Pet hates

Written in Fuente de Piedra.

When I am in this part of the world I have two pet hates: urbanisation and reform. These are false friends or Spanglish that have become common currency over here.

Urbanización means a housing estate or developmemt. These are springing up all round us here, or rather, they were, but no new ones are under construction at present and work on uncompleted ones has stopped. Because of its similarity to th English word urbanisation the local Britsh people call the housing developments here urbanisations. In English however, the word urbanisation means the process of becoming urban and does not mean a housing estate. I doubt if anyone would refer to a housing estate in Britain as an urbanisation. So how did this word come to be misappropriated? Was it a translation error by a well-meaning Spanish or English native speaker who was well versed in both languages but not a professional translator? Did the fact that it appeared in all the brochures and was used by estate agents give it some kind of validity that no-one thought to challenge? Or did it simply arise because English people recognised the similarity with the English word and feel that it was a suitable term to describe a housing estate in Spain, as if Spanish housing estates were somehow different from other kinds of housing estates and therefore deserving of a term of their own? Of course the dictionary does give urbanisation as one of the possible translations but in this case it has the same meaning as the English word. This is one reason why dictionaries should be used carefully and if possible reference should be made to large dictionaries and monolingual dictionaries. Nevertheless careful reading of even a basic dictionary will reveal that the word urbanización can mean urbanisation or housing development. Of course then reader is expected to know what urbanisation means.

Reforma means an alteration or improvement and comes from the verb reformar to alter, improve or do up. When an old house is offered for sale it usually requires a lot of alterations and improvements and this is where the word reform comes in. Of course reformar can mean to reform, but in the sense of reforming a law, a system or delinquent behaviour. In Britain people do up old houses or renovate them, they do not reform them. Over here they reform them, although I’m sure no-one is suggesting that the house is a delinquent. Possibly reform is seen as like reshape, as if the house were a piece of plasticine. The word may have come into use for any of the reasons previously suggested.

Nevertheless these words seem to have taken on a life of their own and become a kind of jargon among the local British population, a kind of Spanish/English hybrid, used by those “in the know”. After a while you have to go with the flow or appear ignorant of the “correct” term, even though it is fact incorrect.


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