Papanatas! Llorones! Baratijas! Pellizco!: A “few words” in Spanish.

I have made it through the first audiobook reading of Harry Potter y la piedra filosofil, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I could understand, given the length of time since I have done any serious Spanish study. I am now working my way through a second time slowly, listening to the audiobook while reading along with the text. I have made it through the first seven chapters, through the much more alliterative “Sombrero Seleccionador” chapter. I have picked up a few interesting tidbits that I would like to share.

First, I am reading a print translation from Spain, while the audio version appears to come from the Americas, which probably accounts for some of the vocabulary differences: the use of medias versus calcitines for socks, for example. Most notably, the print version distinguishes between the familiar (vosotros) and formal (ustedes) plural you’s, as is preferred in Spain, whereas the audio version uses ustedes for both, as is common in Latin America. I had already mentioned that audio uses buho for owl, and the print lechuza, but interestingly, Hedwig is called una lechuza in both versions. This seems to be correct, since Hedwig, as a snowy owl, lacks ear tufts.

I noticed that, when Hagrid turns up on the Hut-on-a-Rock, Harry addresses him as usted, the formal you that would be typical for a child speaking politely to an unfamiliar adult. When Harry wakes up the next morning, he switches to the familiar tu, the pronoun a child would use for an adult more emotionally close to them. Thus, Spanish readers have a clue that Harry has come to trust Hagrid fully, even before Rowling tells us a few pages later.

Other differences cannot be explained as simple European-American language differences.  For instance, the print version makes a small but significant change to Hagrid’s line:

“What? My — my mum and dad weren’t famous, were they?” “Yeh don’ know . . . yeh don’ know . . .” Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair, fixing Harry with a bewildered stare. “Yeh don’ know what yeh are?” he said finally.

The print version changes the last to “No sabes lo que ellos eran?”–  or “You don’t know what they were?”  — making this line about James and Lily, in the past, not Harry, in the present.

Some even more intriguing gleanings from the Spanish translation after the jump.

One thing I was very curious about is how the Spanish translation would handle Dumbledore’s famous “few words”–  those whose meanings, if any, readers have debated for ages. The words are: “Papanatas! Llorones! Baratijas! Pellizco!”  Papanatas is a pretty good translation of “nitwit,” meaning fool or simpleton. Llorones, interestingly, means “crybaby”–  so the translators chose the “crying” meaning of “blubber” rather than “whale fat” variant. Baratijas is typically translated “trinkets” but can also mean “odds and ends,” which fits well with “oddment.” And, pellizco means “pinch” — going with “tweak” as in “tweak your nose” rather than the sense of changing something slightly. So, does this choice of translation make anyone rethink the possible significance of the original four words? And, has anyone read a different non-English translation to see if the meanings have remained consistent?

Here’s a head-scratcher. The word for goblin is translated “duende,” which can also be translated as elf or leprechaun, but which has also been described as one of the hardest Spanish words to convey in English. This leaves me wondering what word will be used to distinguish the actual elves and leprechauns later in the series, given they are quite different beings. But,  here is the weird part. The audio book tells us the flavor of Bertie Bott’s bean that Fred claims to have once tasted is “moco“– the word for mucous, snot or “bogeys.”  But the print book insists it was duende-flavored.  Goblin-flavored jellybeans? And worse, Weasley boys who know what goblins taste like? Just to see, I peeked ahead to see how troll-bogeys was translated, only to discover it wasn’t: Harry simply says the equivalent of “Ew, gross!” when he pulls his wand out of the unconscious troll’s nose.  This has me wondering– is the word “booger” so crude in Spanish culture that the translators did not want it in a children’s book?  So much so that a vision of kindly Molly sautéing up some of Griphook’s relatives in the Burrow kitchen* was considered an improvement? Beth G., I hope you are reading and can give us some insight on this one.

The Spanish print translation also took a major liberty with Harry’s first Chocolate Frog cards. Circe, Paracelsus and Merlin are included, but JKR’s two invented historical wizards, Hengist of Woodcroft and Alberic Grunnion, are replaced by two names of significance to Christians:  Ramon Llull and King Solomon. Llull was a Catalan mystic, poet and philosopher, eventually beatified by the Catholic Church, and for whom a Barcelona University was named in 1990. As for the implication of including a Biblical figure on a Chocolate Frog Card– thereby declaring him a bona fide wizard, that is certainly interesting in light of recent discussion on this site. I would be very interested to know if JKR is aware of that change. Or, perhaps, the translator had a special fondness for the original Captain Marvel comics, where Solomon was included among the “immortal elders” whose initials create the magic word “Shazam!” that gives Billy Batson–you know, that other kid with the lightning emblem– his powers. The other elders are from Greek and Roman mythology: Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

The audio book, for what it’s worth, keeps the original wizard names.

To close with something in the spirit of international magical cooperation… I have created special shirts for Potter Pundits –in a variety of styles and all the house colors–to support my SkillCorps trip to Ecuador this summer.  In this time when lots of people are thinking about the friendships, support and acceptance they have found in Harry Potter, I hope we can remember the words of A.P.W.B. Dumbledore:

“Differences in habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

*Yes, I realize that there are other ways the twins could have learned what goblins taste like, and no doubt some fan-fiction describing them in great detail. But this is a family-friendly blog and I’d like to keep it that way.


  1. Brian Basore says

    Regarding the Scots edition “a few words”, Only the first of the four, which are “Numpty! Blinter! Oobit! Gowk!, corresponds in meaning to any of the four in the 1997 PS. “Numpty” is roughly equivalent to “Nitwit”.

    For those who want to believe that Dumbledore’s “a few words” are pithy descriptions of the types of people in the four Houses, the Scots edition holds out hope. All four words do that. However, the only house I feel positively corresponds is Hufflepuff, to the word “Oobit”. Besides being a type of person, the primary definition is a black-and-yellow caterpillar.

    Okay, so “Numpty” could be “Nitwit” (Gryffindor?), “Blinter” could be Ravenclaw (?), and Dumbledore’s characterization of Slytherin is “Gowk” (fool)? One thing I don’t know about this approach is if the order of “a few words” takes the order of the names of the schools as mentioned earlier in the chapter.

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