Synonyms for sex organs in Spanish (cp. to English)

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Oct 21 04:49:01 UTC 2010

It's a well-known fact that 76% of professional linguists and 98% of
lexicographers got their first taste of their future discipline by
looking up dirty words in the dictionary.

Okay, so I just made this statistic up. But so did the guy who claims
that 80% of the "total number of words used in Spanish" are understood
everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. Does that total include
legal terms in Chile and Costa Rica, terms used by biochemists, terms
used by members of the La Viruta tango school in Buenos Aires, and
terms coined by Chilean exiles during the 1970s and 1980s? My guess is
that more than 95% of the words used in the front page of today's El
Pais (Spain) and El Mercurio (Chile) are understood by Spanish
speakers with a university education everywhere.


Paul Frank
Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
Espace de l'Europe 16
Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland
paulfrank at
paulfrank at

On Wed, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:02 PM, Federico Escobar
<federicoescobarcordoba at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Federico Escobar <federicoescobarcordoba at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Synonyms for sex organs in Spanish (cp. to English)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> A groundbreaking new dictionary of the Spanish spoken in the Americas
> (called "Diccionario de americanismos," or DA) has produced some interestin=
> g
> transnational information about Spanish. For instance, an abbreviated
> thesaurus at the end of the DA shows which words have the greatest number o=
> f
> synonyms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two words with most synonyms are (in
> that order) "vulva" and "penis". There are well over 300 synonyms for each.
> In a conference about the new dictionary, one of its chief lexicographers
> said that this was a huge number. But, in light of comparative linguistics,
> is it? These 300+ words are not necessarily well understood everywhere in
> the Americas, but they are all current, both verbally and in print,
> somewhere in the Americas. For those who are more familiar with slang and
> regional dictionaries, is that a big figure, comparatively? English has its
> fair share of sex-organ language; I just don't know if currently used terms
> reach above the 300 mark.
> Another interesting fact, also presented as a significant achievement by th=
> e
> lexicographer who spoke about the dictionary: their studies revealed that
> there=92s a core of "Common Spanish" (vocabulary that is understood everywh=
> ere
> in the Spanish-speaking world) that includes over 80% of the total number o=
> f
> words used in Spanish. Is that really jubilantly high, or just about
> average? (Sure, one must take into account the wide and well-differentiated
> area covered by Spanish.)
> F.

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