Georgina Margan, a reader and professional translator from Tucson, Arizona, emailed me to give Trader Joe’s “a pat on the back for their Chicken Asada“, the subject of a “Bad Spanish” post on my blog. Whereas I complained that the product should be called Chicken Asado because pollo ‘chicken’ is masculine, she made the point that ‘chicken’ can also be feminine — and, in fact, that the feminine gender rules when chickens are plural:
The agreement between chicken and asada is correct because chicken means gallina (hen), not only pollo. You see, when chicks are born it’s next to impossible to tell females and males apart…unless you cut them open. Only when they grow up the difference between gallinas (feminine) and pollos (masculine) becomes evident. Pollos turn into gallos (roosters), if they are given the time. When both sexes are together in a flock, they are collectively referred to as las gallinas. This is one of the very, very few instances where a group of both sexes is referred to using the feminine noun.
Wordreference.com and the Real Academia certainly back up Gina’s point about the feminine collective plural gallinas. The former lists three earthy refranes (‘proverbs’):
- acostarse con las gallinas ‘to go to bed early’ (lit. ‘to go to bed with the chickens’)
- ¡hasta que meen las gallinas! ‘when pigs fly’ (lit. ‘when chickens piss’)
- Las gallinas de arriba ensucian a las de abajo ‘the underdog always suffers’ (lit. ‘the chickens on top poop on the chickens below’)
The Real Academia repeats the first two refranes and also references cólera de las gallinas (‘fowl cholera’), a nasty disease which fortunately hasn’t crossed over to humans. Yet.
However, I still think it would be better for TJ to call this product Chicken Asado because the company clearly sees chickens as pollo, not gallina, as shown in the related product names Pollo Asado and Pizza al Pollo Asado.
One of these days I should actually sample one of these products!
I feel really bad picking on Trader Joe’s for a third time. It’s my favorite grocery store! Maybe other stores are just as bad, but I see more mistakes at TJ’s because I go there so often.
Be that as it may…
This morning’s free coffee sample at my local TJ’s was particularly excellent. It was Café Pajaro, an organic, full-bodied, 100% Arabica variety from Guatemala. Amazon reviews describe it as “best coffee ever”, “best TJ brand on the market today”, and “dark and smooth”. The design of the coffee canister respects the variety’s Guatemalan heritage by picturing a quetzal, the indigenous bird whose name comes from Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) and has been extended to the country’s currency.
The Spanish on the label, on the other hand, disrespects this heritage because, although café receives its proper accent, an accent is missing from pájaro (meaning ‘bird’).
I’ve complained about TJ’s cavalier treatment of accent marks in the previous posts linked to above, but this incident is particularly galling*. If they can get it right in one word, why not in the other?
TJ’s has an online comment form if anyone wants to join me in complaining.
*In my previous “Bad Spanish” post I complained that TJ had omitted the accent in auténtica but not in French soirée. I’d have to call that incident “gaul-ing.” (Sorry.)
Last year I wrote a blog post taking Trader Joe’s to task for naming one of their products Chicken Asada even though pollo is masculine. I know, life is really too short to care about such things. But I just can’t turn off the language teacher part of my brain!
Today, TJ’s monthly Fearless Flyer arrived, and with it, a new insult to the Spanish language. As you can see from the clip below, they describe their carne asada as autentica — without an accent mark — and bueno rather than buena. To compound the insult they nailed the accent on the French word soirée in the text below.
Trader Joe’s, the United States has more than 37 million residents who speak Spanish as a first language. Can’t you hire one of them to vet your copy?
I love Trader Joe’s. We live about midway between two of their stores, so I end up shopping there two or three times a week. My husband would probably starve to death if I didn’t keep our freezer stocked with Chicken Tikka Masala, Mac ‘n Cheese, and the like for his lunches. And their goat milk brie reminds me of the excellent cabra cheese I enjoyed in Spain last summer, with a firm crust and a soft center.
But ever since TJ’s introduced their Chicken Asada, my happy shopping mood is punctured every time I cruise the refrigerator case. The problem is that chicken (pollo) is masculine in Spanish, so Asada should really be be Asado. The abominably feminine Asada is no doubt a carry-over from the more famous Carne Asada, which Trader Joe’s also sells. However, TJ’s gets chicken gender right in their Pollo Asado (this is just chicken, no vegetables or sauce), and Pollo Asado pizza.
Wrong gender! Abomination!
Correct gender for pollo (with or without pizza) and carne
If you care about Spanish grammar, please contact Trader Joe’s to complain — maybe they’ll fix the product name if they hear from enough hispanophiles! Here is some suggested wording.
Please change the name of your Chicken Asada product to Chicken Asado, to match the (correct) gender you use for your ‘Pollo Asado’. Chicken (‘pollo’) is masculine in Spanish, so ‘asada’ is just plain wrong. ‘Asada’ is correct in ‘Carne Asada’, but that’s because meat (‘carne’) is feminine.
[See follow-up post here.]