“ ¿A cuanto están?” I ask the younger of the two women standing behind a row of upturned crates piled with higos chumbo (prickly pears).
“MaMAAA,” she asks mama, even though they’ve been selling the things all morning, “¿A cuanto están?”
“Tres euros la cena,” replies mother in her gardening gloves as she expertly slices off the thorny peel and drops the fruit into a plastic bag held open by the next customer.
La cena? The dinner? I look confused.
You know, says the customer, helpfully, enunciating the words as if I’m an idiot: “Tres eu-ros por do-ce.” Three euros for 12, for a dozen, una docena. I geddit.
“¿Y a cuanto el desayuno?” (And how much is the breakfast) I joke. They all look at me as if I’m an idiot.
Bueno, or ‘weno as we’re all saying these days, what I have just heard is an example of linguistic acortamiento, or shortening. There are loads of examples of this in Spanish, and unlike ‘cena’ it’s nearly always the second part of the word that gets lopped off. Some of these are so widely-used they’ve replaced the original word. Think of bici (bicicleta), moto (motocicleta), cine (cinematógrafo), mili (milicia – military service), boli (bolígrafo – pen). Even the crusty old Real Academia accepts the colloquial use of cole (colegio – school), súper (supermercado), porno (pornográfico, pornografía), anfeta (anfetamína) and progre (progresista – trendy left-wing).
There are plenty more, though, that don’t make it anywhere near a dictionary: depre (depression), profe (professor, insti (instituto – high school), mani (manifestación – demonstration), tranqui (tranquilo – calm down), chuche (chuchería – sweetie), pelu (peluquería – hairdresser’s), compi / compa (compañero – classmate) – and cena (docena – dozen).
The syllable-lopping isn’t restricted to individual words, either. Text messaging has helped to get us all using finde (fin de semana), porfa or porfi (por favor) and weno (bueno – well, as interjection). All of which comes quite naturally in Andalucía, word-shortening centre of the territorio nacional, where I learnt long ago that ‘all for nothing’ can be honed to a natty topaná (todo para nada).
Got any more examples? Please add. Go on, porfa.