Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation: Of “piropos”, praise, and pick-up lines


Dear readers,

An attractive young woman walks gracefully down the street, inspiring a gentleman standing at a storefront to call out, “¿Qué culpa tiene el árbol de haber nacido en el campo, y qué culpa mi corazón por amarte tanto?” [A tree stands on the ground where it was born, my heart by hopeless love is torn].

That rather old-fashioned scene features a free rendering into English of the sort of elegant, even poetic, compliment known in Spanish as a piropo (original meaning: a ruby or red garnet). This gallant form of praise  for  a  lady’s  charms,  though  scarcer  than  fifty or a hundred years   ago   on   the   streets   of   Zacatecas,   Ponce,  or Maracaibo (gentlemen’s remarks to ladies in the public thoroughfare now tending to the somewhat less  poetic),  still remains part of  everyday Hispanic/Latin American culture. offers some vintage piropos along with poetry on the subject and reflections on the waning, if not outright extinction, of the custom.

Translators  find  a  particular  challenge  and fascination  in  words  like  piropo  that name a concept either non-existent in the other language, or not central enough to the culture to have any simple means of expression. Dictionaries offer us either explanations that don’t exactly roll smoothly  off   the   tongue   (the Oxford Concise’s  “flirtatious/flattering  comment”),  or expressions that lose the spice and charm of the original (the Espasa-Calpe’s rather flat “compliment”).Some even use the still more pedestrian translation “line,” as in something a fellow might routinely use in a bar—likely far less poetic or gallant than what’s meant by  piropo.

Your thoughts, readers? Is there a good English equivalent for piropo—the word itself, or the custom it names?

¡Buenas palabras!

Copyright ©2012 Pablo J. Davis. Se reservan todos los derechos. All Rights Reserved. A version of this essay was first published, alongside its Spanish version, in La Prensa Latina, Memphis, Tennessee, on 19 August 2012.



About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

2 Responses to Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation: Of “piropos”, praise, and pick-up lines

  1. Pingback: Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción: el piropo y lo (casi) intraducible « Interfluency: Translation+Culture

  2. Lucarna says:

    Nice article! Herewith my own experience on the matter:

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