Saturday, March 08, 2008


Sí ≠ Si

OK, this one’s been a minor peeve of mine for a while, so we’re going to do a “words/language” item about a non-English language: Spanish.

The slogan that’s translated as “Yes, we can!” is “¡Sí, se puede!”... that’s , with an accent mark, not si, without one. The former means “yes”; the latter means “if”. And when it’s rendered with neither the accent nor the comma, as “Si se puede,” it means “If one can,” or, then, “If we can.”

Si se puede, vamos a hacerlo. If we can, let’s do it. We might as well, why not? It sounds so uninspired. Equivocal. Noncommittal.

¡Sí, se puede! ¡Vamos a hacerlo! Yes, we can! Let’s do it! There’s movement there, inspiration, commitment... blood, toil, tears, and sweat!

The New York Times gets it right, at least in that referenced article. ABC News and NPR both miss it, as does the Migra Matters blog, and you’d think they’d know better.

I know there’s an issue of character sets and the fact that the inverted exclamation mark and the accented letter i are not English characters. But, well, come on: we’re all using computers now, and it’s not brain surgery. One might not want to bother in a blog entry (though I do, pedant that I be), but with the news media, it’s their job.

Let’s get it right. Yes, we can!


Julietta said...

Sí (Alt 161) senor (now see, I TRIED to put a tilde on that n by typing Alt 164, and I got a pop up window asking did I want to navigate away from this page), estoy completamente de acuerdo contigo. Pero yo creo que todas las computadoras, o sea, sus programas, no pueden usar el codigo ASCII. Pero que sé (Alt 130) yo?

Dr. Momentum said...

I find it annoying that my current OS doesn't allow me to easily type those characters. When I was on Mac OS, stretching back over the years, it seems it was always easy to key in an accented character.

No such joy on Windows. I must jump through some unintuitive hoops.

We're all using computers, yes. Someone should have told Microsoft something about what people need to do on those computers.

Barry Leiba said...

Assuming that your current OS is Windows, you handle it the same way as on Mac OSX: you set yourself up with the US International keyboard (Mac calls it "U.S. Extended"). Then it's just simple key combinations, and you don't have to futz with the "alt-161" stuff.

Go to Control Panel -> Regional and Language Options. Then on the "Languages" tab, click "Details" and you'll get a panel that lets you add the US International keyboard (and others) to your setup. When you're using that keyboard, certain keys ('`^"~) become "dead keys", and if the following character is one that can be modified, it will be. So typing 'i will give you the i-acute, ^o gives o-circumflex, "a is a-umlaut, `e is e-grave, and ~n is n-tilde.

To me, that's even easier than the Mac OS US Extended keyboard (to get i-acute I have to do alt-e + i, as opposed to the Windows apostrophe + i).

As I say: not really "better" or "worse". Just "different".

Julietta said...

ñ OOOH LOOK, it worked!!!! ü omigod, umlaut! sí...oh you computer geeks are SOOOO awesome! "But" in order to get my quotation marks back I had to type twice then erase one, right? What a pain. Is there another way?

Barry Leiba said...

No, that's the drawback. If you want to type one of these:
==> That's great!
==> "Yes, I know that," he said.'re fine. But if you want one of these:
==> That one's a big 'un!
==> He said, "I know that."
You'll get tripped up. They'll come out like this:
==> That one's a big ùn!
==> He said, Ï know that.
(the last " on the last line is waiting for the next character).

So, yes, the easiest way to handle that is to type
==> That one's a big ''[bs]un!
==> He said, ""[bs]I know that.""[bs]
(where [bs] represents the backspace key). That's the drawback of "dead keys".

Once you get used to that, though, it goes pretty quickly and smoothly. And if you don't use non-English characters very often, you can just switch to the international keyboard only when you need it.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Okay, it's a bit annoying that it won't toggle with left-alt-shift, but then again that means I don't have to remember to toggle three times instead of two as I cycle through my other languages. It is easier than remembering the key combos. Thanks!

However, considering that the Board of Geographic Names apparently considers diacritics to be decorative, judging by their transliteration standards, I won't be holding my breath for people to start using them in major publications...

Miss Profe said...

It's funny that I would read this post on your blog. Several days ago, as I was making breakfast for my family - mother, father, brother - election coversation emerged re: Senator Obama's campaign slogan. I told my family what "Yes, we can" is in Spanish.

Re: ABC and NPR: The former, being part of the MSM, I no longer expect very much. Re: NPR: I am very surprised. That being said, NPR is becoming a MSM wannabe. Which is why I access international news broadcasts as often as possible.