Monday, August 30, 2010


My mind got to pondering some things that just popped up randomly. That's a dangerous thing at my age. There's not telling down what labyrinthine paths it will wander. The result could just as well be senile silliness as some minor insight.

I'd appreciate if any native Spanish speaker from any country would confirm, clarify or contradict the following.

I think we understand that the concept of time and timeframes in Mexico and other parts of Latin America is very elastic almost to the point of being amorphous.

We usually translate now as ahora. Strangely, the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defines it as "in the present" and "within a short time." Well, it seems that both of those timeframes can extend into anywhere within the forseeable future.

Ahorita and ahora mismo which are supposed to mean "right now" don't add much of a sense of urgency or immediacy in most cases. Suppose I call my landlord to come open the patio so they can fill the gas tank. He might answer "ahorita" and take 20min. to an hour to arrive. In reality, all it means is, "right now you're at the top of my list. It's possible, even likely, something will distract me, or seem more interesting or urgent and that will be reason enough to delay me. If he had just said "ahora" it would have meant as soon as I clear my agenda and if nothing else interferes. Response times in both cases could very well be the same.

Then there is ya which is usually translated as already, but already in the Jewish or Yiddish sense which conveys a sense of immediacy or urgency as in "eat already!" meaning "dig in right now!"

In Mexico, there may be no difference if the landloerd had said Ya voy "I'm coming right now." All the above disclaimers apply.

If you get insistent and call back, you might get ya casi "almost right now" as a reply. If you call again out of desperation, ya mero "within a hair's breadth of right now" is a likely response. All these qualifiers do is mimic your own sense of urgency and probably don't have any positive effect on response time.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed the same thing in the Arabic world. To schedule your party at 7 pretty much means that people will arrive anytime between 7 and bedtime (and possibly later). This can even apply to business meetings. There's evidently little concept of punctuality in the Arab world. Maybe that's something we got from the Puritans.