Tuesday, January 11, 2011

day eleven - wherein I find a logical contradiction that refutes all of Spanish

Claudia was sort of laughing at me earlier. LAUGHING. “You can’t just translate the Tao Te Ching on day 10. You don’t even know how to ask where the bathroom is yet. Or ‘where are the forks and knives?’ “

So she make a good point. But MY POINT is that whatever words and concepts I get attracted to, those are the words I should learn, and the rest will flow in. At least I think. Since I’ve never learned a language before (5 years of French, thank you, and I guess 2 or 3 years of hard core Hebrew, but nothing stuck) I don’t really have any expertise.

So we went to lunch and she got some of the basics in. What was interesting to me is that they were all logical truisms. It seems you can learn an entire language just by finding all the concepts that you either are, or are not.

“Por ejemplo” – “for example” (“very important phrase,” said Claudia, as I’m sure she plans to show me many examples of the correct way to do things)

Everything is either “ariba de o abajo de” - above or below. As in “la plato esta abajo de la mesa” – the plate is below the table. Or “la plato esta ariba de la mesa”

Another one. We’re all either “adentro o afuera” – inside or outside

I like also, “mas o menos” –

As is “bueno?” “mas o menos”. – “more or less”

Another good “or” statement. You can point to “esto o aquello” – “this or that”.

OR “aqui o alli” – here or there.

I’m getting down all the ORs. If someone asks me where I am I can be vague, even coy. “aqui o alli”. I’m not even coy in English but now I can be coy in Spanish.

Are you in the club or out of the club? “adentro y afuera” . I havent’ decided yet. Can I be both?

Are you hot or cold on this decision?

“hace frio Y calor” . I’m hot AND cold.

I’m a Spanish coy machine.

I was getting bored with the basics so I got one good phrase which made no sense to me:

“Solo se que no se nada”. Apparently it means “we only know that we know nothing”

“But isn’t it a double negative?” I said. “nada” is nothing. So shouldn’t “no se nada” mean we know something?


“Solo se que no se nada!”

And that’s the way its going to be.

Monday, January 10, 2011

day ten - I translate the Tao Te Ching into Spanish

Ok, I need to calm down. Yesterday I learned a huge amount by learning the most important Spanish curse words. Some commenters were very helpful in providing some additional uses and also correcting my use of “joder”. I’ve also probably listened to that BeeGees video of “Staying Alive” about 30 times. I think Claudia’s lying unconscious in the other room after hearing the BeeGees so much. But "I'm a woman's man, no time to talk".

So today I’m taking a more serious route. I’m leaving the gutter for one day and one day only and going a different direction. Now that I’ve been learning Spanish for an entire ten days I figured I’m qualified to translate the ancient spiritual work, The Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu in the 5th century BC. I feel its what he would’ve wanted.

First off, though, I think he was a bit wordy. His intended audience was a king, or emperor, or warlord, or whatever they called them back then. He was trying to impart spiritual wisdom that could also be interpreted as political wisdom. I think what he would do in each chapter (and each chapter was one poem) was come up with a concept and think of as many ways as possible to say it to get his point across. Because I suspect he believed he was writing for idiots.

So first I’m going to translate from English to English to take out all of the “extra” words. Then the result I’m going to translate into Spanish. Its good for me because I’d like to know these weighty concepts in Spanish. Like if I’m in a tough situation in Spain (bandits chasing me or whatever) and I need to use the concepts of the Tao Te Ching to save my life, I’ll be able to do it in Spanish.

I’m starting with the text from this site: http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/taote.htm simply because its the first thing that showed up on Google when I googled “tao te ching”. So it must be accurate.

Lets start with the first two stanzas, which contained about 50 ways of saying the same thing:

The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and
unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and
unchanging name.

(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven
and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all

I don’t even understand that second paragraph so its out. But the first paragraph is basically the same as saying: “if you can name it, its not God.

“No es dios” = “its not god”.

I’m refusing to use google translate on this (Claudia stays its worthless anyway).

So basically I want to translate “if I can give it a name, its not God”

If = “Si”

“I am giving” == “Yo Doy” (learning the conjugations for “Dar” = To give: “Doy”, “Das”, “da”, “damos”, “dan” – simple. Its like the conjugations of “ir” – “to go”)

“nombre” = “name”

So how is

“Si le doy un nombre, no es dios”


So now the next two stanzas of chapter 1:

“Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development
takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them
the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that
is subtle and wonderful.

Upon looking at these two paragraphs with fresh eyes I can see its excellent advice for relationships. But that’s another story.

Basically, this says “if we want to find god (or a higher power or The Force, etc,) have no desire”

So, to make it easy on my transation: “if you have no desire, you find god”

Of the above. I don’t know “desire” or “to find”.

Desire = “deseo”

“To find” = “entrontrar”


  • Yo encuentro
  • Tu encuentras
  • El encuentra
  • Nos encuentramos
  • Ellos encuentran


si tu no tienes deseos, encuentras dios

So there you have it. Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching:

Si le doy un nombre, no es dios

si tu no tienes deseos, encuentras dios

As they say in English, “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it” OR (thank you Google Translate): Yo soy un poeta y yo ni siquiera lo saben

Sunday, January 9, 2011

day nine - Spanish curse words

This is an insomania-driven post. I’ve decided that rather than toss and turn in bed its much better to make productive use of insomnia hours, particularly if I don’t have to be anywhere in the morning.

I’m in luck, though: insomnia in Spanish is “insomnio” ("tengo insomnio") that’s so easy that my MS Word just tried to automatically change the word back to “insomnia”. Watch it Bill Gates! I’m speaking Spanish now.

[Note: little piece of trivia about “Bill Gates” (hey, its 3 in the morning and I have insomnia). You know why the BeeGees are called “the BeeGees”? It’s the “B” and the “G” from “Bill Gates”. I’m not kidding with you. But its not that Bill Gates. Apparently a DJ in Australia named “Bill Gates” was the first one to discover them back in the 60s. So there you have it.]

I’m going to make it easy on myself today. A friend of Claudia’s suggested that in order to really learn Spanish I need to learn the “curse words” – “palabrotas” ( as opposed to “palabras” for just “words”).

We’ve already learned “damn” on a prior day is “carajo” as in

“me no importa un caraja” – I don’t give a damn

Apparently one can also use “joder” in the same context which is a slightly more benign version of f***. So “me no importa un joder”. [update: I'm told this make no sense for "joder"]

Of course there are some very important uses of this in business settings:

cállate ya ¡joder!” – shut the f*** up!

And, of course, when I go to my favorite dictionary writer (see day 4), he has some choice usages:

“ellos a hacerse ricos y los demás a joderse” = “they get rich, and the rest of us can go to hell!”

So from that I gather, “Rico” is “rich” and “los demas” is “the rest of us”. I suppose also (using what I learned the other day, one can say “ellos a hacerse ricos y lo otro no importa” (they get rich and the rest don’t matter) )

“Mierda” is “Shit”. As in “me no importa un mierda”

Again, a usage from my favorite Spanish-English dictionary writer:

tu hermana es una mierda” – your sister is a shit.

I really wish I could interview that guy. I KNOW he has some stories.

I’m not even going to tell you what he has to say about “puta”. My kids might read this blog some day and it would be offensive.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

day eight

I’ve been given a great gift today to help me with my Spanish studies. On Friday I wrote a blog post titled “You can call yourself an entrepreneur when….” . The idea is that many people want to be entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. The benefits of doing so are enormous. But only after hard work, persistence, mindless frustration and pain, and great personal agony. So I wrote about some of that agony in the post.

A Spanish blog, volkanrivera.com, wrote about the post and then even translated it, for which I'm very thankful. Gracias! Here’s his post.

This, of course, has been my Spanish lesson for the day. First off, he describes me. Then he translates the post for me. Even though it might not be part of the 100 most used words in Spanish, I wanted to know what words he used to describe me because clearly those are “the 100 most used words in Spanish to describe James Altucher”. So they are important to me.

For one:

- “empresario” is “entrepreneur. Good to know.

- un personaje pintoresco, – a colorful personality. So, if I were to write my resume in Spanish I could say: “tengo un personaje pintoresco”

- parece que nunca se peinara– never seems to comb his hair. So of the first three things he can say about me, the fact that I don’t comb my hair ranks up there. I do think I need to cut my hair very short so as to do away with this constant need to comb my hair. Or rather,” me peinara”.

- “habla con un extraño tono de voz” – “speaks with a strange tone of voice” . WHAT? I didn’t know I have a strange tone of voice. Now I’m feeling self-conscous. But nevertheless. “habla” must be “speaks” and “extrano” must be strange. “tono” tone, and “voz” voice. I’m reeling the words in today and I will DEFINITELY remember them.

- “es increíblemente optimista sobre la economía” – “Is incredibly optimistic about the economy” . “optimista” – optimistic, “sobre” - about, “la economia”, the economy. I’m going to forget “increibliemente” because it seems hard to say and its probably one of those thirds person imperfect subjunctives past tense again and I can’t handle those now. Suffice to say “soy optimista sobre la economia”. And why is “the economy” a woman? Is it because she is so hard to predict?

- “Algunas veces dice cosas que me parecen una locura” – “Sometime he says things that seem crazy”. WHAT!? Ok, so I knew “cosa” is “thing”. “Paracen” must be like “parace” except he’s referring to himself “seems to me” , “una locur” - “crazy”. As in, “it seems to me he is loco” . “Algunas veces” seems like a weird way to say “sometimes” but there it is. I need to learn the verbs around “dices” but haven’t gotten to it yet. So my main takeaway is “locura” for “crazy”.

- “Pero el día de ayer en su blog "The Altucher Confidential", publicó un interesante post” – “but yesterday on his blog he published an interesting post”. I didn’t even have to look that one up. I knew “pero” already. “el dia de ayer” must be "yesterday" (question: can’t he just have said “ayer”?) , “en su blog” = “in his blog” and “publico un interesante post” – “published an interesting post”

He then translates the post, which is interesting and I plan on going through it outside of this blog but perhaps the most important thing I need to remember is the phrase:

"Por supuesto, que es legal." == Of course its legal!

Friday, January 7, 2011

day seven

Ok, my kids suck. I asked them one simple question to help me learn Spanish words for “day 7”. Tell me the two most important words in Spanish I need to know. Since they are Generation Z, or whatever they are calling generations these days, they already have a few years of Spanish education under their belts. Two suggestions from them and I’m afraid one of them has sent me into pure hell.

The first suggestion (from the 8 year old) was “maiz” which means “corn”. Put a tilde on the “i” in “maiz”. So my question to her is, “I asked you to tell me the most important word I need to know in Spanish and you say ‘corn’? How is that the most important word?” Her response, “Don’t you like corn?”

Ok, moving on. Kid #2 (11 years old) says I need to learn “gustar” and this is where I’m getting very confused and I hope people can help me out.

She says you say, “me gusta el libro” for “I like the book”

But this makes no sense to me. Don’t I say “yo te quiero” for “I want you”? But if I don’t really WANT you but I just LIKE you then its “me gustas tu”. How come I don’t say “yo te gustas”?

There’s no real explanation. If I like you, then you’re the subject of the sentence. But if I WANT you or LOVE you (“te amo”) then you’re the object of the sentence. I guess if I want or love something I can’t give it too much power, I have to objectify them. But liking is safe. Its like I’m saying, its ok if the sentence centers around you (you’re the subject) because I only like you anyway. I don’t really WANT you like I’d want, say, “maiz”.

So here’s the conjugations:

Me gusta el libro.
I like the book.

Te gusta el libro.
You like the book.

Nos gusta el libro.
We like the book.

Me gustan los libros.
I like the books.

Te gustan los libros.
You like the books.

Nos gustan los libros.
We like the books.

Now that we got that out of the way, lets see what my favorite Spanish-English dictionary writer (see day 4) has as his uses for gustar. First off, he can’t simply say, “me gustas libros”. His first example is:

no me gusta mucho” – I don’t like it very much.

But then he gets more complicated in his next usage:

“eso es, así me gusta” – "that’s right, that’s the way I like it". I guess “asi” is “the way”. So finally (again, see day 4), he found the girl to do what he wanted when he gave the right incentive (“le pago”).

And finally, he reveals his true colors in his next usage:

“vivía recluido y no gustaba de compañía” – he lived lke a recluse and did not like company. Some of these words are too hard for me right now but we have “compania” for company. And “vivia” for “he lived” and “recluido” must mean “like a recluse” or “reclusively”. But…”gustaba”. That’s not one of the conjugations above.

Oh wait, no problem. According to wiktionary its “the third-person singular imperfect indicative “ of gustar. So forget it. I’m never learning that. No soy es aprender eso [Update: Claudia laughing when she read that. Apparently I screwed up this sentence royally. She says I'm saying, "no am is to learn that", and the correct way ("correctamundo" as the Fonz would say) is to say "no Voy aprender eso" - I am not going to learn that. ]

Would also “vivia recluido y no gusta compania” work also? And by “work” what I mean is, “would people understand me?” I’m fine if they think I’m a dumb gringo. I am and always will be one. But I just want to make sure they comprende me? Comprendes?

And while we are on the subject of comprende, our favorite dictionary writer’s first use is:

compréndeme, no me quedaba más remedio” – you have to understand, I had no choice!

“remedio” == choice”

And it even gets better. If I look up his first usage on “remedio” I get:

“es un tonto sin remedio “ –“ he's so stupid he's beyond redemption

I guess when I finally end up in a Spanish speaking country that’s what they might be saying about me.

Words of the day: maiz (corn), gustar (to like), tonto (“stupid”), sin (without), compania (“company”), remedio (choice), and I’m starting to understand comprendes a little more. Oh, and vivia, for “he lived” I think more on that one next time.

Claudia wanted me to study carefully, " inmundicia". But maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

day six

"Necesitas una novia Latina para aprender español mas rapido......y mas divertido......."

Someone sent me the helpful above line in a message last night. He suggested this will help me a lot for learning Spanish. And I agree with him.

Essentially, for men, the driving reason to completely change the words you use to describe every object, emotion, and action in your life should be a woman. And if its a pretty woman, its even better.

This makes complete sense. In general in relationships, this phrase comes up often, "thats not what I said!" But now that I have to learn new words for everything it makes total sense now when the woman says that. Of course thats not what she said! I need to learn all the new words for these emotions, etc. No wonder I don't know whats going on in her mind - I don't even have anywhere near the vocabulary to express what she might be going through right now after I didn't take out the garbage.

So lets break it down, because the above sentence gives me my muy importante ocho parablas para la dia. (correct? I have no idea).

- Necesitas. - Necessary. Lots of things are necessary. Or not necessary. The first place I turn is my now go-to spanish-english dictionary writer. (see day 4). his first example:
" cuando necesito un trago" - when I'm in need of a drink.

So I've got "Cuando" (when) and "trago" (drink). This guy's life is tough. He's working all night on his Spanish-English. He tried to pay some girl, then tried to pay el otro, and nothing worked out for him. then yesterday it was "a lesson he'll never forget" - "una leccion nunca jamas olvidaro."

So now after all of that, he needs a drink. "cuando necesito un trago". Pretty soon i will be able to write, in Spanish, the biography of our anonymous spanish-english dictionary writer.

Now it gets good, from my friend who sent me the above message. Necesito una novia Latina. "una novia Latina" a pretty Spanish girl. Because what else is life worth living for?

There is no way in hell i would be going through the torture of putting together this mish-mash of adverbs, conjugates, subjunctives, without una novia Latina by my side.

"para aprender mas rapido. " in order to learn faster. I don't even need to look that up. Thats my assumption what that means. I read you should try to figure stuff out without looking it up. And then you should hear someone say it. I'll get Claudia to say it to me later. With conviction! "Necesito una novia Latia para aprender mas rapido"

the prettier, the more rapidly I'll learn, is the implication.

then the "... y mas divertido",

NOTE: Those three dots are like a wink when I translate them to English. Must remember that three dots in Spanish are like a wink. its not like in English when three dots just mean "pause". In Spanish everything is a bit more passionate. There's something sly happening, an intrigue that takes place in the three dots.

Again, I'm going to guess: "y mas divertido" - "and more fun". Lets look up "divertido" and see what examples my sad friend, the dictionary writer, has in store.

First example: "¡qué divertido! ¿ahora me dices que no puedes ir?" - "thats just great! Now you tell me you can't go. "

So he must've asked some girl out, she said yes, and then at the last moment she said no. "que divertido!" At that point he could've replied "no me importa un carajo". thats what I would've said. But he has to rub it in. "ahora me dices que no puedes ir?"

So I get it: "Ahora" is now. "me dices" must be "you tell me" , know "que" is that. and "ir" is to go. So "no puedes ir" must be "can't go".

I've learned a lot today and I need to spend time reviewing it. Porque una dia, before I terminado, I hope comprender mi novia Latina.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

day five

CNBC just called and wants me to go on tonight to discuss Facebook. "el face". I, of course, answered the phone "ola?" and the producer was silent for a second and then said, "James?"

Is there a CNBC Ole? Or Latin CNBC? I'm only on Day 5 but maybe it would focus me if I had to go on the all-Spanish, all-the-time CNBC. I have very strong opinions about Cristina Kirchner.

Some good words today. Was in "Nick's Burger Joint" on 77th and the guy at the cash register said, "you never get tips" to a waitress. So I asked him what "never" was in Spanish. He, of course, knew, because even in a place called "Nick's Burger Joint" all of the employees speak Spanish. It doesn't matter what food you eat in NYC. Back in the kitchen, its all Spanish food being prepared by Spanish-speaking people. Japanese, Thai, indian, doesn't matter. You are eating Spanish food.

So "never" is "nunca". I got to my favorite dictionary writer see day 4 and, of course, he has some gems for "nunca":

His first example is: no dejen nunca objetos de valor en el coche , "never leave your valuables in a car" . So i guess "objetos de valor" must be "valuable objects" and "el coche" must be "car".

Then he has: " es una lección que nunca jamás olvidará " - its a lesson he'll never ever forget. I wonder if he said that after his embarassing escapade with the girl he tried to pay on day 4.

So now "una leccion" - a lesson. "jamas" - ever. and "olvidara" i assume is the conjugated form of "to forget" for "he". I'm not learning that one today.

Claudia tells me I need to do some easier ones that are important also. "Don't do 8 verbs a day!". "cosa" she says is important. "It just means 'thing' ". She said "mi cosita" is an affectionate term. I guess if you like comparing people you love to "small things that you own" it is. Then we took my favorite word from day 3 and came up with more uses:
"pero primero" but first. "segundo" second. "nosotros vamos a el restaurante pero primero nosotros vamos que ir a AT&T" .

Oh, thats because earlier in the day I learned "to go" - "ir".
I go - "voy"
You - "vas"
he - "va"
we - "vamos"
they - "van"

and then I learned "vamos que ir a" - "we are going to go"

Finally, I learned "de nada" - "you're welcome" (there must be something self-deprecating in Spanish culture. because when someone says "thanks" to me I think its a pretty big deal that I did something but I guess Spanish people say "its nothing" for "you're welcome". When I say "you're welcome" I mean, "it was something enormous I just did and if you hadn't said "thank you" I might've gotten upset.)

But then she kept saying "gracias" and i would forget to say "de nada".

I guess I don't do that many things for people because I'm not used to saying "you're welcome".