Work of Art: But you ordered taquitos

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By Art Trujillo

For a man who’s younger than I and who doesn’t make a posh living through the manipulation of language, Mayor Alfonso Ortiz appears to have broad knowledge of terms we use in Spanish and English.

He said that “some day” we’d get together, where he could brief me on terms his and my ancestors used in their prime.

A while back, I’d written about the diminution of terms in Spanish, used by my parents, especially Mom.

We’ll get back to the mayor in a few graphs. First, let me review some of the points I made in a previous column about how my parents, the late J.D. and Marie, used the diminutive inflectional ending for many things. Dad, during his advanced age, ceaselessly referred to my brother Severino and me as “hijito.”

Now, if this usage were to come in Mayor Ortiz’s presence, I would have said that there was considerable irony, as for years, I’ve not been a small son, nor was my brother, although I suppose I still outweigh Sev by 30 pounds.

Had I made an issue of my hijito-ness, with the implication that since adulthood, I’ve been much bigger than Dad, Alfonso might have said that Dad’s terminology was a matter of affection, not girth.

In one of our conversations, I believe Ortiz used the term “carinismo,” a term of endearment. Point well taken. However, what about the penchant of both my parents to use the diminutive form for certain foods? Terms of endearment?

When Mom would invite us over for chilito, posolito and tortillitas, perhaps she was implying that the portions would be small, thus being something manageable, not diet-changing and certainly not affectionate.

Mom and Dad’s favorite haunt was the Hillcrest. After they gave up driving, I’d usually accompany them to the restaurant. Once, Mom asked for three orders of “taquitos,” believing we’d be receiving the regular sized items like those at Taco Bell. Instead, we got the real taquitos, which are tiny, rolled-up, meat-filled things we dip into salsa.

We received exactly what Mom had requested, and she still was not amused, even though we ate every last crumb.

Now, Alfonso — and I hope he doesn’t sue me for attributing to him things he possibly didn’t say — would probably contend that calling it chilito, etc., is more a form of humility: We don’t have much to eat, and we’re thankful for that.

• • •

Let’s leave the mayor and the abundant “-itos” and discuss carrilla and unusual word choices. Strange, but in my experience, carrilla is an uncommon word, not found in very many dictionaries. My friend and former student, Diana Chavez, used that word  to describe “playful, loving and caring.”

I told Diana about some of the hijinx my three sons and I performed in their youth. Out of our rough-housing came games we called “bone crusher,” “x-ray,” “ray-x” and “balance.”

It involved wrestling on the bed with the idea of pushing one another off. And these games we performed only when the wife and mother of the household was absent. I sensed that Diana cringed when I referred to pushing children (and often the dad) off the bed, but I explained it was done with . . . with . . .  both carrilla and cariño.

Shortly after one of our “bone crusher” sessions, Benjie raised the collar of his turtle-neck to his ears, walked stiffly and announced, “Dad, you broke my neck . . . and I don’t appreciate it.”

Now all of us noted his choice of words: “I don’t appreciate it”? Would a person in that condition ever say, “I do appreciate it”? I explained to Benjie that people use “appreciate,” usually in the negative sense, when someone steals their parking space, cuts them off in traffic or flips them off. We might even use the term when some jerk blows smoke in our face, by telling that person we don’t appreciate that bit of puffery.

A condition as serious as a broken neck probably would have called for something other than “don’t appreciate.”

Regardless, some 25 years later, we Trujillo men give a different tinge to that word. And recently, as we recalled that word and what led up to it, we pondered the three meanings of “appreciate”: It means to be grateful for, to recognize the full worth of, and to increase in value.

Let’s make certain you understand there was absolutely no injury. Benjie’s hyperbole was really cosmetic, exaggerated and ironic. But I loved his choice of words, as if he were to explain, “Ya know that rough-housing we did? Well, you broke my neck in the process. I had it fixed today at the doctor’s office. . . . And I don’t appreciate it.”

Benjie still receives carrilla over his word choice.

• • •

Is carrilla even a word? A New Mexicanism, possibly? I couldn’t find it in any Spanish dictionary. The word carrillo appears, meaning cheek or jowl. An acquaintance, whose graduate degrees are in Spanish, said she’s never heard of the word.

Another person said he’s “heard the term used before, but just around here, and only in reference to good-natured ribbing, usually over a girlfriend.”

• • •

Proof that not everybody owns a computer came in the form of a hand-written note from Judee Williams and Anne Bradford. They responded to last week’s column on deliberate misuses of the language.

They wrote, “Pleas continue to exorcise are brans with your tweezers. Toucan play as well as won.”

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.