Translation troubles: children of rigor

Wrists, spit and sexists feature in this week’s exploration of the Herald’s bilingual quandaries

Sometimes these translation trouble columns have a theme and sometimes, we have to face machirulos and children of rigor with financial wrists who spit upwards. 

Muñeca financiera

Last week we reported that president-elect Javier Milei praised his chosen economy minister for having the necessary “expert financial capabilities,” but he actually praised his “financial wrist.” If you are described as having muñeca — in this case “wrist,” not “doll” —  it’s describing your finesse in something, perhaps even the fact that you wield certain influence. The closest equivalent was “a steady hand” but doesn’t communicate dexterous savoir-faire. 

It would seem that English-speaking wrists are mostly there to be wrung or slapped, neither of which was necessary to opt for clarity and move on — even if such translations feel limp sometimes.


This week Martina, who often reads these columns before they’re published, wrote a piece about machirulo making it into the RAE dictionary. To be clear, Argentines don’t need the Royal Academy’s permission to speak however we please but it’s still fun to see what makes it in there over the years. 

To quote Martina’s article:

“The RAE dictionary defines machirulo as “a person, especially a man, who exhibits a sexist attitude.” If the person is female, then she would be a machirula. It can also be used to describe sexist ideas. To wit, ‘That is a very machirula answer.'”

Not only that, but it comes from Argentine politics, popularized via a 2018 tweet by our vice president. Frankly “misogynist” and “sexist” fall short in comparison — don’t they always?

You may also be interested in: ‘Machirulo’ is now a word in the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary

Escupiendo para arriba

This is fairly straightforward in meaning: if you spit upwards, it falls on your face. It’s a warning against hubris, a comment on your actions having consequences — maybe take a second to aim or consider whether you should be spitting at all. 

This came up in an interview which didn’t make it into an article but we found it fun to discuss. In English, the literal translation to “spit up” refers to baby puke. “Throwing stones” could work, although that’s more externally aggressive, and there’s the classic “look before you leap.” But as Amy pointed out, the actual equivalent would be “pissing into the wind” which seems like an unnecessary escalation in unpleasant, self-inflicted spraying.

Hija del rigor

This came up in a newsroom conversation — “Make sure to really remind me because I’m a ‘child of rigor.’” Hijo/a/e del rigor is what we call an inveterate procrastinator, someone who always needs the stick because the proverbial carrot never cuts it. From big professional tasks to doing household chores, a child of “rigor” or “severity” will not get things done without nagging, pressure, or some form of impending doom. 

It’s a bit like the awful “spare the rod, spare the child” but directed at oneself — which probably says something about us as a culture. Although I think journalists in general, as a group of watchdogs constantly on deadline, make for quite the “rigorous” family.

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