"Throw a photo" in South Florida English

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Article by Phillip M. Carter in The Conversation (6/12/23):

"Linguists have identified a new English dialect that’s emerging in South Florida"

Beginning sentences:

“We got down from the car and went inside.”

“I made the line to pay for groceries.”

“He made a party to celebrate his son’s birthday.”

These phrases might sound off to the ears of most English-speaking Americans.

In Miami, however, they’ve become part of the local parlance.

According to my recently published research, these expressions – along with a host of others – form part of a new dialect taking shape in South Florida.

This language variety came about through sustained contact between Spanish and English speakers, particularly when speakers translated directly from Spanish.

The article, which is fairly long, is divided into several sections.

"When French collided with English", is a fairly general introduction to what happens when languages come into sustained contact, such as the centuries after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

During this period, more than 10,000 loanwords from French entered the English language, mostly in domains where the aristocracy held sway: the arts, military, medicine, law and religion. Words that today seem basic, even fundamental, to English vocabulary were, just 800 years ago, borrowed from French: prince, government, administer, liberty, court, prayer, judge, justice, literature, music, poetry, to name just a few.

Next comes Spanish meets English in Miami".  In it, Carter explains the historical circumstances for the massive influx of Spanish speakers since Cuban Revolution of 1959, "setting the stage for what would become one of the most important linguistic convergences in all of the Americas."

Today, the vast majority of the population is bilingual. In 2010, more than 65% of the population of Miami-Dade County identified as Hispanic or Latina/o, and in the large municipalities of Doral and Hialeah, the figure is 80% and 95%, respectively.

Of course, identifying as Latina/o is not synonymous with speaking Spanish, and language loss has occurred among second- and third-generation Cuban Americans. But the point is that there is a lot of Spanish – and a lot of English – being spoken in Miami.

Then we have "A new lingo emerges", in which Carter documents several types of Spanish-origin calques in the English spoken in South Florida, e.g., “literal lexical calques,” a direct, word-for-word translation.

For example, we found people to use expressions such as “get down from the car” instead of “get out of the car.” This is based on the Spanish phrase “bajar del carro,” which translates, for speakers outside of Miami, as “get out of the car.” But “bajar” means “to get down,” so it makes sense that many Miamians think of “exiting” a car in terms of “getting down” and not “getting out.”

We also found “semantic calques,” or loan translations of meaning. In Spanish, “carne,” which translates as “meat,” can refer to both all meat, or to beef, a specific kind of meat. We discovered local speakers saying “meat” to refer specifically to “beef” – as in, “I’ll have one meat empanada and two chicken empanadas.”

And then there were “phonetic calques,” or the translation of certain sounds.

“Thanks God,” a type of loan translation from “gracias a Dios,” is common in Miami. In this case, speakers analogize the “s” sound at the end of “gracias” and apply it to the English form.

Finally, there is "The Miami-born adopt the calques".

We found that some expressions were used only among the immigrant generation – for example, “throw a photo,” from “tirar una foto,” as a variation of “take a photo.”

But other expressions were used among the Miami-born, a group who may be bilingual but speak English as their primary language.

Considering the large percentage of Spanish immigrants in South Florida, I am surprised that more people don't speak Spanish as their first language or that Spanish has not had an even greater impact on English than it actually has.  But it reminds me of another fact about Romance languages in the Americas that I learned just last week, viz., although almost 60% of all Argentinians have at least partial Italian ethnic heritage, Italian language nationally does not play a key role.


Selected readings

[Thanks to June Teufel Dreyer, who has lived in Miami for more than four decades, but says she has never heard any of these new South Florida Spanglish expressions.]


  1. GeorgeW said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 4:08 pm

    I dated a Hispanic lady (several generations in this country) in Tampa in the 1960s and she would "get down" from cars.

  2. Peter Taylor said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 4:23 pm

    Considering the large percentage of Spanish immigrants in South Florida

    Is this intended to say "Spanish-speaking immigrants"? Most of what I hear about emigration from Spain relates to moving to other EU countries.

  3. Ebenezer Scrooge said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 4:41 pm

    Could "made" come from Yiddish rather than Spanish? An American who grows up in a Yiddish-speaking environment–like me!–could easily say: "Let's make a party!" That sounds like ordinary English to me. My wife (NYC, not Jewish) thinks it is a nonstandard idiom, probably an unconscious Yiddishism.

  4. Chas Belov said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 4:58 pm

    My Eastern-European grandmother used to say "close the light" which ironically involves opening the switch.

    In “We got down from the car and went inside.” The down from the car part would go well with Cantonese and "down car" (lohk che). But the part about meat meaning beef would clash in that the default meat in Chinese is pork.

  5. Rodger C said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 6:32 pm

    I think that "tirar un foto" is really, in its original imagery, "pull a photo."

  6. Rodger C said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 6:35 pm

    As for "get down from a car," of course one gets down from a carriage, so the use of the same verb (bajar) is natural. Romance verbs of motion normally indicate the direction in the stem and the manner in a modifier, while with Germanic verbs it's the other way around.

  7. Rodger C said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 6:37 pm

    *una foto

  8. Annie Gottlieb said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 6:41 pm

    My Eastern European (not Jewish) husband also said "close the light."

  9. Norman Smith said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 9:02 pm

    Members of my wife's family, francophone Canadians from Ontario, will sometimes say "close the light" when speaking English.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 9:28 pm

    Chinese-Americans will say close / open the light / radio.

  11. Scott Mauldin said,

    June 17, 2023 @ 11:42 pm

    "almost 60% of all Argentinians have at least partial Italian ethnic heritage, Italian language nationally does not play a key role."

    It's possible that during the time of the Italian immigration to Argentina that the Italian immigrants spoke fairly diverse dialects (recall that Italian unification was not until the mid 19th century and the upheaval of that process was a trigger for much Italian emigration), and thus Italian –> Spanish was not too much farther of a jump than that between e.g. Apulian and Roman Italian – the lack of a shared immigrant dialect made linguistic assimilation much more palatable.

  12. Abbas said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 1:52 am

    And then there were “phonetic calques,” or the translation of certain sounds.

    “Thanks God,” a type of loan translation from “gracias a Dios,” is common in Miami. In this case, speakers analogize the “s” sound at the end of “gracias” and apply it to the English form.

    I'd bet that the reason behind is not a phonetic one. In Spanish the expression of gratitude is invariably plural "muchas gracias" instead of "gracia".

  13. Jerry Packard said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 6:06 am

    For those who haven’t been to Miami, an anecdote may describe the prevalence of Spanish and near absence of English in certain localities there. I was driving to a job interview about 20 years ago in Miami and got lost. Every place I stopped at for directions was unsuccessful as my Spanish was so poor. Finally I sought out a ‘corner store’ where I knew they would likely speak Chinese. Sure enough the ploy worked and I was given directions in Mandarin. I got to the interview 45 min late and didn’t get the job.

  14. Jerry Packard said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 6:11 am

    My Italian mom would ‘do a wash’ while my Yiddish-speaking mother-in-law would ‘make a wash’. My Yiddish-speaking grandmother-in-law would ‘make the light’ for turning it on or off.

  15. Cervantes said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 7:06 am

    Yes, "Gracias a Dios" means "Thanks to God."

    Of course it works the other way too. Puerto Ricans will say "Te llamo para atras," for I'll call you back, which makes little sense in Spanish but it's a literal translation of the English. (It's also present tense which is just lazy, but informal use of present tense for future is common since it saves a couple of syllables.)

  16. Jonathan Lundell said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 7:51 am

    You don’t get down from a car; you get down from a duck, to paraphrase the old punchline.

    It’s not uncommon for a “serious” photographer to speak of making rather than taking a photograph, but I don’t think it’s strictly a difference in idiom. Rather, “making” suggests the entire process, from visualization to darkroom (Photoshop) manipulation, while “taking” suggests simply aiming and snapping the shutter (a snapshot).

  17. Andrew McCarthy said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 8:59 am

    @Rodger C

    Or “fire a photo”. In French the verb for firing a gun is “tirer”, literally “pull” (the verb still used for skeet shooting IIRC). I suppose Spanish is similar. Hence there’s an analogy between firing a gun and taking a photograph.

    Interesting that French and Spanish use the verb “pull”, as in pulling a trigger, while English retains “fire” from the era of matchlock pistols, when you literally set fire to a pan of powder to release a bullet.

  18. Terry K. said,

    June 18, 2023 @ 11:05 am

    In Spanish the expression of gratitude is invariably plural "muchas gracias" instead of "gracia".

    Same in English when we use the noun. Thanks, thanks to God, give thanks, Thanksgiving. In "Thank God", "thank" is a verb.

  19. Peter Taylor said,

    June 19, 2023 @ 4:41 am

    @Andrew McCarthy, I think it's at least partly a question of regional variants. The DRAE (dictionary of the Spanish Academy) lists meanings related to firearms and cameras under tirar, but I don't recall ever hearing the word used with either meaning in Spain. My unstatistical impression is that the standard word in Spain for discharging a firearm is disparar (base meaning trigger, etymological meaning separate), and for taking a photo is sacar (base meaning remove from inside something).

    Incidentally, with skeet shooting doesn't "Pull!" relate to pulling the cord which triggers the target launcher, rather than the trigger on the weapon?

  20. MarkB said,

    June 19, 2023 @ 9:43 am

    It's been quite a few years ago now, that I listened to an NPR segment about Miami and Spanish. A businessman from South America said that his company wanted to expand into the United States, and opened up an office in Miami. They needed to hire Americans who were bilingual to deal with both customers here and the home office. When they interviewed applicants – college grads all – they were horrified. The 'Spanish' they spoke was so bad that they were embarrassed listening to them. A combination of Spanglish plus street talk that no educated person in their country would think of using in a professional situation. Whereas in this country – there's a cool new dialect!

  21. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    June 19, 2023 @ 10:48 am

    "Close the light" might be a turn of phrase of the "Greatest Generation" (born c. 1910-1930).

    And also, this one: My great Aunt (immigrant from Central Italy) would never "sweep the floor" or "run the vacuum". She would always "pass the sweeper".

  22. AlejandroG said,

    June 19, 2023 @ 5:48 pm

    @MarkB Very unsurprising. Miami is an interesting city, where Spanish thrives in the suburbs that continually are receiving immigrants (like Doral, receiving immigrants from South America [Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, …], and Hialeah, receiving Cubans). However, there simply isn't enough opportunity in Miami to reasonably stay, so a lot of us with enough potential saw a world beyond the Miami-Dade County/ University of Miami system, and thus left to never return. The ones that stayed were of lower caliber, and that was also evident in their poorer command of Spanish. The "Spanish for Heritage Speakers" courses were particularly striking in the deficiencies heritage learners had, even in a city like Miami.

  23. Rube said,

    June 20, 2023 @ 6:58 am

    On a vacation in Miami a few years ago, my kid and I saw an interesting example of the widespread knowledge of street Spanish. We were on a public bus, and two gentlemen got in a dispute over one of them taking up too much space that led to a vociferous argument in Spanish. Suddenly one of them said something. My kid and I have no idea what it meant, but every Miamian on the bus, of every background, gasped in horror, and the African-American bus driver yelled "Sir, you cannot use that language on my bus."

    I've often wondered what the expression of incredible vileness was.

  24. Keith said,

    June 20, 2023 @ 9:26 am

    @Chas Belov (et al)

    "My Eastern-European grandmother used to say "close the light" which ironically involves opening the switch."

    My grandparents in the UK would talk about "closing the light" and even my parents would rebuke me for "leaving the lights burning" and not "closing them" when leaving a room.

    I took this as being a vocabulary dating from the days of lights being a literal flame of town gas. You would close the valve, or tap, of a light to extinguish the flame.


  25. ajay said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 7:15 am

    "Leaving the light burning" and "put the lights out" are both still used in the UK (though probably by older people mostly) and both are presumably flame-derived. ("Put that light out!" was the proverbial cry of the ARP wardens.) But I've never heard a L1 BrE speaker talk about "closing a light".
    "Electric lamp" was even one I heard from my grandparents' generation, and "headlamp" is still fairly common for both cars and miners.
    And, of course, "torch" (originally electric torch) for what Americans, oddly, call a flashlight.

  26. Rodger C said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 10:21 am

    My parents, both born 1920, always called the air conditioner "the fan" and the refrigerator "the icebox." (They were also fanatical about making me close the latter within a few seconds of opening it, which annoyed and puzzled me till I realized, as an adult, that they'd been channeling their own parents.)

  27. KIRINPUTRA said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 3:13 am


    Beautiful snapshot. I live in Miami on & off (mostly off) and that's Miami right there! (From one angle, at least.)

  28. KIRINPUTRA said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 3:23 am

    Once the novelty of walking into a store & being first addressed in Spanish (with my E/SE Asian phenotype) wore off some, it turned out that the locally raised folks were uniformly best-versed in English, regardless of neighborhood or roots — although bilingual fluency is common & almost the norm. Looking back, this really drove home an idea I had resisted, which is that the modern state & state education has the first & final say in shaping the linguistic landscape of its peoples' minds.

  29. YosemiteSemite said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 10:56 am

    @Rube I'll take a guess as to what the guy said, if he is from the Spanish-speaking Americas. My guess is coño, the c-word. It is very offensive to Spanish-speakers from the Americas; I can well imagine that reaction. In Spain, that word would not have elicited that reaction. It is used as an augmentative exclamation, uttered almost exclusively by males, but in both male and mixed company, It can be mild or forceful, depending on the mood of the speaker. Coño. (fishing around for keys in pocket,
    "I forgot my keys.") ¡Coño! ("That idiot should have stopped dribbling and taken his shot on goal.")

    It's easy to get tripped up with expletives among cultures speaking the same languqge. I remember listening to a woman from Argentina recount how she mentioned to her Spanish-speaking but non-Argentinian mother-in-law that she wanted to change the curtains in the house because they were jodidas. Her mother-in-law almost fainted dead away. The woman meant that they were "raggedy, worn out." What her mother-in-law heard was the literal f-word.

    There are similar opportunities for those kinds of faux pas. Take the expression "bloody hell." In the US, that's a nothing-burger; in the UK, that's beyond the pale. Or at least it was at one time. O tempora, o mores.

  30. Rube said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 11:49 am

    @YosemiteSemite : Thanks for that, it makes as munch sense as anything. Certainly the reaction was beyond anything I've ever seen on public transit, and if you take it a lot, you hear some stuff.

  31. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 3:04 am

    « Take the expression "bloody hell." In the US, that's a nothing-burger; in the UK, that's beyond the pale ». Once was, perhaps, but ¿ sadly ? no longer, except (perhaps) among a few exceptionally refined ladies in their eighties or nineties. Far far worse now passes for the norm, even among the educated classes, and our most elevated newspapers can print the F-word and even the C-word without so much as a trace of a blush.

  32. Ryan Ka Yau Lai said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 12:05 pm

    @Peter Taylor: I've heard 'tirar' for firearms from someone from Michoacán. I understood it from context and from French, though I was surprised about it and asked a couple times to make sure I got the meaning right! Good to know it's in dictionaries.

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