreign words in English that it’s quite pointless to insist on “English Only” or that English be made the official language. For one thing, what do we do about all the Spanish geographical names of the American southwest? There are too many names to translate to English. And the reason they have Spanish names is because the Spaniards gave them Spanish names when the American southwest was still part of the Spanish colony called Nueva España (New Spain). Just think of the California cities called San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. There is a place in California (named in Spanish by the Spaniards) called La Brea Tar Pits. In Spanish La Brea means tar pits. So if we translate the name into English, we get The Tarpits Tarpits! We could do that for all the cities with Spanish names. San Diego will become Saint James, San Francisco, Saint Francis, and Sacramento, Sacrament! Perhaps this would be an impossible task, but we will eventually translate all those Spanish names into English! Dammit!

And speaking of redundant, I am reminded of the song, “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys. There is a line in the song that says, “You’d see ’em wearin’ their baggies / Huarachi sandals, too.” In Spanish, “huaraches” means sandals, so these surfers are wearing sandals sandals! And then there’s Carlos Santana with, “Yo no tengo a nadie that I can depend on.” Hey, Carlos. English only!

In “Vertigo” by U2, the song begins with some “counting” in Spanish: “Uno, dos tres, catorce.” Either Bono doesn’t know Spanish or he just doesn’t know how to count. One of my students told me that these numbers really are a tribute to U2’s producer who produced albums number 1, 2, 3, and 14. And this reminds me of the song “Woolly, Bully,” by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs that begins, “One, two, tres, cuatro.” He counts in both English and Spanish, but at least he gets the numbers in the correct order!

Published by

David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.