Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tico Talk

The Costa Ricans have cool sayings which I'm tempted to use in real life but know I probably won't. 

"Pura Vida" - you say this when you meet someone or when you say goodbye.  You say it when something cool happens and you say it as an introspective comment when the laughter dies down.  Literally the phrase translates itself as a substantive "Pure Life" but in Costa Rica it's one of those swiss-army knife terms that seems to work for any occasion. 

The other one I wish I could take back with me is "Tranquillo" which is the same as the English "cool" or "chill".  The sun setting over the ocean?  Tranquillo.  Dude, stressed out?  Tranquillo.  I'm short 50 colones for the bill.  Tranquillo. 

I love words like these.  It breaks down all sense of "preciseness" that language is supposed to have.  It's all contextual.  To "get it" you have to be there.  You have to feel it.  The comedian Bernie Mac said in the movie Kings of Comedy

Let me break it down, what the word "mother-fucker" actually means. "Mother-fucker" is a word that black folks have been using for years. It's about expression. Don't be ashamed of the word "mother-fucker." Because "mother-fucker" is a noun: It describes a person, place or thing.

My guess, using "mother-fucker" every other word is not so much a sign of blackness as it is a sign of "Mac-ness".  The point is arbitrary words that mean nothing sometimes mean a whole lot depending on how how and when you say them.   Uppity language purists contend that people use such words because of some inherent lack of vocabulary.  Rather than use the correct terminology the speaker reverts to amaphorisms to make up for his inability to express himself. 

I'm no linguist but, I disagree to this line of thinking.  I think a person who speaks with contextual vocabulary does so not because he doesn't know any other way but rather because assumes a certain level of inclusiveness with his audience.  He actively known words like "Tranquillo" are prone to misinterpretation so when he uses them he trusts that you "get" him, and he "gets" you.

Goodbye Dominical.  Next week:  Hawaii for Connie and Jerry's wedding.