Yo me asusto

This short message in a pet store illustrates several interesting points about Spanish.

Pet store sign, Mexico City: Yo me asusto si golpeas los vidrios

Pet store sign, Mexico City: Yo me asusto si golpeas los vidrios

Yo me asusto

In Spanish class, we first see verbs with -se in the context of reflexive actions: Me baño, I shower, an action I perform and simultaneously receive. However, it is important to realize that most of these so-called pronominal verbs are not semantically reflexive. Here, me asusto doesn’t mean I scare myself. A better translation would be I get scared or I get frightened.

Golpear

The usual translation of the verb golpear is ‘punch’, ‘hit’ or ‘beat’, but here golpear really means ‘tap’ or ‘bang on’. And me golpeé usually means ‘I bumped into something and hurt myself’, not ‘I punched myself on purpose’.

This situation — a word with a group of related but not completely identical meanings — is so common that it has a technical term: polysemy. For language learners, polysemy creates problems mostly in one direction: when a word with multiple meanings in your native language corresponds to distinct words in your target language.

Vidrios

The noun vidrio, like its English counterpart, glass, can be used uncountably to refer to the substance. However, in English, unless we are talking about eyewear, we speak not of ‘glasses’ but of ‘panes of glass’. By contrast, Spanish easily accepts the plural formal vidrios, glass panes. Other nouns that are uncountable in English but countable in Spanish include: consejos, advice; muebles, furniture; and informes, information.

Respétame

I’ve noticed that here in Mexico, the cultural concept of respect comes up more frequently than it did back home in the US. In this sign, respect is invoked to shame you into not disturbing the animals in a pet store. And while it may not surprise you that humans address pets with , here we see that pets themselves use when ‘talking’ to humans.