on April 13, 2002
This book has some major flaws, but it can be quite useful, and it is the only dictionary I've seen of its kind. It includes many of the most commonly used Mexican words, such as chamarra (jacket), chaparrito (under chaparro, a short person), guera/guero (a blonde or white person), and cochino (has many definitions, but can mean dirty/ slobbish, or a pervert). Next to each definition it also says which country the word is used in. However, it does nothing to explain the context in which the words are used. The word "chaparrito" is used affectionately rather than as an insult. The word "cochino" is usually used jokingly, when poking fun at someone. These are important distinctions, but this dictionary does not mention them. It gives no hint as to the connontations of a word.
Other problems I see are that there is no pronunciation guide, the words are not labeled as nouns or verbs, and no examples of usage are given. However, this dictionary does serve its main purpose. The definitions are generally accurate and very few Mexican words are ommitted. (I don't know about words from other countries because I speak only Mexican Spanish, but I assume it would be just as good for other Latin American countries). In conclusion, I think that this dictionary is a useful resource, but I would hope that someone will soon come out with a better Latin American dictionary.
on September 30, 1999
In the book shop I seized this dictionary with great anticipation, since the subject is dear to my heart; however, I was exceedingly disappointed by its perusal. This book is what in German is called "konzeptlos", that is to say disorganized, without rhyme or reason, helter-skelter. The definitions are misleading, the author's command of both English and Spanish is shaky, many crucial terms are omitted. The glaring errors and huge gaps that festoon this work not only raise doubts about the author's competence to undertake such wide-ranging and demanding research as the suject matter requires, but also call into question the discernment and diligence of the editor in charge at National Textbook Co., one Richard Spears; for it is he who must have accepted this bungler to do the job and then failed to verify his work (whether from sluggishness or ignorance I know not). There follows a sample of entries together with my remarks. Please note that the format of this medium disallows the accent marks required for correct Spanish spelling.
Entry: ESLACKS (from English) slacks = pantalones amplios y livianos.
Critique: The note "from English" adds nothing to our knowledge. The relevant question is: Where is the word used? Some anglicisms (that is to say, a word from the English language used in Spanish) are used in only one or two Spanish-speaking countries; some are used in many countries but mean one thing in some of them and something else in the others. It is said, only partly in jest, that the main obstacle to mutual comprehension among Spanish speakers from different countries is that they use different anglicisms. Unfortunately for Olivares, 2 of the 4 words in his Spanish definition "pantalones amplios y livianos" (to wit, "pantalones" and "livianos") are not used in the same way in all Spanish-American countries. In most countries, "trousers" are "pantalon", in the singular, while the word for "lightweight" is "ligeros" and not "livianos".
Entry: GANDUL (Puerto Rico) a vegetable shaped like a pea prepared with rice; it is a typical Puerto Rican dish = vegetal en la forma de un guisante que se prepara con arroz y constituye un plato tipico de Puerto Rico
Critique: Gandules are also known (and relished) in the Dominican Republic under this name. Their English name is "pigeon peas"; in Latin they are known as Cajanus cajan. "a vegetable shaped like a pea prepared with rice" is nonsense; what he means is "a vegetable shaped like a pea; it is prepared with rice", quite apart from the fact that pigeon peas are NOT round like peas. Likewise, "en la forma de un guisante" sounds like the Spanish spoken by a Turk; it should be "con forma de guisante". Furthermore, "guisante" means "pea" only in Spain; the word is not used (or understood) in the New World. Instead, "chicharo", "arveja" and "alverja" are used (each in different countries). Therefore the definition is incomprehensible to Latin Americans. This repeats the methodological error of the "diccionarios de americanismos", which define New World Spanish words in European Spanish, and are thus often useless to Latin Americans.
Entry: PLAGIAR (Ven.) to kidnap = secuestrar
Critique: "Plagiar" is also used in this sense in Mexico and Central America. It also means "to plagiarize" (everywhere).
Entry: VACILAR 1. (Mex.) to have fun; to have a good time = pasarlo(a) bien. 2. (Ven.) to make jokes = hacer bromas...
Critique: "Vacilar" is also used in Spain with meaning (2). Spain, to my knowledge, is not located in Latin America. Therefore "vacilar" can hardly be called "Latin American" Spanish. So what is this book about? Is it about Latin American Spanish or about Spanish in general? What's more, in parts of Central America and northern South America "vacilar" means "to have several lovers" and/or "to flirt". And that by no means exhausts the repertory of this versatile word.
I could go on ad nauseam. But I think this brief sample suffices to show that dialect lexicography is no subject for dilettantes. Oliveras' botched dictionary shall wind up in the cesspool of lexicographic history, if it isn't there already.
So, you may ask: What book do you recommend? And I reply: It hasn't been published yet. But it will be. And guess who's writing it.