Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

MY husband went off on one of those 'conferences' again, paid for by a drugs company. I was left to potter around the unpretentious provincial city of Soria in the middle of Spain. After a few hours' wandering I decided to rest my tired feet on a park bench.

A group of old men (no women) were preoccupied in a game, a bit like boules. Each one, standing behind a chalked line, threw a metal disc, not a ball, down a dusty park walk towards a six-inch length of pipe with a coin resting on top, balanced inside a 12-inch-diameter chalk circle. If he knocked it down, the pipe bounced away but, from inertia, the coin fell straight down inside the circle.

The ruck in my stocking smoothed, I inquired of an old man in a beret what the game was called. Tanganillas, he said; the pipe or jack was a tejo.

Back in England I tried to find out the English for these technical terms. Even my big Collins dictionary was not much help. The phrase en tanganillas, it said, means 'unsteadily', and tanganillo means 'a prop'. But one had to tread carefully because tanga could mean 'a pimp'. Moreover tejo could mean 'a quoit', a `five-peseta piece' or `hopscotch' - in other words could refer to the thing thrown, the thing it was thrown at, or perhaps the whole game, though it was certainly not hopscotch. …

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