Last year I posted about bad Spanish in a storefront advertisement for a public health program in New York City. I called that post a “guilty conscience edition” because I felt bad criticizing the program. But I think it’s important to call out bad Spanish wherever it appears.
On Monday I had occasion to visit one of the city’s great medical establishments, formerly known as Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, but now as NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. In the Milstein Building, where I went for breakfast, I spotted two problematic signs. They are shown below “as is” and digitally revised.
Bad Spanish at the Milstein Hospital Building
My suggested revision
The first sign is inside the lobby, on the way out. My suggested revision resolves the current disagreement between plural pases and singular usado in favor of the singular (in line with singular entregue), and restores the very necessary accent mark on aquí. (Accent marks are required on both lower- and upper-case letters.) I also followed the English version in using possessive su instead of the definite article el or los.
The second sign is on the outside wall of the building, near the front exit. It’s a doozy! My revision eliminates the unnecessary and un-Spanish capital letters on pacientes, empleados, and visitantes. More importantly, it removes the offensive apostrophe in visitantes. Like English, Spanish doesn’t form plurals with ’s. In fact, apostrophes are only used in written Spanish to represent colloquial shortenings like pa’ for para.
I’m grateful to Columbia Presbyterian for seeking to accommodate their Spanish-speaking staff and visitors, but wish they had consulted with a trained Spanish speaker/speller before having these signs made.
If you are reading this blog you must be interested in languages, so you may already be familiar with the etymology of the last four months of the year in Spanish, English, and many other languages. They come from the Latin words for seven, eight, nine, and ten, and were thus named because the Roman calendar began in March, making September the seventh month and so on.
Despite being fascinated by languages since I was a girl, speaking at least three languages that use these words, and knowing the relevant numerical prefixes, I somehow never made the connection between the numbers and the months until recently, when I started to study Italian in preparation for an upcoming trip. I had made some progress in Italian before but have now zoomed ahead using Language Transfer, a method developed by linguist and humanitarian Mihalis Eleftheriou. In his free courses, Mr. Eleftheriou likes to draw connections between the target language and English (and sometimes other languages), and in the process points out interesting etymologies such as these.
I recommend Language Transfer’s “Complete Spanish” as a first course in Spanish (or a refresher) to anyone who reads this blog. And if Mr. Eleftheriou comes across this blog post, I encourage him to contact me. I would be delighted to send him a copy of my first book (¿Por qué?) in thanks for his help with Italian.
For the sake of completeness, the etymology of the remaining months of the year is as follows:
Janus, Roman god of beginnings and gates
Latin februa ‘purification’. Since February was the last month of the Roman calendar, the Romans held a feast of purification on the ides of the month (February 15).
I am honored that Hispania, the official journal of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, has now reviewed both of my books. To be honest, the second review, of my book Bringing Linguistics into the Spanish Language Classroom, actually appeared more than a year ago. This shows how lackadaisical I’ve become about keeping this blog up to date…but better late than never, ¿no?
As with ¿Por qué?, this new review is positive. Some excerpts:
“The book is full of eye-opening details, backed up by references, that even experienced linguists may not be fully aware of. Readers may even find themselves going through the contents as when reading a book from cover to cover, while consulting the slides as they read along. Reading this book is an enjoyable experience.”
“The frequent comparisons between Spanish and other languages are particularly enlightening, and contribute to a better understanding of the topics.”
“Bringing Linguistics into the Spanish Language Classroom is a treasure trove of ideas, facts and activities, and is enthusiastically recommended.”
You can access the review here. It starts on the second page of the PDF.