Thursday, October 21, 2010

Old Guy's Rambling Remembrances #34

LANGUAGE BARRIER

10/4/98

Friday, someone at the place where I work was iterating the phrase vaca caca. Since this did not come from a real Spanish speaking person, I let it pass at the time, saying only that a Spanish speaking person would never say that.

Since then, however, my mind has wandered to the Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, an excellent movie starring Edward James Olmos.

Gregorio Cortez is based on a corrida written by Americo Paredes, who, along with his other great accomplishments, was my freshman English teacher at the University of Texas.

The story, which is supposed to be based on a true story, happened in Karnes County, Texas around 1912 or so. The sheriff went out to the home of Gregorio to question him about a horse trade he had been reported to have made. In his best Spanish, the gringo asked Gregorio if he had traded a caballo that morning. Gregorio, who knew almost no English, answered truthfully (in Spanish) that no, he had not traded a caballo. The sheriff interpreted this as a lie, and pulled his gun to arrest Gregorio. Not understanding what was happening, Gregorio pulled a gun, and in the ensuing gunfight the sheriff was killed.

Gregorio hit the road, and was pursued over a large portion of Texas until finally apprehended. He was tried and sentenced to life, even though the State of Texas released him a few years later. The root of all of poor Gregorio’s trouble was that the sheriff had asked him if he had traded a caballo (horse) and Gregorio had actually traded a yewa (mare). A simple misunderstanding had turned a case of self defense into murder, and done great damage to the lives of two men, the sheriff of course, and Gregorio Cortez.

When Humble Oil Company decided to become not so humble, going blantantly international, they chose the name “ENCO”, a cute name for “Energy Company”. This worked fine in the good ol’ USA, but in some foreign countries with which they did business, it was an offensive word. After much careful research, they became “EXXON”, so that they wouldn’t offend anyone (until they killed all those fish at Valdez).

For more than forty years, my lack of fluency in the language of women has caused me a great deal of torment. It is very difficult to know what to say, and when to say it, and when to not say anything at all..

Be careful what you say, you never know who might be listening.




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