Jan 23, 2016

Espejuelos, Guaguas, Zaguán, and Abur

Guagua is the Cuban word for bus, those public conveyances that that run on city streets. The rest of the Spanish-speaking world would not know what you are saying if you use guagua in a sentence in Spanish, they call it the autobús.

A 1914 Guagua in Camagüey Driving Through a Zaguán
(Drawing by W. M. Berger in June 1914 Century Magazine)
The drawing for an article on Camaguey
is captioned “The Gua-Gua”
The rest of those words, Espejuelos, Zaguán, and Abur were exclusively Camagueyan, vestiges of when Camaguey was isolated from the rest of Cuba and the Spanish speaking world and kept using old words that had been replaced elsewhere. Like regional words once used in the U.S., these and others all but vanished by the end of the twentieth century when national television and radio homogenized all languages worldwide.  But they were words the second generation of the Maryland Prats heard their parents and their Cuban friends say.  You just could not find them in the usual Spanish-English dictionaries.

Spanish-speaking folks, including Cubans from elsewhere, would look at you funny when you used Camagueyan words.

A Pis y Corre
Our 1965 Ford Country Squire was a pis y corre. A “step and run.” It meant station wagon. The license in your wallet that permitted you to drive it, the little card itself, not the wallet, was a cartera de alquilar, literally a “rental purse.” It meant “driver’s license” but it just doesn't make sense! New houses in the suburbs of Camaguey had garage doors, or puertas de garaje,  like every other house in the world; but in town on the old colonial-era house garage doors were zaguáns, or “carriage entrances.” And behind the zaguán was the cochera, or “carriage room.” I wonder where the horses slept?

Near and far-sighted Camagueyans wore espejuelos  — “spectacles” — while the rest of the Spanish-speaking world wore anteojos or lentes — “eyeglasses.”

And when the telephone rang, camagueyans picked it up and said ¿Que hay?” — “What’s there?”  or “What’s up?”  On the other hand, saying goodbye — on the phone or in person —  was a pleasant if archaic ¡Abur!”  while the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, except for the Argentinians, were saying ¡Adiós!”, the contraction of Vaya con Dios — “Go with God.” Now it seems that chao — the Italian ciao — is taking over from adios everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world, not just in Argentina.  I think abur would have been much better.