How a word nobody uses is causing Christmas confusion in Spain

Be honest, had you ever used (or heard of) the Spanish word “allegado”?

How a word nobody uses is causing Christmas confusion in Spain
Photo: Gift Pundits/Pixabay

What’s all the drama about the word “allegado” then?

If you’ve been following the Spanish news recently, you’ll know that central and regional governments have been busy rolling out and tweaking their Christmas Covid plans.

The measures and restrictions are logically aimed at halting the rise of infections at a time when most Spaniards will be looking to spend time with family and loved ones.

And here’s where the word “allegado” comes in.

“Allegado” is a slightly old-fashioned word to refer to someone who’s close to you, be it a next of kin, a family member, a friend, or someone who you have a close relationship with or of trust.

It’s a very general term to refer to someone in ‘your circle’ – without an exact translation in English as far as we know– but it’s a word that’s even subject to interpretation among ordinary Spaniards and politicians.

So, after Spain’s national government announced recently that people would be allowed to cross regional borders to visit family or ‘allegados', many were left asking ‘Where are they drawing the line’?

Andalusia's regional president Juanma Moreno reacted by saying that the word “allegados” was “too ambiguous” and that it could lead to serious consequences in the spread of the virus, adding that his government would avoid the term in their final Christmas measures bulletin.

So, what did Spain’s government actually mean by “allegado”?

Health minister Salvador Illa had initially said that “allegado” refers to people who have a special emotional bond with one another but were not family.

However, his Andalusian counterpart Minister of Health and Families Jesús Aguirre disagreed with him, saying “we do not share the same concept of ‘allegados' as Minister Illa” and “we will only approve family reunification”.

The truth is that “allegado” isn’t a word Spaniards use much if at all in daily conversation, perhaps because it’s so unspecific. 

The Spanish papers are currently full of opinion pieces and explainers on the word “allegado” and what it will mean for their Christmas plans. 

Could they have used a better word or explanation such as “amigos íntimos” or “amigos cercanos” (close friends)?

Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón also gave his two cents on the matter when stating “we must look for terms that include all the situations and social relations that exist in Spain”.

“If it’s a person who has been having dinner with their neighbour for 20 years, to my understanding they should be able to continue doing that at Christmas, just as a person can have dinner with another cousin,” Simón argued.

Health Minister Illa has since gone on to explain again on radio what his department understands by “allegado”: “We’ve gone through difficult times and it would be understandable if there’s someone who you have a close family-like bond with and you don’t want them to spend Christmas alone.

“They’re not family in the conventional sense but it’s someone you have a very close relationship with and you want to spend time with them.

“This will be allowed, we don’t want anyone to be alone this Christmas even if we need people to travel as little as possible and see as few people as possible.”

This may not clarify all doubts about the word “allegado” – which in many cases will be up to individual regions to interpret and enforce.

It does however say something about the Spanish psyche.

Spaniards are first and foremost a social bunch whose circles of friendships and relationships extend further than family bonds.

Whether it’s the old lady that sells them lottery tickets, the barman that serves them their morning coffee, or the neighbours that look after their dog for them, the need to chat and spend time with others is ingrained in their character.

No wonder they can’t find the right words.  

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¡Me cago en! Seven things Spaniards verbally defecate on 

Barça’s Gerard Piqué stained his farewell match by getting sent off after telling the ref “I crap on your b*tch mother”. As harsh as it may sound, this kind of swearing is far from uncommon in Spain. Here’s what else Spaniards verbally defecate on.

¡Me cago en! Seven things Spaniards verbally defecate on 

Profanities are both routine and widely accepted in most social situations in Spain.  

Whether it’s mierda (shit), coño (c**t) or puta (bitch), pretty much anything goes.

Swear words tend not to carry as much clout as they do in English, so much so that calling someone a clown (payaso) or an imbecile (imbécil) can often cause more offence.

Not everyone in Spain has a potty mouth though, so don’t feel obliged to start hurling palabrotas (swear words) to sound like a local. It also depends on how the obscenity is delivered. 

READ ALSO: How to ‘swear’ politely in Spanish

One of the most colourful habits Spaniards have when it comes to swearing is the expression me cago en… (I shit/crap on…). They use it to express frustration or anger about something, or if it is followed by the possessive adjective tu (your), it’s more likely to be an insult directed at someone.

Although what you choose to verbally defecate on is completely up to you, there are some particularly evocative expressions that Spaniards use very often. 

I crap in the milk – Me cago en la leche

As weird and off-putting as this may sound, Spaniards ‘crap in milk’ a lot. It’s a bit like saying ‘shit’ or ‘damn’ to express disappointment about something.

I crap on the Virgin – Me cago en la Virgen

As you will see in this list, blasphemy and defecation go hand in hand, and as the Virgin Mary is important to Catholic Spain, she often gets brought up. Spaniards also ‘crap’ on the Almighty when saying me cago en Dios.

I crap on the sacramental bread – Me cago en la hostia 

Shouting ¡hostia! (communion wafer!), as in the host that Catholics eat during mass, is part and parcel of the daily lingo in Spain when something surprises or angers you. With that in mind, it’s logical that Spaniards also express their intent to crap on sacramental bread when they get frustrated.  

I crap on your dead relatives – Me cago en tus muertos

Here’s where things start to get personal. Verbally defecating on someone’s ancestors is a way to let them know that you’re very disappointed with them. Again, it all depends on the context, but more often than not it won’t cause too much offence, especially if they deserve it. 

I crap on your molars – Me cago en tus muelas

If you don’t want to mention the person’s deceased family members, you can avoid this by instead crapping on their molar teeth. It’s a euphemism given that muelas (molars) and muertos (dead people) start with the same syllable.

I crap in the salty sea – Me cago en la mar salada

We know what you’re thinking, as if the sea needed any more toxic waste dropping into it. This poetic expression is another euphemism, this time to avoid expressing what Gerard Piqué said about someone’s madre (mother), which could well be considered the worst insult in Spain. 

READ MORE: What’s the worst possible insult in the Spanish language?

I crap on your bitch mother – Me cago en tu puta madre

It’s not a mental image anyone of us wants but bizarrely this is a widely used insult in Spain. People also replace the madre (mother) with padre (father), although they usually drop the puta for that. Remember that this is an offensive expression in most people’s eyes and it could involve an unpleasant reaction. Saying me cago en la puta (I crap on the bitch) is different as it’s not aimed at someone’s mother. 

READ ALSO: ¡Joder! An expert guide to correctly using the F-word in Spanish