Four curious words and a gluttonous phrase


Snacks in English. Collation in French. Spanish has a much more illustrative word that comes from a shortening of the phrase “tente en pie”, meaning to keep yourself standing. This handy contraction serves as a shorthand for all frugal small foods that give us enough energy to keep going throughout the day.

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The history of this derogatory word for a drunken indigent person has its origins in Mexico City. Although versions may vary depending on the neighborhood, it is often traced to the historic center, or, to be more precise, the Merced market. According to the Mexican Academy of Language, the word emerged from the habit of drinking infusions of orange or cinnamon leaves mixed with alcohol. The price for one of these infusions was 8 cents, so vendors were heard calling out “té por ocho centavos” (tea for eight cents), which then morphed into the expression teporocho.

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Like firulais (from the English “free of lice” to refer to dogs), mofle (muffler), or mariachi (from the French mariage for wedding), the word bistec is another example of linguistic borrowing, this time from the English beef steak. The difficulty of understanding and pronouncing the original term led to the way that we order in our tacos today.

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“To be worth your weight in salt” was an expression of high praise since there was a time when salt was considered a valuable commodity. In addition to seasoning and preserving food, it was also used as an antiseptic and to stop bleeding. The term salary comes from the word salt as legionnaires and Roman officials were paid in it every fortnight.

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El mal del puerco, or, a hunch about the origins of food coma

In pre-Columbian Mexico the pig was an unknown animal. This magnificent creature was brought by the Spanish and became a symbol of the culinary blending that henceforth took place. In the words of Salvador Novo in Cocina Mexicana, “Mexicans looked on with surprise at that strange, fat animal that always slept.” Curiously, the word pig coincides with the Nahuatl word for sleep, cochi. This leads me to think that the phrase mal de puerco, or the food coma that results from overeating, comes from another cultural blending, this time between our languages.

mal del puerco
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