Translation troubles: gimme ball

A weekly look into the Herald’s bilingual quandaries featuring roosters and half-hairs

Entre gallos y medianoche

This came up when Facundo and I covered the CGT strike on Wednesday — a union representative criticized the government for discussing a bill as wide-sweeping as the omnibus bill “between roosters and midnight.” I had never heard this one before but it means to do something surreptitiously or hurriedly well into the early hours. We ended up going with “burning the midnight oil,” which is also pretty evocative.

The phrase construction doesn’t make sense to me though: surely it should be entre medianoche y gallos, between midnight and the roosters? “Between roosters and midnight” sounds more like “dawn to midnight,” although it honestly flows better the other way around. If anyone knows why the allusion to roosters crowing is put before midnight, let us know!

Medio pelo

“Half hair” comes from a conversation with Martina, an Argentine way of saying something is mediocre (could be an object, person, or situation). Turns out it comes from the 18th century, when hats were an indicator of status, and beaver fur imported from Cadiz was all the rage in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. If you were rich, you could afford hats with top-notch pelo centro (center hair?) or you could strive to afford the beaver’s medio pelo (I’m pulling my vegan card and not going into further detail). The term was used derisively to refer to the middle class (and still can be) but became a generally dismissive descriptor of low quality, like berreta

Give me ball

Let’s end with another Spanglish cryptid that can only come from bilingual settings like the Herald. This one is a classic, from dar pelota o dar bola: to “give ball” to someone is to pay attention to them. Dame bola would be “pay attention to me” and no me dio bola means “they ignored me.”

According to Daniel Balmaceda (cited by educational magazine Billiken) this comes from snooker or pool players wanting to shut out newer players who could potentially ruin their game. On seeing hopefuls arrive they would ask the waiters to “not give them ball,” as in, blocking access to the pool tables so the better (and kind of mean) players could get on with it.

In dictionaries, dar bola is cited as the vulgar/informal option, presumably because bola also means testicle. Since the English word “ball” technically works for both, it’s up to our readers to decide how classy the undertones are.

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