Now it’s time to play You’re Not Saying that Right! The game show where . . . wait, what? Have you ever strayed outside your language comfort zone only to end up using the “wrong” word? You say swimming pool, and the person you’re talking to just frowns? “We don’t use that word here.” Depending upon the situation, unwittingly getting caught in this game can make you feel anything from embarrassment to relief.
Welcome to a long-term, ¿cómo se dice? series where we expose you to some of the most common words with variants across the Spanish-speaking world. Our goal is to help you feel more comfortable taking linguistic risks so that you can embrace all the Spanish-speaking world has to offer.
Today’s edition? Swimming pools! ‘Cause when you’re looking to swim, there’s no time to waste with circumlocution.
We Do It in English, Too
When learning a new language, it’s impossible to avoid all potentially embarrassing linguistic situations. But, here’s the good news. You almost never forget the words you learn when you put yourself out there.
Not convinced? Another way to think about word variants is to consider what you would do if someone walked up to you and asked where the car park was. If you were in the UK, you’d probably provide directions. But, if you were in the USA, you might chuckle or stop to think for a second and then, as if by instinct, say, “Oh, you mean the parking lot?” When learning a foreign language, it helps to keep this instinctive reaction in mind. People aren’t correcting you. They’re giving you a ticket into their unique linguistic world.
Spain and Beyond
La Real Academia Española is an excellent online source for tracking the etymology (i.e., linguistic history or profile) and use of words in Spanish. However, their resources are mostly in Spanish, which limits new learners, and tracking the exact history of a word doesn’t exactly get us to the pool any faster. So, let’s keep this short.
The Spanish (as in, Spain) word for pool is la piscina, which comes from Latin and is related to the Latin word for fish: piscis. You might also notice some resemblance to the Spanish word for fish: pez.
However, note that la piscina is used in some locations outside Spain, such as in parts of California, but not in the below places.
The first thing you may notice about pools in Mexico is that some of them are very green. But, that’s a blog for another day. The second thing you’ll probably notice is that no one uses the word piscina. Instead, the most common word for pool in Mexico is la alberca. According to La Real Academia Española, the word alberca derives, at its source, from classic Arabic.
While I’m playing a little loose with comparisons here, I liken the translation to when English speakers use geographic-specific terms, like when some Californians say they are going to the plunge instead of to the pool, or when some speakers change the wording up a bit, as when they say they’re “going for a dip.”
Argentina and Beyond
Looking to cool off in Buenos Aires? Maybe for a heated resort pool in the Andes? You’ll need una pileta. Pileta is also used for swimming pool in parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Do I have to?
Of course, you can pick any of these words, and sooner or later, you’ll get to the pool. But, if your goal is to reduce confusion, get to the pool fast, or avoid potentially advanced, complicated, or (hopefully not) embarrassing conversations (for example, pileta is part of a sink in Spain), choosing the geographically-preferred term is the way to go.