erin judge writes this

My photo
I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles. Let's hug.

December 4, 2007

an open letter to Junot Diaz

Dear Sir,

I have not read your recent best-selling book, but congratulations on your enormous success with it. I have read one short story of yours involving a young man who perhaps has some kind of deformity that leaves him relegated to a life behind a wrestling mask and also some thing you wrote about food in Gourmet which had much less sex-talk and violence than the other thing. You're clearly very creative and talented and brilliant. Kudos.

However, I have a bone* to pick with you.

Although I myself have not yet read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, my dear ol' mother is currently reading it. This woman raised me, nurtured me, and sent me away to a fancy college where I had the opportunity to study abroad** for a semester. The consequences of this arrangement are such that she now asks her Spanish-speaking daughter for translation help whenever necessary.

And your book. Your book. Makes such things necessary. In. Oh. So many ways.

Here is a snippet of the IM conversation (yeah, Mom's hip with the kids and their newfanlged technology) that took place earlier this MORNING (before my coffee):

Number1Mom48267: I have all these spanish words & phrases I have to look up
like meteselo
with an accent over the 2nd e

me: meterse is to insinuate oneself into
I believe
no te metes en mis cosas is like don't get up in my grill

Number1Mom48267: the phrase is (to an adolescent boy): Grab a muchacha y meteselo. It probably means "get into her" literally

me: yeah
what have you been....observing?

Number1Mom48267: How about this: Dale un galletazo

me: dale un galletazo***
give him/her some kind of chicken-related thing
possibly a blowjob?

Number1Mom48267: oh
that's possible
it's all adolescent, sexually charged talk among friends

me: you hear this where?

Number1Mom48267: in the book I'm reading
one more: "without a speck of verguenza"

me: oh jeez are you reading junot diaz?

Number1Mom48267: yes, I am

me: verguenza is shame
as in what I'm feeling right now

So yeah. That's how it goes. It's like a bunch of seventh graders in East L.A. went to town on some Mad Libs and then my Mom found it and asked me to translate! My mom!!!

Dearest Junot, I beg you: next time you write a book with widespread popularity that appeals to suburban women who aren't Eva Langoria Parker and don't know what the hell you're saying, please please PLEASE supply a glossary. Or perhaps you could sell a companion guide! Your publisher will love it! It's win-win-win!! People would buy it! Hell, I would certainly buy it, for my Mom, you see, and give it to her, perhaps as a gift, but even if there was no occasion, and then she'd consult it, and look things up, and she wouldn't have to ask me, and all would be well!!!!!

In closing, ¿cómo se dice peignoir en español?

*A non-sexual bone. Also a non-violent bone.

**Actually, I studied pretty much nothing but broads every semester!! Ba-dum-bum! Hey-oh!!

***Turns out galletazo seems to mean an open-handed slap, so dale un galletazo means "bitch-slap him/her." I could have easily looked up such a thing in a companion guide. Instead, you, Mr. Diaz, you with your lack of a companion guide or glossary made me guess and say "blowjob" to my Mom!!!! In conclusion, this is still all your fault.


Royos said...

Ha! I found this page because I was wondering about his use of Spanish too. Galletazo to me sounds like hitting someone with a galleta (as in cracker or cookie), although I know it pretty much means a "smack." And the other word is supposed to be "méteselo" (not "metéselo" as it appears in the book), which does mean "stick it in her".

I showed this book to my Dominican mom before reading it. She probably won't end up reading it, but if she does she is not going to like language like "méteselo"! To her, "carajo" is a swear word.

Anyway, it's a hilarious book so far. Did your mom end up liking it?

CP said...

seriously hilarious post.

Write of Passage said...

I found this just as royos. I am English speaking and know a little Spanish. I can usually figure out words given the context of the situation. But Junot's use of slang has me scratching my head. Sorry you had to say 'blowjob' to your mother. Funny post.

cablife said...

Well said. This isn't the only popular book that uses slang in languages I don't know. I think there ought to be an agreement that glossaries are required. But you cleared up some of the expressions I didn't get. thanks!

Special K said...

It's an awesome book, you should read it! I listened to this great interview with J.D. on NPR and he was saying that reading, when you're young, is like a group experience, because you have to ask for help all the time, and he purposefully put a lot of references to things in this book that will require people to talk to others (like your mom did!) to figure it out. So, he's forcing the reader to go through the childhood (or immigrant) experience of learning language.

tekchic said...

Very, very funny post. I found myself having to look up many of the phrases here as well, despite four years of Spanish in high school myself.

I agree, it really could've used at least a glossary at the back so I could look this up rather than rely on my Google-Fu.

Thanks for the laugh :)

Pat Sherman said...

Yeah, very funny post. I found this the same way, Googling "galletazo." I had highlighted the other slang words you addressed in the post, so thanks. I was similarly annoyed with the author's copious -- I'd go so far as to say intentionally hostile and ostentatiously anti-Anglo -- use of untranslated slang in "Drown," but his writing is interesting enough to keep me reading (though I kinda think he's over-rated). I usually pass along good books to my mom, but there is no way in hell she's getting this one.

Your Mama said...

I've just started reading said book and went online to look up the meaning of "dale un galletazo" and landed here.

Thanks for the post, now I have new Spanish slang to add to my limited Spanish vocabulary.

Timothy Caldwell said...

Thank you for this!

borboleta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erin said...

Except that my mom's from Brooklyn, not the suburbs. And she's a lawyer, not a housewife. And you don't judge people as individuals at all. Enjoy your ignorance.

Timothy Caldwell said...

I am not down with disparaging suburban housewives. Just because someone is not educated or experienced doesn't mean we should just cut them out from another world.

Technical manuals contain glossaries to assist readers with jargon. Asking for a glossary of slang is hardly a provincial request. Granted, one can certainly derive meaning from context without the aid of a glossary, but it's not likely that this proverbial haus frau will start speaking in Dominican slang simply because a glossary is available.

It's more likely a better understanding of another culture will result instead, and that's a pretty swell thing to have happen.

Kinowolf said...

@Pat Sherman

It's not anti-Anglo, it's just not Anglo-centric. It's a book written by a Dominican-American nerd for Dominican-Americans (and/or nerds). There's no glossary for nautical terms in Moby Dick, no glossary for yiddish terms in Philip Roth novels, no glossary for the various French, German, and Latin loanwords used in most academic writing. Like all of those books, it's written for its audience (19th century Northeasterners, 20th century New York Jews, academics, respectively) and all other comers can do what they're always expected to do when reading–-look it up or ask somebody.


You have a Dominican mom (and other relatives) and have never heard the word galletazo? I'm amazed and sort of impressed. You must have been an angelic child or must have grown up among strict pacifists.

erin said...

Hi, everybody? Yeah hi. I'm a stand-up comedian. I'm not ACTUALLY suggesting he release a glossary for his book. It's a facetious-type-thing that I'm using as a kind of hilarious framing template for the little anecdote about my Mom's phone call. Humor, internet kids. Get into it.

Sheeda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheeda said...

I liked it, it helped me understand what was going on in this book we're reading 4 AP English @ my school. You ppl take things too far turning this lady's personal experience into a big time debate. GEEZ! It actually would be helpful to have a glossary, to Luis, so what if it was written for his Dominican Audience most of the ppl here commenting found it bcuz they arent Dominican & dnt understand what is being said. He won the Pulitzer for this book. I think its safe to say that his audience has significantly expanded. So a re-print, with a glossary, shouldnt be that hard to do. *humph*

Unknown said...

There's actually tremendous significance to Diaz choosing not to translate any of the Spanish. It cannot, actually, be overstated. There are a lot of long footnotes too, just to warn you in case you're a REALLY lazy reader. Good for your moms for wanting to find out what all those crazy ass words really mean. Often Google Translate won't work because it's not only Spanish, it's obviously Spanish slang. It's a fantastic book, and worth the read, whether or not you translate ANYTHING.

And work on your stand-up, baby.

erin said...

Hi Erica! I know that!!! This blog post is a joke!!!!!! You work on whatever it is you do!!!!!!!!!!!!

bradzio said...

To any and all who are interested, someone did in fact make a glossary.
I speak Spanish and was a science fiction nerd, so I got most of the references, but it was interesting to see where some of them came from and to geek out on the book.

Perseus Nikitas said... this should help

Unknown said...

Hi Erin, I found your post as I, too was reading TB&WLoOW...I have no Spanish, and was trying to work it out through context. Mucho Confused, I consulted Google Translate, and WOW.

Your IM with your mom made me LAUGH- Imagining me as you and my mom as yours was enough to unfurl a tremendous, really awesome laugh that makes one's day so much nicer! So, thank you!

Plus, now I know some crazy terrible phrases in Spanish. Onto my next read.

Cheers, Amber