Thursday, June 21, 2007

Political Spanish: The Presidential Campaign

As the presidential campaign advances, adjectives rule political speech. Candidates use them with gusto for self-aggrandizement and to denigrate opponents. Following the rhetorical principle of oppositions, here is a list of eight qualifiers and antonyms.

Inteligente = Intelligent. Not to be confused with intellectual, perceived in certain political circles as not in touch with reality and Liberal. When it comes to depict human deficiencies Spanish is splendid. For inteligente we have several opposites: Idiota = Stupid. Imbécil = Idiot. Tonto = Not very smart, simpleton, stupid. Estúpido = Imbecile (not the mild stupid, which can connote fool and dummy). Tarugo = Blockhead. Obtuso = Weird, obtuse.

Honesto = Truthful, sincere, trustworthy, an honest guy. The opposites are: Desonesto = Liar. Mentiroso = Liar (literally). Sinvergüenza = Shameless scoundrel, as in el patriotismo es el último refugio de los sinvergüenzas (patriotism is the last refugee of the scoundrel). Calumniador = Name-calling snake.

Speaking of honesty and dishonesty, a student asked: Why so many adjectives? Orwell said it best: Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Honorable = Honorable, applicable to candidates with impeccable character and immaculate reputation. A political operative confided that honorable is his candidate’s favorite introductory adjective: Aquí les presento al honorable... (And here is the Honorable...) Good opposites are: Ladrón = Thief. Rata = Low-life, a rat (literally). Inescrupuloso = capable of selling his/her own mother. Bandido = Crook. The memorable farewell words by President Nixon became headlines in Spanish-language publications as No soy un bandido (I am not a crook).

Macho = Tough. In time of war nothing tops a macho image, except mucho macho [1], both for men and women. Yo soy el candidato más macho (I am the toughest candidate, capable of defending the country against foreign enemies, and kick illegal immigrants [2] out.) To demonstrate the macho quality, a candidate can point a finger to an imaginary enemy and say: Te agarraré vivo o muerto (I will get you dead or alive). Or say: You can run but you can’t hide, puedes correr, cucaracha, pero no esconderte. A flowery language, Spanish needs that extra cucaracha in there [3].

[1] Macho is Spanish, but machista, equivalent of chauvinist and sexist, is English, or Spanglish, a hybrid of both languages. The Spanish Macho connotes tough and manly, but the adverb to qualify the high degree of toughness or manliness is muy (very), not mucho (much). Mucho macho is perfect Spanglish.
[2] Illegal Immigrants translates to the politically correct Spanish indocumentados (undocumented). Not having papers doesn’t make an immigrant a criminal, synonym of illegal.
[3] President Clinton summarized the Republicans’ campaign formula: You still have to vote for us 'cause my opponent is a slug, and they're going to tax you into the poorhouse. On the way to the poorhouse, you'll meet a terrorist on every street corner. And when you try to run away from that terrorist, you will trip over an illegal immigrant. Useful vocabulary to interpret President Clinton's words: Vote for us = Vote por nosotros, or vote por mi, soy el más macho. Taxes = Impuestos. Poorhouse = La calle, as in dejarte en la calle (to clean you up, to put you out in the street.)

On the the opposite side of macho are: Débil = slug, weak. The more colorful wimp has the very long equivalent mequetrefe. It would be better to stick to the macho-image-buster liberal (stress in the last syllable) or metro-sexual (stress in the last syllable), which can also be conveyed by Ni aquí ni allá (neither here nor there), also used for flip flapping. President Bush said of candidate Kerry in the 2004 campaign: No está ni aquí ni allá.

Serio = Thoughtful, conscientious, prudent, earnest, and sober. Es un hombre serio or ella es la más seria de todos (she is the most serious of all.) Serio is one of those adjectives that are both positive and negative, as it also means lacking the skill to make the electorate laugh. It used to be that running a country was more serious than brain-surgery. Not any more. Las encuestas (surveys, polls) show that people want their candidates entertaining, that their elected-officials be cool, both in English and Spanish. Antonyms of serio are: Payaso = Clown and fool. Payaso is not a synonym of humorous, capable of making voters laugh. Electorate is el electorado or los votantes. A candidate who makes people laugh is cómico (a comedian), chistoso (funny, as in he/she can tell a good joke), divertido (fun to be with, the guy you want to have a beer with at the ranch or backyard.) The clever witticism, the Churchillian remark a fanatic is a person who can't change his mind and won't change the subject has given way to vulgar punch-lines, the more vulgar the better, such as Read my hips, which translates to Spanish as miráme el culo, which retranslates to English as Why don’t you observe my ass?

Experimentado = Experienced. The opposite: Novato = Beginner, unqualified, inexperienced.

Fiel = Faithful. The opposite: Infiel = Unfaithful, and unchristian, and sinful adulterer. Infiel is negative unless the candidate comes armed with a law degree and argues: Yo no tuve sexo con esa mujer (I didn’t have sex with that woman.) That woman, esa mujer, in Spanish is too derogatory. The argument should be: Yo no tuve relaciones sexuales con la señorita Smith, tan modosita ella (she being so proper.)

Capaz = Suited for the job, capable (not to be confused with the false cognate capable, which, despite spelling identically as the English term, has a radically different meaning. Capable is the quality or state of being ready to be castrated.) The opposite: Incapaz = Not fit for the office, inept, dumbbell. Candidate Jones can win points in a debate by interrupting the opponent and interject: Con todo respeto, pero el senador de Missouri es un incapaz (with all due respect, but the Candidate from Missouri...).

At that point operatives accompanying candidate Jones would incite the crowd with a loud: Viva Jones!

candidate sites in Spanish:
Hillary Clinton:
Mitt Romney:
Bill Richardson:
Barack Obama:
John Edwards:

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