Another "words for X" competition

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In a NYT Op-Ed yesterday, Iain Gately described finding himself at a loss for words in Spanish ("Besotted — Etymologically, That Is", 12/31/2008):

I cleared my hangover on Boxing Day by going for a surf at Espasante, near my home in Galicia, northern Spain. […]

A fisherman — with Anton, the town pig by his side — had been watching me and he asked, “What happened to you out there?” I tried to explain, but my Spanish was inadequate. The only way I could say I’d drunk too much the day before was “estuve borracho” but borracho wasn’t the word I wanted. To me it implies a bestial, slobbering sort of drunkenness, which wasn’t quite how it had seemed when I was celebrating Yuletide with family and friends.

We’d feasted, played games with the children, danced, decorated each other with fluorescent paint, and drank: beer and Cava for the race down the stream, Albarino with the salmon, Priorat with the suckling pig, more Cava for musical chairs, Port with the Stilton and roasted chestnuts, a cleansing ale during the treasure hunt, brandy with the Christmas pudding, then back to wine and anything else that was open for dancing. When I fell into bed with my partner I was happy: inebriated yes, wasted, no. Squiffy rather than sloshed, trashed or flayed. But how do you say squiffy in Spanish?

I have no idea, myself, though perhaps some commenters will have suggestions for Mr. Gately. He may not be grateful, however, since he believes that the availability of an ample vocabulary for varieties of inebriation is a special characteristic of English:

As far as I’m aware, English has the richest vocabulary of any language when it comes to describing the effects of alcohol upon human behavior. I think that that’s because the British have been constant and heavy drinkers for most of their history. From the Anglo-Saxon invasions to the Industrial Revolution, they’ve been getting beodrunken, foxed, tipsy, pie-eyed and woozey. Indeed the English have developed an entire lexicon to express different nuances of the same condition.

Gately lists a couple of dozen examples, though I have to confess that many of them were entirely new to me ("squiffy", "nimtopsical", "stocious"), and many others have a broader meaning ("woozy", "trammel'd", "merry").

I'll give the last word to Gately's Galician friends, who may have come up with the requested word for "squiffy":

The fisherman let me flounder on awhile, then said “Estuviste piripi” and left me with Anton the pig, who grunted, urinated on my wetsuit, and also went on his way.


  1. Sili said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    "beodrunken"? Is that supposed to be an Anglo-Saxon pun?

    Messrs Sapir & Wolf alive and well.

    Happy New Year! For once I wasn't pissed.

  2. Jesus Sanchis said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

    A mild way to say it in Spanish could be something like "iba contentillo" or "alegre". But anyway, talking to fishermen is not something I usually do, so I really don't know what I would say in that situation. There are hundreds of words in Spanish to refer to alcohol drinking, and they are suitable for every occasion.

  3. Bobbie said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

    Just for starters, here is what I found at an on-line Spanish-English dictionary

    es·tar pi·ri·pi Verb
    be drunk, be totally drunk, be pickled; Synonyms: estar borracho, estar en bomba, estar en trúa, estar tomado, andar hasta las manitas, estar abombado, estar como una cepa, estar hasta las manitas

  4. alfanje said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

    "piripi" is not the kind of word I would expect from a fisherman, but rather from an old lady. Also I do not think it is used so much to talk about past events. It is somehow dated.
    Indeed Spanish has at least hundreds of words to refer to alcoholic intoxication in different degrees and registers. This wide range extends from the universal Spanish word "borracho" to regional or local dialects and even private jokes.
    I would go for "tibio" (lit. tepid) as in "me puse tibio" .

  5. Mike Yankee said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

    Borrachito sounds right to my ear (Caribbean Spanish). It means a little bit tipsy, or perhaps on the cusp of drunkitude.

  6. dr pepper said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

    The reason such outrages are so common is that the word "linguification" is in most people's dictionaries.

  7. Michael Moncur said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

    I could have expressed this sentiment to the fisherman pretty easily without speaking a word of spanish: make a drinking gesture, then point to my head and make a wincing expression to indicate the headache / hangover.

    But that would have left me without a framework to hang a flimsy article upon…

  8. Craig Daniel said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

    "Ebrio" would also work, given the user's choice of English terms. To my ear it has the same genteel character as the English relative – I wasn't hammered, I was inebriated. But yeah, the "giggly but not thoroughly shitfaced" thing doesn't really fit as "borracho". "Alegre" certainly sounds like a good choice to me.

    In any case what we have hear is a story about a non-native speaker's lack of vocabulary, rather than the deficits of any language. It's coupled with an observation on the wealth of nuances you can express in English – but Mr. Gately is mistaken in assuming that level of subtlety isn't available in Spanish. The details of how you say it would vary locally, in either language, but any language has a lot more to say about an apparently simple concept like drunkenness than most people seem to intuitively expect before they stop and think about it.

  9. Fernando Pereira said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

    I don't know imbibing terms of art for Spanish, but Gallego, which might be relevant since the incident was in Galicia, is pretty close to Portuguese. The word I would have used in Portuguese for Gately's state is "tocado" (literal translation: "touched").

  10. Ian Preston said,

    January 1, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

    "piripi" is not the kind of word I would expect from a fisherman, but rather from an old lady. … It is somehow dated.

    It sounds like the right kind of word to translate "squiffy" then. "Squiffy" is a fine word but of a sort that would sound least out of place to me as nickname for a P. G. Wodehouse character or a Prime Minister of the early 20th Century with an alleged fondness for drink.

  11. The other Mark P said,

    January 2, 2009 @ 4:04 am

    that that’s because the British have been constant and heavy drinkers for most of their history,

    Well here's his first mistake. The English are such heavy drinkers they've been importing their wine from Gascony, Spain and Portugal for centuries.

    Meanwhile the Spaniards, French and Portugese know nothing of alcohol, having clearly been exporting all their stuff to England.

    If consumption was a guide to use, I would suggest the Russian or Polish lexicons before English.

  12. Stephen Jones said,

    January 2, 2009 @ 4:51 am

    Why didn't Gately simply say 'tengo resaca' – 'I have a hangover'.

  13. Charles Gaulke said,

    January 2, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

    If nothing else, it seems a couple of minutes honest thought would have caused Mr. Gately to remember that his statement, "the British have been constant and heavy drinkers for most of their history" is at least equally true of the majority of other extent cultures on Earth, and certainly in Europe. His bad linguistics is not only in support of, but based on at least equally bad anthropology, or history – which seems to be almost universally the case with this variety of argument. It seems like there should be something like Godwin's Law for this, that one could invoke to end any discussion the moment someone begins to talk that kind of nonsense.

  14. dr pepper said,

    January 2, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    Gaulke's Law: Whenever someone in an online discussion begins making broad generalizations about the behavior of a population group, it is a sign they don't know what they are talking about and should be ignored on that topic.

  15. Pardo said,

    January 3, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    As already mentioned in the comments, Spanish many words, with subtle differences in meaning, to describe alcohol drinking and its effects. Thus "piripi" is a rather gentle word that young people probably would not use. A similarly gentle and more common word is "achispado" (with a meaning similar to "tipsy") and in Galicia it is also common to say (in non-decreasing strength order): "peneque", "trompa", "mamado". In Galician (not in Spanish) we also say "esta cheo" ("is full") but the corresponding Spanish word "lleno" is not commonly used in this sense.

  16. Aaron Davies said,

    January 3, 2009 @ 10:51 am

    @pardo: re "full"–interesting. that one seems to have been available in english too, though i think it's now somewhat obsolete. (certainly i've never heard it outside historical contexts.) burma-shave had "car in ditch/driver in tree/moon was full/and so/was he".

  17. Stephen Jones said,

    January 3, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    For 'pissed as a newt' we have 'cómo una cuba'.

  18. Squander Two said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    The English comedian Michael MacIntyre points out that one can actually turn any English word into a past participle and it will mean drunk. The example he uses is I got absolutely bungalowed. If he's even just nearly correct, then English probably does have more words for drunk than any other language.

  19. Jesus Sanchis said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    The Spanish expression is not "cómo una cuba" but "como una cuba", without the accent.

  20. The other Mark P said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

    She was completely A4ed.
    Aadvarked? I'll say!
    I was abacussed last night.
    It takes a lot to get her abaloned!

    So when do we reach the million mark?

  21. Seth Grimes said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    You attribute to "Gately's Galician friends," "The fisherman let me flounder on awhile."

    Did the fisherman then let them off the hook?

  22. Seth Grimes said,

    January 4, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

    Craig Daniel, what words would a Galician use for a drunk Jew?

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