Feliz Ano Nuevo!
Guess what? I just wished you a Happy New Anus! Because that’s what the word ano means without the tilde (~). With it, of course, año means year. So Feliz Año Nuevo means Happy New Year. Which, I suspect, you knew is what I had in mind all along.
A Change in the Alphabet
The thing is, Spanish has an extra letter in the alphabet. It comes right after en-ay, which is en or the letter n in English. It’s called en-ya and is written ñ.
And changing the letter changes the meaning, as you might expect. Here are a few other juicy examples of what can happen to your totally innocent, though not always grammatically correct, communications:
Anejo means attached. Añejo is aged, vintage. Mi currículum es añejo = My resume is really old. (Hire me – I’m desperate!)
Cana refers to someone with white hair. Caña is sugar cane. Mi abuelo tiene caña = My grandfather has sugar cane. (Whew! If you’re referring to his hair, that must be nearly impossible to comb!)
A close relative of cana, cano is a gray-haired person. But caño is a tube or gun barrel, or a spout. El es caño = He is a gun barrel. (Quite the explosive old dude, eh?)
Canon is the same as in English, a musical round or rule. A cañon, on the other hand, is a cannon, a gun barrel, a canyon, or the shaft of a pen. El coto cansó seis cañones -The choir sang six canyons of the song. (Wow. I bet the echo was spectacular.)
Try Canadà, the country, vs cañada, a ravine or arroyo. Muchos de mis amigos son de cañada – A lot of my friends are from the ravine. (I hope they don’t suffer much from flash floods.)
Maña is a noun that means skill or knack. Manar is a verb meaning to stream out. In the 3rd person present tense they are almost the same, right? Maña-mana. Tengo video maña – I have skilled video. (Gee. Where do you buy that?)
Panal means honeycomb. A pañal, however, is a diaper. Me gusta comer los pañales – I love to eat diapers. (A regular Anthony Bourdain, ain’tcha?)
A pina is a pine tree. But a piña is a pineapple, or a pine cone or a hand grenade. Mi cama es de piña – My bed is made of pineapple. (Any way you slice that one, it sounds like a poor night’s sleep.)
Sana(r) is a verb meaning to heal. But saña means fury. Por favor, Señor Doctor. Me saña – Please doctor, piss me off. (I came to you for your rotten bedside manner, see?)
Sonar is to mention; soñar, to dream. Both are verbs. Yo soñe de él en el blog previo – I dreamed about him in a previous blog post. (Oo-oo-oo, he’s so cute, you can’t blame me.)
None of these are quite as spectacular as our friend año, but they can still mess up your conversation and put some pink in your cheeks.
How to Type Them
When you have to write the little darlings down, there’s no need to embarrass yourself if your keyboard doesn’t speak Spanish. If you use Windows, there are secret codes (heh-heh) that let you type tildes and the accent mark. These have been around very nearly since computers were invented. But because using them means memorizing a list of numbers to combine with the Alt key, and users found that cumbersome, Microsoft incorporated these codes into the Windows environment in simplified form. Here’s how you do it in Windows, i.e., how you combine the accent mark or tilde with the letter.
For the simple accent mark, hold down the control key (Ctrl) and type a ‘. Then type the letter that needs the accent. Result: á, é, í, ó, ú
For the tilde (~), because it is the top half of the key in question (extreme upper left on the keyboard), you have to also use the Shift key. So you hold down both Shift and Ctrl while you press the ~, then you type either a lower case n or a capital N. Result: ñ, Ñ
If you are actually in Microsoft Word rather than in Outlook or another program, you also have the option of using the Insert command on the menu. Click Insert, and if you are MS Word 10, look to the end of the toolbar and click Symbol. Next choose More Symbols. When the dialog box shows up, grab the scroll bar slider and scoot it to the top, then scroll down to where you see the letters with accents showing up, pick the one you need, and click Insert (or just double-click your choice). Earlier versions of Word do it pretty much the same way, but with slightly less complexity. The command sequence always starts with Insert, Symbol. You’ll figure it out easily, and if you can’t, just click the help button.
Another time we will discuss how to deal with The moon in Uranus. (Yes, that was courtesy of my inner five-year-old.) Feliz Año Nuevo!