Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Idiomasyncracies: Combing Your Hair

This is really a double idiomasyncracy that could easily get you into trouble in a conversation. 

The word for 'hair comb' is un peine.  It is pronounced pay'-eee-nay, accent on the first syllable PAY, and I have trouble hearing the eeeeeee part in the middle - it's BARELY pronounced.  The locals tend to swallow it completely, especially speaking with a Yucatecan accent. 

The first (and only time) I paid someone to cut my hair here, I thought I explained that I wanted the dead ends trimmed and the style not changed, just cleaned up.  She smiled and agreed and seemed to understand, but when she was finished I had a hideous short mullet.  Before that experience I had never even heard of a mullet, but I did start noticing more of them as I walked around our neighborhood...she is the area mulletmaker.

She came to my house for the appointment, and we set up a chair outside.  I wet my hair and we were almost ready to begin.

"¿Tienes un peine?" She asked.


What I heard was "¿Tienes un pene?"  Un pene is a 'penis'.  The word is pronounced pay'nay.  Tell me THAT isn't confusing!  We had a laugh and I brought her a comb and a brush, since I wasn't sure.

If you are looking to purchase a hair comb, you might want to stress the eeeeeeeeeee part of peine or you risk being laughed at.  Ask for a brush instead - un cepillo. The dictionary has two words for 'brush', cepillo and escobilla.  Both refer to a brush or broom in general, and neither are hair specific.  Just to be safe, if you aren't sure of your language abilities ask for un cepillo para cabello....'brush for hair', and work your way into to a comb from there, by following with a mas fino, por favor, for example.  That might get you to a comb.   Knowing me, I'd go in there cocky and ask for un peine fino, say it wrong, and probably get my ass kicked.  From what I've seen and learned, most local stylists are kind of rough - like biker chics.

Pablo tells me that the word for 'hairstyle' is peinado but I could swear when the mulletmaker finished with me and handed me a mirror, she asked me, "¿Te gusta tu peine?"  The fact is I might have liked a penis better than I liked that hairdo.

There is one saving grace on this idiomasyncracy.  Peinar is a verb, meaning to comb or dress the hair, to comb wool, to touch or rub slightly, to excavate earth.  Therefore with so many definitions, there are also many forms of the word...its verb forms, all 15 tenses of them, and the nouns, adjectives, etc. that emerge from the verb.

Pene, on the other hand, just has the one meaning. There is no verb that means 'to penis'.  When the Spanish word for 'penetration' is used, penetrar, it is not used in a sexual context. So if you think you hear pene in a phrase or in another form, it's probably peine and has something to do with brushing. I think there are other euphemisms in Spanish to call someone 'a dick'....I've never heard the formal word pene used in slang.  (If I have, I've been insulted and missed it!)

The second part of this blog is about your hair.  There is an important difference between cabello and pelo.  The dictionary defines cabello* as 'the hair of the head'.  It defines pelo as 'hair', but of course has a paragraph of other uses also.  They both do, and the words are mostly interchangeable.  I don't know if it's a Yucatecan colloquialism, or a Mexicanism, but when you talk about your pelo here, you are talking about pubic hair.  I learned this tidbit a year after I moved here one day in the pool when I said something to my neighbor about my hair, mi pelo. If I remember correctly, she cracked up, and said, "I think you mean cabello."  I called Pablo on that one, HE let me use the wrong word for a whole year!  When I asked him why, he said he thought it was funny.  Real cute.

The moral of the story is, don't ask anyone to PENE TU PELO.  If you do go to a stylist, get a reference from someone who doesn't wear a mullet, and in this case you might want to stick to upscale places in fancy neighborhoods, NOT THE CENTRO.  My hair probably looks like PELO since Pablo and I cut our own hair, or each other's, and I am just not very kind to my hair....color chemicals, pool chemicals.  I guess I make myself feel ok about it because of some of the noticeably hideous hairstyles I've seen around town - that are done that way on purpose! 

*One last tip, Don't get cabello confused with caballo, which means 'horse'.  I don't even want to think of all the troublesome combinations that could come of confusing all the above words!


Merida Mikey said...

Thanks Lin, now I've got something else to worry about! :-)

I think I'll just eliminate these words in their entirety from my vast knowledge of Spanglish!

Linda Dorton said...

Yeah, Mike, when you go to the barbershop, you better stick with CORTE, POR FAVOR and hope he knows it's your head you want worked on.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Lin, that mullet-maker is why I now have long hair again. You forgot about the velo (or is it belo?) which means facial or body hair! Why does Spanish have some many words for hair?

Islagringo said...

what a great post! I learned early on the difference between head hair and body hair. Don't ask how! Funny though, I hear the word pene all the time here. It is the common slang word used. That and pollo! Thankfully I cut my own hair and don't have to worry about any of this stuff.

Linda Dorton said...

Theresa, I had to finally tell the mullet story. So many of us learned that the hard way.

I was not aware of velo or belo. I looked up velo - veil, like for a nun, or curtain. And didn't find belo, so these must be colloquialisms. There are so many! And I don't know what's up with so many words for hair!

Linda Dorton said...

Thanks, Wayne. Glad you liked it. The combinations of potential errors just cracks me up.

So I wonder how pollo is used colloquially? I'll have to give that one some thought. It's a fascinating subject and a constant source of language learning. I learn slang first, then move on to verbs and nouns. That is my defense so if I get insulted I am aware of it, and I have an appropriately inappropriate answer!

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Linda, since I have never seen it written only heard it, maybe the word is vello? Now I have to go and look it up myself! LOL...
Imagine if someone wanted a comb for their hair and asked for a pene for their caballo instead!