No word for "runoff"?

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Candice Norwood, "In battle for the Senate, Georgia organizers fight to mobilize voters of color", PBS News Hour 12/3/2020:

For Susana Durán, Georgia State director for the civic engagement group Poder Latinx, informing voters about the race starts with the basics.

“What is a runoff? There’s no Spanish language word for runoff,” Durán said. “I’m trying to figure out the shortest way to explain what a runoff is without having the voters run off.”

The Wordreference dictionary claims to be able to help, giving el desempate and la segunda vuelta as options, with the example

Only two candidates can compete in the runoff.
Sólo dos candidatos pueden ir por el desempate.

Google News in Spanish has lots of desempate examples — they're mostly about sports playoffs, which maybe is the problem, but there are some stories that use the word in an (American) electoral context, e.g. "¿Qué viene en tu boleta electoral en estas elecciones de desempate?", 12/12/2020.

In a "No Word for X" case like this, it's hard to distinguish among a real issue (say because Latinx voters in Georgia think of desempate as only a term for sports playoffs), or confusion on the part of the quoted source, or confusion on the part of the journalist.

[h/t Joshua Friedman]



  1. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 1:32 pm

    In Colombia where we have runoffs, the word is "segunda vuelta." "Desempare" would meant "tie-breaker," not "run-off"

  2. Keith said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 1:53 pm

    I think that Susana Durán didn't prepare enough… "segunda vuelta" and "balotaje" are well known and accepted terms for a second-round vote, or "run-off".

  3. Laura Morland said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 2:25 pm

    FWIW, when I describe the situation in Georgia to my French friends, I speak of the "deuxième tour," which is the exact meaning of "segunda vuelta."

    They understand it instantly, as all their presidential elections involve a second round of voting, two weeks after the first.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 3:06 pm

    How familiar a given group of Spanish-speaking immigrants are with the concept may depend on whether it is or isn't a part of the electoral system in their specific country of origin, but e.g. it isn't a part of the Mexican electoral system (at least for choosing a president) but Spanish wikipedia uses "segunda vuelta" to explain the fact of its absence: "El sistema electoral mexicano no contempla la segunda vuelta, por lo que para el candidato ganador bastará con superar el número de votos del segundo lugar, así sea por uno solo."

  5. S. Valkemirer said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 3:27 pm

    Wikipedia's article in Spanish on run-off elections notes that Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay hold run-off elections and in the section of the article on each of those countries such an election is called either a segunda vuelta or a balotaje (now we know from Thomas Hutcheson's post above that Colombia holds them as well).

    Keith is right about homework.

  6. DJL said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 3:40 pm

    In relation to Laura Morland’s mention of the French elections, the French presidential runoff is typically described as a ‘segunda vuelta’ in the Spanish media, and Spain doesn’t use this mechanism.

  7. cliff arroyo said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 4:32 pm

    "Poder Latinx"

    Isn't that the clue she'd have trouble with Spanish… ime Spanish speakers…. don't like the word….

  8. Brian Ogilvie said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 7:55 pm

    Cliff Arroyo: Some Latinos don't like "Latinx," but others do. I receive frequent emails from the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and they use "Latinx" not infrequently.

  9. Bathrobe said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 9:01 pm

    The first thing I thought of when I saw the heading was the kind of runoff you get after rain…

  10. cliff arroyo said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 2:07 am

    "Some Latinos don't like "Latinx," but others do."

    I'm sure, just as some Latinos don't speak Spanish but others do. From what I can tell use of the word does not correlate with knowledge and active use of Spanish.
    Tellingly, the word does not have an entry in the Spanish language wikipedia.

  11. Cervantes said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 9:22 am

    Latinx is, obviously, not a Spanish word and not pronounceable in any language. It's an attempt to solve a problem — lack of a gender neutral term — that in my view has a much easier and less kludgy solution. Just use the noun "Latin" as an adjective. Or you could invent Latine. I don't know why people adopted this monstrosity.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 9:36 am

    Well, thank you for explaining what "Latinx" is intended to signify, Cervantes. I confess that for the entire duration of the existence of this thread I have been puzzling over the mystery, and finally all is revealed. And I do agree with you that if one wants a gender-neutral adjective, "Latin" would seem to be just fine, although in the UK the word is over-loaded : it is not so long ago that I sought to sign up for Latin evening classes in Kent, only to discover that they were, in fact, classes in Latin[-American] dancing …

  13. Rodger C said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 10:58 am

    Radio reporters, at least, render "Latinx" as "Latinex," which my old ears keep hearing as "Latinesque."

  14. DJL said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 11:22 am

    The term “Latin” is also over-loaded in other languages, to be fair. In the context of Italy (Italian) and Spain (Spanish), my particular background, we have always referred to ourselves as latin – as in reference to our ‘latin character’ or ‘latin blood’ – though usage seems to have changed somewhat recently and sometimes further clarification is needed (by using the expression ‘cultura latina’, for instance, I would have Latin America in mind when speaking in Italian/Spanish, I think). The word seems to receive a much narrower interpretation in American English and Latin American Spanish – wasn’t there a big brouhaha over a Spanish singer being nominated for a Latin Grammy some time ago (naturally, nominating an Italian singer would be out of the question)?

  15. Cervantes said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 12:17 pm

    I'm not sure of the historical reasons for it, but Latin American came to be the English term referring to the Spanish speaking countries of the Americas, and I think it included Brazil so these are both Latin derived languages. Latino and Latina are the adjectival forms in Spanish, which is what created the problem. As I say, however, it's easier just to decide that Latin can be used adjectivally in Spanish, that seems much less extreme that inventing something as kludgy as Latinx.

    But yes, most people do not want to apply Latin or Latino to people from Spain, the point being that the Spanish were the conquistadores. The people of Latin America are of various heritage, it's just the predominant language in the countries that is the essential commonality. So Latino is sort for Latino Americano, and doesn't include Spain.

  16. NB said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 12:55 pm

    @cervantes you wouldn’t have to invent Latine:

  17. S. Valkemirer said,

    December 24, 2020 @ 11:36 pm

    Cervantes says, "I'm not sure of the historical reasons for…"

    See the article on "Latin America" in Wikipedia. The French and Spanish versions add material not in the English one.

  18. Steve Fishboy said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 2:25 am

    The real clue that Durán likely doesn't speak Spanish is indeed her use of the phrase "Poder Latinx". Not because this term is either unknown or rejected by most Latinos, but because… this construction does not license gender neutrality!

    Terms like "Latin@", "Latino/a", "Latin(a|o)" and "Latinx" are used exclusively when the referent is human. Not even animate… just human. So some people say "contribuyentes latinxs" (male or female Latino taxpayers) or "estudiantes latinxs" (male or female Latino students).

    Durán, however, used an epicene construction with a noun that has nothing to do with humans, and this is not licit. She might as well be saying "comidas latinxs" (male or female Latino foods) or "compras latinxs" (male or female Latino purchases). In these cases, the grammatical gender of the adjective is determined by the grammatical gender of the noun. As "comidas" is feminine, it uses "latinas".

  19. cliff arroyo said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 8:55 am

    " her use of the phrase "Poder Latinx""

    Technically I don't think she used it but it's the name of an organization (which also indicates low knowledge of Spanish speaking preferences…)

    I've seen a mention or two in a place or two that epicene -e has gained some currency in Argentina (which certainly makes much more sense than -x

  20. Cervantes said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 9:05 am

    Yes, grammatical gender is largely arbitrary. That the adjective has to agree with the noun in gender has no particular meaning; people don't think that tables are female and doors are male, for example. The problem arises when you want to apply an adjective to people and want it to be gender neutral. The convention in Spanish is to use the masculine form to encompass mixed referents; that's what people have come to find objectionable. BTW el pueblo means the people and as far as I know that isn't considered objectionable, again because the grammatical gender of the noun doesn't really mean anything. The police are la policia, but there's no implication of the gender of individual officers. (If you want to refer to a single male police officer you can say el policia.) I'd be interested to know whether linguists have theories about the origin of grammatical gender.

  21. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 1:35 pm

    @Cervantes: "not pronounceable in any language"

    What about jinx and lynx, not to mention plurals and third person forms of all nouns and verbs in -nk?

    "people don't think that tables are female and doors are male, for example"

    I don't know about Spanish, but in my own first language there certainly are overtones of that exact kind, for example whenver peronifying things. An onion in a poem for kinds, for example, has to be a she. Etc.

  22. Cervantes said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 1:48 pm

    The pronunciation would be Lateenks, not Latinx, if it were pronounced, but it's definitely unpronounceable in Spanish, where X only occurs intervocularly.

  23. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 2:01 pm

    "Lateenks, not Latinx"

    OK, point taken, even though in many accents in North America the FLEECE-KIT distinction is quite debatable before the velar nasal. (Something I find very striking when listening to American English.)

  24. Scott P. said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 2:41 pm

    From a study done on grammatical gender:

    "Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender."

  25. Chester Draws said,

    December 25, 2020 @ 3:31 pm

    I don't know why people adopted this monstrosity.

    Its monstrousness is a feature, not a bug.

    If it were an easy and simple addition to Spanish (or English for that matter) it would be adopted and everyone would use it. That's how good ideas work.

    Using Latinx is a signifier that one holds particular political opinions. Its use by everyone would remove that as a marker, hence rendering it useless.

    There is a magazine Poder Hispanic. That term signifies exactly the same group without any indication of gender. But I suspect they occupy a different part of the political spectrum.

  26. Batchman said,

    December 26, 2020 @ 3:22 pm

    Not sure if there is a distinction between Hispanic and Latin[vowel-of-your-choice], and there has been some inconclusive discussion about that on NPR and other places. But I would surmise that Hispanic ought to refer exclusively to Spanish-speaking nations, so Brazilians would be considered Latino/Latina but not Hispanic. Does that make sense?

    Also, I suspect "Latin" would be regarded as old-fashioned and even offensive compared with "Latin[vowel-of-your-choice]" (as in "hot-blooded Latin"). Kind of like it's OK to refer to "people of color" but not "colored people" nowadays.

  27. Chester Draws said,

    December 31, 2020 @ 11:12 pm

    Kind of like it's OK to refer to "people of color" but not "colored people" nowadays.

    Again, the arbitrariness is a feature not a bug.

    There is intrinsically no difference between "people of colour" and "coloured people", and everyone knows that. But in much of the English speaking world now you have to play the game that they are different and that you are a kind person who understands that.

    Don't worry, in less than a decade "people of colour" won't be acceptable.

    "Latin" has lots of connotations, but "hot blooded Latin" has never been used enough to be one of the big players. The move to Latinx is simply branding.

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