Squid in your ink and vinegar on your chips

Bad translations of dishes on the menu are legion*. And some are legendary. ‘Squid in your ink’ (Calamares en su tinta) is a personal favourite.

We’re always going to be walking on thin ice with our literal translations and when we think in our own language and translate. As a matter of fact, ‘thinking in’ is in itself a perfect example, because people (not you, I know it’s never you) see it as the one and only way to express ‘pensar en..’ Sure, it’s right and true to say that learners should think in English (admittedly easier said than done) and, yes, you may remember the time after Spain switched to the euro when we would buy a coffee or a newspaper and think in pesetas only to realise that we were being ripped off by their rounding up of the prices. Nevertheless, most of the time it’s going to be ‘think of’ or ‘think about’, sometimes with little difference and other times when you’ll need to go for one or the other. The ins and out of ‘think of’ or ‘think about’ are too many to go into here ( I know a good academy though) but by way of example:

-‘What do you think of The Jayhawks?’ (opinion)

-‘Love ‘em!

‘Thinking about’ can imply longer, more careful consideration. Are you really going to split up with this guy? He’s the singer in a rock n roll band! Think about it.

English grammar is pretty simple. Agreed? Spanish grammar less so. I know you’re with me on this. So the whole thing of thinking in Spanish and then translating into English might well be counterproductive. With the best of intentions, you end up shooting yourself in the foot. Sorry, not you. It’s never you. But you know what I mean.

Quiero que te acuerdes..I want that you…nooooooooo! I+want+you+to remember.

Yo quería que tú te acordases..I wanted that you…umm..^?¿*»@grammarchaos….nooooooooo! I+wanted+you+to remember.

See what I mean?

Another classic example of thinking in Spanish is: When I will grow up, I want to be an astronaut. Nooooo!

When I grow up, …Because we use the present simple (or present perfect – I said the grammar’s pretty simple, not simple) after words like ‘before’, ‘as soon as’ and indeed ‘after’ to refer to the future.

Incidentally, if or when I ever grow up, I’ll have to rule out being an astronaut. I once read something about how you can’t do so if you have fillings in your teeth. Dentistry ruined my lifelong ambition. Teaching English might go some way to compensating for that as long as it doesn’t get so simple that teachers become obsolete. Here I’m talking about how relatively simple English grammar is, but hey – pronunciation!!! and hey, hey – phrasal verbs!!!

Some simple building blocks: subject + verb + object + infinitive

I want you to REMember

So much for the squid, now let’s deal with the chips.

Vinegar on your chips might sound to you like some culinary aberration. But if so, you’re wrong. Chips are great and even greater if you put vinegar on them. If Jamie Oliver can get away with** putting chorizo on paella, then maybe I can get away with saying this. It’s something deeply entrenched in British food culture that does tend to freak people out here in Spain. And yes, there’s the belief that it originated in vinegar being a way to hide the taste of rancid grease on those fried potatoes. Those days are long gone though and what’s not to like about chips?

If we go back to thinking in Spanish, then chips are patatas fritas, right?


Yes, but also no. A chip is a small piece of something, a microchip maybe…or something similar in your brain….people say ‘tengo que cambiar el chip’ when changing from one language to another, from thinking in one language to thinking in another.

More importantly, we find the word in our all time favourite biscuits: Chips Ahoy! Now we’re talking chocolate chips. No additional vinegar necessary. ‘Ahoy’ is a great word, albeit a little archaic***. Think of sailors hundreds of years ago shouting out ‘Land ahoy!’ or ‘Ship ahoy’ when those things came into view. And now let’s think again about translating literally; ‘chips ahoy!’ becomes ‘trocitos de chocolate a la vista!’ Meh!

For the ultimate chip experience, you should head for Whitby, Yorkshire. Here you’ll be able to visit the Magpie Café, probably the best fish and chip shop in England. Whitby is also where the ship carrying Count Dracula entered the UK when he’d run out of good blood back home in Transylvania and needed to get himself into the country. Whether there was possibility of his enjoying UK chips with vinegar there is up for debate.

So enjoy your squid, in its ink but not in yours, and your chips, with or without vinegar.

*This is a good and alternative way to say there’s a lot of it or loads of them.

**If you get away with something or with doing something, it means you’re not caught or punished for doing something wrong. An essential verb for survival through life.

*** This is a contrast word, meaning despite what you said before. Check out its pronunciation: /ɔːlˈbiːɪt/

That’s a bit weird but makes sense when you see that it comes from ‘al(though) it be (that)’

We had a great stay in Whitby, albeit a short one.

The squid was tasty, albeit a little inky.

The chips were delicious, albeit rather vinegary.

2 comentarios sobre “Squid in your ink and vinegar on your chips

  1. How did I miss this great one? I must have been distracted cooking squid stewed in their ink.
    May I suggest a topic? We had a visit of some UK step family, and over the lunch, she (Spanish) referred to the egg yellow (yolk), but her husband (UK) heard funny (joke). That led us all to dig in the subtle difference in pronunciation, that had to be confirmed not to be a joke (not yellow) from him on us by bringing one of the sons (UK native) and making him play the role of the innocent and repeat both words for us.
    Thinking about how each is written somehow made it more clear how to properly pronounce them, but you after a while repeating one ends up hearing different. 😂

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    1. Yes! A very interesting point. Sometimes a subtle change in sound can make all the difference. On occasions there can be a big difference in spelling but only a small one in sound. For example, ‘eyes’ and ‘ice’, whose pronunciation would be the same but for the final /z/ and /s/ phonemes respectively. Spanish speakers often struggle with the pronunciation of the letter j in ‘project’ because its sound is like the j of ‘joke’ and not the y of ‘yolk’
      So yes, there should be more on this. Thanks for your comment and interest!

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