Sunday, August 12, 2012

Piso Mojado

Piso Mojado

By Bobby Neal Winters
I can’t speak Spanish yet, but the Rosetta Stone experience has opened my eyes to a few things in the world around me.  I’ve learned lots of words, never having seen a single one of them paired with an English equivalent.  The program shows pictures of situations and one discerns from the pictures what the associated Spanish word means.
One of the positive aspects of this is that it teaches skills that are required in order to pick up a new language from one’s environment.  Part of that skill set is knowledge of the pitfalls therein. When you are seeing a picture, are you seeing what you think you are seeing?  When something is being referred to by a two-word phrase, which of the words means what?
An example of this would be the phrase “piso mojado.”  It means “wet floor.”  I’ve known this for a long time because I’ve seen it on those yellow, plastic signs that they put on wet floors.  The full sign reads “cuidado piso mojado,” which is “caution wet floor.”  One could discern that by the fact that you see these signs helpfully placed on wet floors where you should be careful, but it is most helpful that the full English is written on the other side.
He is the danger (in interpretation, not the floor).  I had thought that mojado meant floor and piso meant wet.  The fact that this is not the case is betrayed by the past-tense of the verb in that last sentence.  Many of you now have figured out why I thought that and are no doubt now pretending you never did and are feeling smugly superior.
“To piss” is the vulgar infinitive for urination.  It’s one of those English words we’ve replaced by an suitable Latin euphemism.  In my defense, “to piss” comes from the Middle English “pissen” which comes to us from the Old French “pissier” which comes from the Latin “pissiare.”  On the downside, this is vulgar Latin.  The “vulgar” here doesn’t mean what we mean by vulgar, and yet it does know the feet out from under any sort of high flown argument I might be trying to put together to keep myself from sounding like anything besides a redneck.
The truth of the matter is that I have referred to a urinal referred to by the French pissoir.  This also illustrates a danger of learning language this way as, I am told, the French for urinal is different and pissoir refers to a particular kind of urinal.  In any case, I knew that French and Spanish are both Romance languages, being derived from Latin, the language of the Romans.  Given the wetness of urine, I figured that piso could be a reference to wetness derived from the same root.
Indeed, I learned that el piso actually means floor and that mojado  means wet.  Mojado is the past participle form of the Spanish verb mojar which means “to make wet.” So, as far as I know, none of these words has anything to do with urination.  So far, Rosetta Stone has not given me the words for those things and the language for meeting those needs has all been rolled into the phrase for requesting the location of “el baño.”  (This means “the bath” too, by the way.  Even speakers of Spanish pretend that’s what we mainly want the room for.)  In any case, you ask to have your needs met by saying “Dónde está el baño, por favor.”  Maybe if you hit por favor with the right nuance and facial expression, they can guess what you need.
But I digress.
Rosetta Stone managed to show me what el piso  meant by showing me pictures of people measuring floors, sweeping floors, and vacuuming floors.  I learned mojado by seeing pictures of wet dogs, wet umbrellas, wet businessmen, and so forth.
So, imagine my confusion when I came upon la pisina.  La pisina  means “swimming pool.”  This confusion was compounded by the fact that I knew what I used to do to my Grandma Winters’ peonies when I was a little country boy and what country boys do in the swimming pool.  The word pisina just opens itself up to that sort of abuse.  Think about it: piss-in-a. It opens up images--to my redneck mind at least--of middle class parents who put on airs and refer to the swimming pool as a pisina and then coming to the back yard to see their young country son standing at the edge of the pool, making that vision come to life.
And yet--no--that would never happen.  But it does make a nice mnemonic for me with my twisted mind to remember the word for swimming pool.
All of this having been said, I am still having way too much fun learning Spanish.  That having been said, I will confess that I am not coming at it with the pure Rosetta Stone experience.  I took German in college in the traditional way.  I studied New Testament Greek with a computer program--and books--and in doing so learned more about grammar that I ever thought there was.  I also took two years of Russian about twelve years ago.  I’ve got my Rosetta Stone program, yes, but I also have some books.
But Rosetta Stone set me straight on piso mojado.


William Tighe said...

"Pisina" must come from the Latin "piscina," which came to mean any container of water, even a sink, but which originally meant "fish pond" or "fish bowl," from the Latin "pisces," or fish.

Bobby Winters said...

I had wondered about that. The Fish is el Pez and the plural is los peces.