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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Nine Canarian words that come from English

Naife canario Teknad / CC BY-SA

Tourism is a recent phenomenon, but some parts of Spain had contact with foreigners long before the tourist boom. This is the case of the Canary Islands, whose strategic position in the Atlantic, between Europe, Africa and America, made it a mandatory refueling stop for ships for a long time. Among foreigners, the English stand out and the relationship has left its mark on the Spanish that Canarians speak every day, and there are several 'Canarianisms' whose English origin is still evident. English was not the "international language" that it is now, so is noticeable in its highly adapted phonetics to the local language.

Here some of the most curious words in the Spanish of the Canary Islands with an origin (sometimes surprising) in English.

Papas autodate, chinegua…

In the Canary Islands and Latin America potatoes are 'papas'. This word is not of English origin, but Quechua, and it was the peninsular Spaniards who changed the name of this tuber by crossing it with that of the batata (sweet potato) to become patatas (potatoes).

However, some varieties of Canarian potatoes do have names that derive from English. This is the case of autodate potatoes, a variety «white, elongated and highly esteemed to eat», according to the Dictionary of the Canary Academy of Language, and whose name comes from the English 'out of date', because that's what it said on the outside of the boxes!

Even more fun is the case of the quinegua potatoes or chinegua potatoes, which arrived in the Canary Islands from England during the reign of English King Edward VI. His name was deformed into the current one by it's pronunciation.

Cotufas y queques

When Canarians go to the cinema, they don't eat palomitas (popcorn). In the eastern islands (Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria) these are called roscas, possibly because of the rounded shapes that the corn acquires when exploding. However, in the western islands (Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro) they are called cotufas. The origin of this word is English: popcorn, before being cooked, is 'corn to fry'. (In the Canaries corn is known as millo (millet). This Canarianism is of Portuguese origin.)

Another Canarian food with an English name is the queque, a word used for all types of cakes in the Canary Islands and which derives from the English 'cake'. There is also the word bizcocho in Spanish. Don't ask for gateau, because that sounds like gato (cat)!

Foniles y naifes

The culinary is not the only semantic field with various Canarianisms coming from English. Curiously, one of the most typical elements of Canarian crafts is the naife, a knife with a characteristic shape and probable Spanish peninsular origin, but with an English name. 

Another tool that gets its name from English is the fonil (funnel).

Chonis y cambulloneros

Just as in peninsular Spanish, foreign tourists are guiris. In Canarian Spanish a specific name appeared for English tourists: John, or Johnny, from which choni derives. Later this was applied to the rest of European tourists, especially Nordic ones, and increasingly, by extension, to people with a high economic level. This curiously contrasts with the peninsula, where choni is the name used for a female adolescent without manners (chav).

At the other end of the scale are those who had to make deals to earn a living. And what better way to do this than to buy the merchandise on the boats docked in the port, which, according to the accounts, were exempt from taxes and announced that "[you] can buy on [board]". Although the story may be embellished, this port marketing was called cambullón, which the Canarian Academy of Language defines as "merchandise traffic (...) in ships docked or anchored in the port" or "illegal trade carried out on land with products from the ship's pantry. ' The cambulloneros became a relatively important part of the coastal population of the islands, and were immortalized in their folklore.

Perder la guagua

However, if we think of the Spanish of the Canary Islands, one of the first things that comes to mind is the guagua, the well-known islanders' bus. 

As a curiosity, this is not the only use of the word guagua in Spanish, as in several Latin-American countries, the word that refers to children or bread made in the shape of them.

While the origin of the Latin American guaguas is Quechua, the immediate origin of the Canarian guagua is in Cuba, although, according to the Real Academia Española, the initial origin is "disputed" (but they don't offer any further explanation). A well-known proposal, which nevertheless suffers from the lack of documentary evidence, is that guagua comes from the company Washington, Walton, and Company Incorporated, the first company that brought buses to Cuba and which was advertised as Wa & Wa Co. Inc.

One other hypothesis, collected by the great etymologist Coromines, is that guagua derives from the English word waggon (also the root of vagón), which was used for a «medium-sized car used for the free transport of a small number of people».

What I was told locally is that guagua comes from the sound of the claxon.

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