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Under-bums & half-asses: life as a bilingual writer

I discovered a new word in English the other day. It’s something I’ve known for ages in Spanish. Now, I finally know it in my mother tongue. And so I’m looking for an excuse to use it in my writing. Hence this blog post—because I can’t see it appearing in my novels any time soon…

Writers are obsessed with words. They are the only things we have with which to build entire universes. So learning a new language feels like doubling your toolkit.

You find fascinating new ways of expressing tired old clichés.

You no longer complain about the ‘last straw’—the one that snapped that poor camel’s back (horrific!). Instead you now have a bit of a whinge about the ‘final drop’—the one that made your cup runneth over. And you start to wonder what you're complaining about. Because isn’t an overflowing cup a good thing?

You discover there is a fifth taste that isn’t just salty, sweet, savoury or bitter but umami— a yummy, moreish, comfortingly meaty taste, like broth. And you recognise it from the off. You know you’ve tasted that taste—and it seems crazy that you never asked its name before.

And finally, when watching the fashion segment of your favourite morning TV show, you learn there is, after all, a term in English for something you thought only existed in Spanish. And it sounds so much posher in English. Which takes me back to my new word…

In Spanish it’s called ‘media-nalga’—that little piece of buttocks that peeks out of a pair of very short shorts.

I first learned it in Colombia. Not that they are prevalent in the mountain-top fridge that is Bogotá. But elsewhere, in the more tropical climes, you don't have to go too far to find see some media-nalga.

I used to tell people there was no equivalent term in English. The literal translation doesn’t work. ‘Half-ass’ has nothing at all to do with putting half your ass on display. Instead, it means doing something in a haphazard or incompetent manner. Nothing to do with butt cheeks at all.

But it turns out we do have a word for that piece of bare flesh. And it's really rather lovely.

Watching the fashion segment of my favourite morning TV show the other week I discovered two important facts: (i) micro-shorts are going to be the look of this summer in the UK—you have been warned; and (ii) the English word for media-nalga is…


Isn’t it lovely? It’s definitely my word of the month and a strong contender for word of the year.

Even so, I don’t think I’ll be running around in very short shorts this summer just so I can talk about under-bums, But, on second thoughts, perhaps one of my characters will.

Image credit: Kolda News

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